Stairway away from Hell

In Manila around 100.000 children are living on the street. They do not got go to school, they are starving, many of them suffer from deceases and some are sexually abused. These are the children the Danish run Stairway Foundation aim to help.

A taste of childhood
By spending a year at Stairway’s idyllic location a few meters from the beach in the peaceful surroundings of Puerto Galera, the organisation try to give children hope for a better future. Through basic education, counselling and creative and physical activities Stairway aim to give 12-13 boys a year enough self-confidence to change their lives.
    “These children have always been put down. We want to make them confident enough to trust that they can actually do something with their lives in the future. We want to give these children a taste of, what childhood is supposed to be like, ” says Lars Jørgensen.
    Lars Jørgensen from Denmark and his American wife Monica Ray Jørgensen set up Stairway in 1990. The motivation came from a tourist trip to the Philippines where the problem of street children and child abuse became obvious to the couple.
    “We landed in the middle of the red light district in Manila and saw a lot of children with dirty old men. Then we came to Puerto Galera and were taken in by the beauty of this place. But also here we saw a lot of children with dirty old men. At that time Puerto Galera used to be the heaven for paedophiles,” Lars explains.
     “We were appalled to se the abuse of children, but at the same time extremely fascinated by the beauty of this country and the hospitality of the people. That was the right cocktail to create the motivation to do something,” says Lars.  

Victims of Poverty
The boys who are staying at Stairway are between 13 and 18 years old and from Manila. They have been living on the street either because they do not have a family or have run away from home.
    “Most of the children are victims of poverty and the consequences of poverty which are broken families, violence, drugs, alcoholism, and in many cases sexual abuse,” Lars explains. “It is a great decision for a child at the age of 10 to decide to run away from home. They will take a lot of beating before that. I think the sexual abuse is what really makes then run away,” he says.
    Stairway finds the children at so called detentions centres in Manila. “In reality these centres work like prisons,” says Lars Jørgensen. “In Puerto Galera we want to create a home for these children and make a family-like atmosphere in an environment which is totally different from what they have experienced in Manila,” he says. For the same reason, Stairway only takes in around 12 boys a year.
    Most of the children have had no or very poor education. At Stairway they are taught basic subjects such as math, English, their own language in small classes in order to give more attention to the individual students. Stairway also has counsellors who help the children to put a harsh past behind them. After a year at Stairway they children continue into other institutions or families, which can help them with more education and vocational training.

Apart from academic, vocational training and physical activities, drama and music has since the beginning been part of Stairways philosophy. “When it comes to building confidence, art and creativity plays a big role,” Monica Ray explains. “It is a great way to work with children. You can give them a platform to speak from,“ she says.
    In 1999 Stairways set up the musical Goldtooth, which gives a strong and detailed description of what it means to be living on the street in Manila. The musical was performed in the Philippines and several countries in Europe such as Denmark, Finland at they UN in Geneva. This year Stairways has set up the play “Cracked Mirrors” which likewise focus on street life and sexual abuse of children.

All over the world
Apart from the 13 boys who are currently staying at Stairway, the organisation is reaching a far grater number of children and adults throughout the world. Stairways has produced two cartoons “Daughter” and “ A good boy” which both focus on child abuse. In 2004 Daughter won the ANNECY (International Animated Film Festival) reward for best educational movie “A good boy” has won prizes in Korea
    “Kids easily relate to the cartoons. It’s a good way of story telling for adults as well. You don’t have to articulate much, because the cartoon is doing all the work,” says Lars. Stairway is currently working on the production a third cartoon “Red Leaves” which focus on trafficking of children into the sex industry.
    Although the cartoons are treating controversial issues associated with a lot of taboos they have been well received in the Philippines.
    “When Daughter came out we had no idea how the authorities here would react. Maybe they would fell that we were exposing the Philippines. But fortunately it was very well received and we are today welcomes in to various places,” says Lars.
    A part from being a home for street children Stairway runs several other activities such as a scholarship program for children in the local areas. Stairway also conducts several workshops about children’s right and child abuse among others for teachers, social workers, student and police officers in order to create awareness about children’s rights.
    “Out mission is to create openness and to break the silence,” says Lars. And things have definitely improved since the foundation of Stairways. At least around Puerto Galera, which is no longer seen as a heaven for Paedophiles. Lars and Monica still wish their organisation to keep developing. “We hope that it will keep growing, -and that Stairway can attract and inspire people who will help to create and understanding of the problems of children and how to address them,” Lars Jørgensen finishes.

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