Thursday, March 02, 2017

Aussie nun farewells Bangkok slums

Sr JoanSr Joan Evans, the Aussie nun celebrated for her work in Bangkok's slum districts, has returned to Perth, but she will not be forgotten.

Sr Joan took one final walk around the Rong Moo slum last week, to distribute provisions in the poor and crowded community she called home for the past 25 years. 

Crammed into her old wooden house, her small team of workers were chatting about repairs to the back wall, lost to a fire that swept through three weeks earlier.

For a woman of 84, Evans looked surprisingly steady and relaxed; determined to do what she could, right till her final hour.

She had spent the week handing out clothes, towels, linen, household utensils and other small gifts, looking for the faces of key people – the young, the very old, and ones in greatest need; those whose plight weighed most on her heart.

Her neighbours in The Slaughterhouse – named for the abattoirs that operate in this section of the huge Klong Toei slum at night – were hit by a savage blow several weeks ago.

At least 40 homes were engulfed in the fire on January 27. It was a Friday evening, around 8pm. No one was killed or injured, but dozens of families lost the meagre belongings they had.

In the first part of her life, Sr Joan taught at a private Catholic girls school. But on retirement she left Iona College, in a beautiful and affluent part of Perth, for Bangkok's crowded port, where tens of thousands reside.

Inspired by a talk by Fr Joe Maier, the American missionary renowned for his work in Klong Toei, she came to Thailand to become "immersed" with the poor, walking with the needy and sharing their daily struggles.

Her wooden house was nearby the one Fr Joe occupied for many years, down a narrow winding path past doors open to people eating meals on the floor or lying on their beds. 

The floor sits unevenly on pilings sunk into the Chao Phraya's tidal wash. After heavy rain a sea of rubbish collects underneath.

Sr Joan's focus was mothers and children – staving off malnutrition and getting kids to school. 

"Education is the only way" out of poverty, she said: Pay for their lunches, for their uniforms and even for their transport to school.

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