Danish Anna Heckscher, 20, is volunteering at the Danish NGO Stairway’s children’s home in the Philippines. She has left the bikini, backpack, and booze behind instead she uses her year off to help street kids from Manila in getting a better life. And learning to know her own god and bad points.
She talks and talks. And she talks with a certain determination. 20-year old Anna from Vejle. When she starts talking about the Danish NGO Stairway, street kids, abuse of children, good and bad experiences with her stay in the Philippines, she is more than hard to stop. There is so much to say and understand.
Anna Heckscher is a regular senior high school student without any special abilities in social work, teaching, or nursing children with special needs. But in January 2010 she started working at a home for street kids in the Philippines. The kids have all tried things few Scandinavians even have to think of, several if not all have been sexual abused by adults.
Among palm trees and sandy beaches
We are seated at the big outdoor terrace at Stairway’s children’s home. We just finished dinner, and now one of the boys is cleaning dishes. Meanwhile Anna, I, a local employee and the rest of the boys are enjoying the warm night between the palm trees in Puerto Galera.
One of the boys is playing guitar, and even though he doesn’t play correctly it is great entertainment for everyone. Anna and one the boys are playing with a home made earring, which the boy wants to put in his ear even though he doesn’t have holes in his ears, and he tells Anna how he could just push it through. But that isn’t accepted by Anna and she calmly and easily tells him to put it away. And he does so a few minutes later.
Learning and teaching
The 20-year old girl from Vejle has been at Stairway for four months, and during the time she has been here she has tried a lot. She has been a maths teacher, tour guide for visiting Danes and in front of teaching the staff how to bake – Danish style as well as spent a lot of time with the boys, all former street kids from Manila. Some of the oldest speak some English but the younger ones only speak Tagalog, which the Filipino language is named. But that does Anna not see it as a problem:
“It is amazing how much you can communicate without speaking the same language,” she says.
The children at Stairway’s are taught regular school subjects as maths and language but they are also learning a lot of practical skills and participate in group and creative therapy. One of the most important things is that the children talk about their experiences. Get it out.
Anna very well remembers the first time one of the boys opened up to her. She tells: We were watching Stairway’s own animation about the young street kid who is being manipulated and bought by rich white man. And the suddenly the young boy next to my takes my arm and points at the screen and then at himself and says: “Me too – 50 pesos.” The only thing I could do was to show him with gestures that I wanted to kill the man who did it to him.
“It is a grateful job here because the kids are so happy that you listen to them. But it is also very tough to relate to their stories,” says Anna Heckscher.
Saving the world
When she first put her foot at the children’s home close to Puerto Galera in the Philippines Anna felt very naïve.
“From home I didn’t realised what it was all about. When I came here I soon realised that I had never meet sexually abused street kids and felt their problems. It was a hard start,” she says.
As many other volunteers she left Denmark with an idea that she was going to the Philippines to save the world. But she soon realised that she couldn’t save everyone and that volunteering is also about getting to know yourself better:
“This is some of the best I have ever done for my self. I have learnt so much about myself,” she says and continues “Here I can walk around in shitty clothes and without make-up, and still people tells me that I am a good person. That’s fantastic.”
She tells how hard she thinks it is that she has to leave the Stairways and the kids not knowing what is going to happen to them:
“It is going to be fucking difficult for me leave. I already called my mother and told her that I wanted to stay. But she has managed to convince me of the importance of me getting an education.”
Anna is leaving for Denmark in in the end of May, and in August she will study medicine at Aarhus University. The children also have to move on to a new institution or back to their parents, because they are only allowed to stay maximum one year at Stairway’s children’s home.
So much shit but still
Anna has a lot of memories from her stay with the street kids in the Philippines, one of them on her birthday. She says:
At my birthday the boys had made small presents for me, which were at my doorstep once I woke up. But I ruined it a bit because I had to talk to my parents so when they called me I stepped outside my room to get signal I saw the boys running around and preparing the surprise.
I often think of how amazing it is. Even though they have been trough so much shit and been let down so many times they thought of making me happy on my birthday.