10/09/2022, 14.23
ECCLESIA IN ASIA
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The Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Thailand's largest slum

by Steve Suwannarat

Located in a district that covers Bangkok’s port, Klong Toey is home to 100,000 people, many of them internal migrants. Here, the Sisters recently began providing meals to people further impoverished by the pandemic. With their school “only a few blocks away from the biggest slum,” the Sisters heeded Pope Francis’s call to “serve the poor at the borders of our society”.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Klong Toey is one of Thailand’s most populous slums, one of the largest in Asia. Located in Bangkok’s port district, it has become a point of destination for migrants from the country’s farthest regions.

Despite ambitious urban redevelopment plans, deemed unrealistic or elitist by some, it remains a place of poverty and degradation, crime and drug addiction.

Home to a transient and restless population of around 100,000, concentrated in less than two square kilometres, it has few services; however, an army of volunteers and religious groups try to lessen the pain, starting with education and healthcare for children and seniors.

When COVID-19 hit, its impact was severe both in terms of health and the economy; now, with social distancing requirement lifted, assistance is more urgent than ever.

Against this background, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, working with the local long established albeit small community of Xaverian missionaries, have begun feeding some 200 people a month at the symbolic cost of one baht (under three US cents) per meal.

In doing so, they are responding to Pope Francis's appeal to reach out to the poor who live on the margins of society.

“We did not have to go too far to meet the poor because our school is only a few blocks away from the biggest slum area in Bangkok called Klong Toei,” said Sister Orapin recalled, speaking to Radio Veritas Asia.

Inspired by Pope Francis, they went “out of our houses and schools and serve the poor at the borders of our society,” she added.

Such an initiative, she explained, is not only about assistance but also a "dialogue of life"; it is about meeting basic needs, as well as understanding problems. It is about engaging in interfaith dialogue with majority Buddhists in a place that brought together people from different parts of the country and different faiths.

Inspired by the Xaverian experience in Klong Toey, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus visit families, but they add their own touch, much appreciated in Bangkok, in education, meeting needs where and when they exist and appear to have no solution.

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