Articles from our very own class of 2014 alumni
Enabling Street Children to Reach New Heights
Article by: Andie Ayala, Ashley Miller, and Karina Swee
The right to have a family that would love and care for me. The right to play. The right to have adequate food, and a healthy and active body. Though basic and innate, these statements, extracted from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, are unfamiliar to the thousands of street children living in the slums of Manila and throughout the Philippines. Imprisoned for petty crimes, sexually and physically abused, abandoned by their parents; these children have grown up as juvenile delinquents in a world of perpetuating poverty, simply because they have been deprived of loving and nurturing homes and supportive environments. This is why the Danish-African-American couple Lars and Monica Jorgensen decided to set up Stairway Foundation in 1990— to provide disadvantaged children with opportunities for growth through the promotion of their rights and rehabilitation.
Now, 20 years later, Stairway Foundation has created a safe haven residential program for boys between the ages of 10-14, which aims to rehabilitate and equip street children. As part of the residential program, Stairway also runs the Youth for Change Camps, which includes the International School of Manila, Singapore American School, Cairo American College, among various other international schools. These youth-to-youth programs are highly regarded by the foundation as they are purposed to bridge the gap between the street children and the more privileged in Manila and around the world.
Our Stairway Experience
Ask any high school student in the International School of Manila and they will know what Stairway Foundation is and will likely describe the service trips to the site with high esteem. The reputation that Stairway holds in ISM is a testament to the admirable mission and trustworthy program that the foundation has established. This is why, after having just graduated and about to head off to college abroad, the four of us girls (Andie Ayala, Ashley Miller, Daniella Mutuc and Karina Swee) decided to come to Stairway to support their advocacy and to advertise their efforts of spreading awareness about child abuse prevention. On top of this, as Karina and Andie had previously attended Youth For Change programs, we also came to the foundation with the purpose of observing the progress that Stairway, and the rehabilitated kids, have made in the past few years.
It’s widely known that the connections volunteers make with the Stairway boys are unforgettable and that departures from the residential site are tear inducing. In attest to this, after spending our time with the foundation, we think that volunteering at Stairway is largely unlike any other experience because of the familial atmosphere that the foundation constructs with the kids.
The Stairway Family
Stairway Foundation is more than just an NGO or a home for boys. It is a family, encompassing the values of trust, belonging, love, and support into each activity the children undertake. Although Stairway takes in street-children aged 10-14 typically for 10-month periods, Stairway truly runs on a case-to case basis; there are some children fall outside of the prescribed age bracket, while others stay on after the 10 months have passed, becoming Peer Motivators and helping other boys adjust to their new lives.
As the children settle in to their new homes at Stairway, they find a lifestyle very different to the ones they may have been accustomed to previously. They are provided with more than just the basic necessities of food and shelter; rather, they are embraced wholeheartedly into the Stairway family. Ate Donna, a residential social worker at Stairway, explains that many street-children grow tough out of necessity; to protect themselves in the streets. However, if they feel safe and cared for in an environment such as Stairway’s, there is no longer a need to be tough. If it is the streets that make them hard, it is Stairway that unveils the light and love in each individual.
This is a step recognized as integral to the children’s’ development process, as described by Ate Ammi, an admin officer and supervisor of the residential program. She explains that at Stairway “we never put up walls”, creating a family atmosphere that encourages openness among the boys. Even Kuya Lars Jorgensen, the Executive Director of Stairway, will sit down with the children to ask how they are, join games of monkey-in-the-middle on the beach, and embrace the children. It is this environment that enables the children to connect with the people around them, nurturing trust, love and respect in each individual. These values and qualities enable the boys to undergo transformation. Developing greater self-confidence and self-worth pushes the children to dream bigger, push their boundaries and reach their true potential.
But what’s so different about the kids in Stairway is that their transformation must be individualized and intrinsically motivated. As Ate Donna remarks “the behavior [of the boys] only changes, if there are changes in the mind.” The treatments that the foundation uses to rehabilitate the kids is largely centered around art therapy and recreational activities, which are purposed to allow the boys to express their emotions and move on from their previous lives.
Although the treatments that Stairway provides may be incredibly specific, and at times quite costly, it is without a doubt that the boys in the residential program are fully deserving of the chance to lead a more purposeful and sheltered lifestyle.
While we were at Stairway, we were not only able to hear the kid’s testimonies and the tragic realities of their past, but we also got to witness the immense talent and transformation of each of the boys as they would recite the lines of the Lorax play, make dream catchers, flip effortlessly on the beach and welcome us into their home. Despite their backgrounds, in many ways, the boys were able to teach us much more than we are able to teach them.
Indigenous Feeding Program
Article by: Daniella Mutuc
Life is changing for indigenous children in Puerto Galera. Over the past 2 years, classroom attendance in their local elementary school, rose from 20 to 180. Their prospects are widening, and their stomachs are full. This is because nestled amongst the Araya and Tajawan tribes a new brand of heroism is taking shape. The instigator of this change is the Indigenous Youth Feeding Program, started by the Stairway Foundation.
The Indigenous Youth Feeding Program was started with the aim of increasing classroom attendance, which it has achieved with resounding success. In its early stages, the feeding program provided breakfasts, but since then it has expanded to serve lunches as well. The meals are prepared by the parents of the community, promoting a sense of intimacy and familiarity that is often absent in aid programs handled by outside volunteers. This intimacy transcends the distance between tribes, as families are beginning to settle down closer to the school as well, so that their children can attend more classes.
Heroism is an abstract concept. For some, it comes in the form of a figurehead donning a cape. For others, it’s served with a plate of hot food. Put aside the technicalities, and the Indigenous Youth Feeding Program is, quite literally, saving the day.