A Travellerspoint blog

Stairway Foundation

Volunteering

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From the 1st of April and a month onward, I stayed at the Stairway Foundation and did some volunteer work. Stairway is a learning and resource centre for children's rights located in the village of Aninuan, on the island of Mindoro. The foundation was started, and is still run by, Lars and Monica. They work for children’s rights and to prevent child abuse, through a number of channels:

• Capacity building through networks... development and distribution of materials for education and advocacy, workshops and staff trainings

• Prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse... workshops and trainings for teachers and caregivers, counselling and therapy for survivors

• Service oriented program... recovery and rehabilitation centre offering therapy and education for street children and children with serious health problems, such as tuberculosis

• Children's rights advocacy... international distribution of newsletters, presentations, performances and visits by student groups from the Philippines and abroad

I stayed with them at the centre in Aninuan, Oriental Mindoro. A great place, full of creative spirit and openmindedness.

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One particular area of focus at the moment is the production of their third animated film on child abuse. Stairway Foundation has previously produced two very powerful animations that deal with the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The award winning Daughter, A Story of Incest and, A Good Boy, A Story of Paedophilia, have both helped to raise consciousness and to break the silence surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

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The idea for the animations came from Stairways work with street children. Over a decade of working with marginalized children, they heard some of the most horrendous stories of child abuse, but amongst those stories none were about sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. They looked for a way to get children to talk openly about this sensitive issue without the shame, blame or guilt feelings imposed upon them by a society full of taboos and negative attitudes towards any sex related issue. Using animation, Stairway has found that this form of storytelling relates to children, and can be a powerful tool to address sensitive issues like child sexual abuse and exploitation. Non-threatening and non-intimidating, animation transcends the limits of language and cultural specificity to generate dialogue with young people. They can see their own lives reflected in the story, and they are encouraged to talk and to think about their unique challenges head-on.

Based on the success of the previous two animations, Stairway is currently in the middle of producing a third animation, this time concerning sex trafficking of children and child pornography. It stresses the fact that without the demand for children as sex objects, no child would be ensnared in this most cruel and dehumanizing form of slavery.

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My role for the time I spent at Stairway, was to come up with a distribution strategy for this latest animation. Lars and Monica are hoping that this third film will be able to reach even more people than the previous two. I tried to do as much leg work as possible, so that when the film is ready, there will already be a strategy and contact databases ready for its distribution to run as smoothly as possible.

Apart from the animations, Stairway have also produced a theatre piece called Cracked Mirrors, on child sexual abuse. One evening we saw the performance on Stairway’s stage under the stars – and it was so powerful, truly amazing. The actors made you feel like you could see right into their hearts.

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Stairway’s compound is located on a tree covered hill, with the various structures spread out. I stayed in my own little hut on a hill.

Just across the road from Stairway is Tamaraw Beach – a lovely stretch of sand. It is much quieter here than the busy Sabang Beach (which actually has no beach) as well as White Beach which is just around the bend from Tamaraw. I was able to relax on the beach after work, and to do some snorkelling just off the beach.

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After dropping me off at Stairway, Alan went to a place called North Pandang Island to dive Apo reef, with Jay and Milena. On the way back from there, heading to Cebu, he stopped by Stairway to visit me. He told them he is a plumber, and ended up staying the rest of the time I was here, fixing lots of things for them. So in the end, he actually volunteered as well – really great.

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The place that Lars and Monica have built here is really impressive, and not just the actual site here, which is great, but the organisation in general. As I learned more about what they do, I became more and more impressed with their work. Monica has written the scripts for the play Broken Mirrors, as well as for the animations – she is like the creative powerhouse here. And Lars runs most of the practical stuff – a true octopus, keeping all the different areas organised and structured. I learnt that they do outreach work in the prisons here, they have hired a psychologist who visits prisons and has counselling sessions with the kids who are in prison – which quite a lot of children are in the Philippines. In fact, the latest group of boys to come and stay here at the Stairway centre were all from prisons in Manila.

Visit Stairway or Stairway Danmark’s websites to learn more – they are always looking for help, donations, members and volunteers – and I can vouch for the fact that it is definitely a worthy cause for your help.

www.stairwayfoundation.org or www.stairwaydanmark.dk

We met lots of nice people while we were here – one guy, Randi, runs a restaurant on the beach. His dad has been diving here for over 20 years! He lent us some cylinders and we did a shore dive off Aninuan beach. It was not world class or anything, but there were quite a lot of cool little critters.

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In the end, April ran out, and we got ready to leave Stairway. We are off to Manila for a few days, and then for a liveaboard in Tubbataha reef – stay tuned for that.

Posted by monkyhands 12:45 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Sabang Beach

Diving and sleazy sex tourism :(

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We went back to Manila for a brief stop, and waited out the Easter rush that would be taking place in all the diving spots. We stayed in a different hotel this time - Friendly’s Guest House - it was great, with wifi and a nice common area with TV and a kitchen. Once Easter was done, we headed for Batangas port and caught the ferry Sabang Beach, on the island of Mindoro, not far south of Manila.

Sabang Beach is not really a beach anymore - the hotels, dive shops, restaurants and girlie bars have built all the way to the water line and more.

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The place is brash and busy, with divers, alcoholics or a combination of the two. The many girlie bars and massage parlours add a bit of a seedy feel to it all… All these old, nasty men with their little filipina 'girlfriends' - its just not pretty to watch! Yet, the diving here is easy, and while it is far from the best in the Philippines, it is decent enough to be worth a few days.
We found a cheap hotel on a hill side, and a dive shop willing to do the dives for 18 dollars. And then we spent some relaxing days here, just diving and hanging out. The dives we did at Verde Island were particularly good, with amazing visibility and more fish life. Even the sites closer to Sabang itself had lots of critters to satisfy the cameras, and we enjoyed these few days here.

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By the 31st, we were drying out the gear and ready to move on.

Posted by monkyhands 12:31 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Manila to Donsol

Whale fish whale fish!

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So, from KL, we flew with Air Asia to Manila in the Philippines. Another busy Asian city, yet with its own Filipino character. The gap between rich and poor here is enormous, and so apparent everywhere. Also, the presence and visibility of guns is different to elsewhere - there are security guards posted at everything from banks to Starbucks, and they all carry guns. Anything from hand guns to huge automatic weapons ( I know nothing of guns, but some of them look like something out of a gangster movie). Quite unnerving. And Manila lacks the otherwise ubiquitous food stalls that are so great about Asia - here you either eat in restaurants, and pay the price, or in American fast food chains, of which they have more kinds that I have seen anywhere else! (Burger King, MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Sbarro. Shakey’s, Dunkin Donuts, Pop Eye’s, KFC, Krispy Kreme Donuts to name a few). Another, worse, eyesore here is the obvious sex tourism, with girlie bars on every corner, and old Western men with their young ‘girlfriends’ walking the streets or frequenting bars and restaurants. Horrible, nasty to even look at!
Apart from that, I like Manila - its got a kind of wild edge to it, a feeling that anything could happen, and does. I mean, where else could you imagine there being a bar called the Hobbit House, staffed exclusively by little people - from bartender and waitresses to doorman. And they somehow manage to do it with dignity. Great place. And also, most of the people here are just so nice, polite and helpful.

From Manila, we caught a hellish bus ride down to Donsol. 12 hours on a bus where the seats were so narrow you could barely sit in them, and there was no leg room at all. Donsol is nothing much in itself - a small Filipino village, that used to survive mainly on fishing. But it has one unique feature - from around November to May give or take a month or two, there is a huge gathering of whale sharks off the coast here. You can go out on a boat for the day, and spot them, and then jump in a snorkel with them. We did this last time we were in the Philippines, and we had to come back again. I have never heard of anything like this anywhere else in the world.

Our first day of snorkelling here did not quite live up to our expectations - it had rained for two days straight, and the visibility was so low that the spotters could not see through the water. Besides, it was still raining when we went out, which meant there was no sun to penetrate the surface and show the shadows of the massive creatures. In the end, after spending three hours just sitting on the boat, they did manage to find one, and we had a decent look at him before he decided to take off - but still, with the viz so low, it was hard to see him until you were literally right next to him. Milena was so disappointed she was grumbling the whole evening, and I have to say that I too was a bit down.
After the snorkelling, we went diving one day, in the manta bowl as they call it here. They say there’s a decent chance of seeing manta rays here, and even hammerheads and thresher sharks. We did not see an of these things - except for the threshers, of which we saw lots of heads, all in the fish market in Donsol - so they are obviously here, but for how much longer? Also, in the whale shark season, it is apparently common to spot one of these giant fish on your safety stop. However, we were not so lucky with the diving, we spent three dives merely sitting on the bottom, holding on in the current and seeing little at all. Only on the third dive of the day, and the last, did we get a quick look at a whale shark as we were descending. Not too bad for three dives I guess - whale sharks are quite a treat, no doubt about it - but still, we were not ecstatic with the rest of the dives, and decided to try our luck with the snorkelling rather than dive again the next day. In the meantime, it had cleared up a bit, and we were hoping that a couple of days without rain would mean a better chance of finding the whale sharks.

And we were right, as it turned out. The next two days, we went out on boats snorkelling with the whale sharks. And even though Easter meant that the Donsol whale shark office had cut the trips from the usual six hours to three hours (at the same price), we managed to get some amazing encounters with the beautiful whale sharks. We saw altogether maybe 12 sharks in two days (not a record by far, some people get that in one day), but the encounters were so great, we were blown away! It was better than when we were here three years ago - we got to swim with several of the sharks for many minutes at a time, they were swimming slowly right below the surface, feeding I guess. We could overtake them, swim next to their huge heads, look them in the eye, and even get a good look at their wide, almost smiling mouths. Aaah, amazing nature. The feeling of being next to one of these enormous fishes is so humbling and exhilarating at once. One of them even decided to stick his nose all the way out of the water, and then almost suck on the camera in Alan’s hands, making for a great movie! (Sadly, our guide on the swim decided to mess around, and push the mouth of the shark closed - you see his hand in the movie - not very nice of him!). All in all, Donsol was a great success, what an amazing place!

Unfortunately for this blog, we were way too close to the whale sharks, and the viz was way too shit, to take any pictures - they simply do not come out. Instead, we shot some videos, I have entered a little compilation of the best clips below - check it out!

Posted by monkyhands 20:32 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur

Quick stop in Malaysias capital

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After Singapore, we headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia - this was simply a logistical move, as we could get a cheap flight from there to Manila. In KL, we met up with Jay and Milena again, they came down from Thailand. Oddly, it was raining here, even though it is well past monsoon season - they were calling it late monsoon - several months late in fact. Jay and Milena told us that it had been raining in Thailand as well- seems the seasons are well and truly screwed up around here.
KL, like Singapore, is full of malls. But unlike Singapore, it also has lots of street life and lots of character.

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We mostly ate from street vendors, who sell cheap, delicious meals here. Another note on hotels - we stayed at first in the Coliseum, which is dilapidated but with huge rooms. We then moved to Pondok Lodge - a hostel in the Golden Triangle area. Here, Milena and I started getting covered in itchy welts all over - at first I thought it was bed bugs again, but it started to spread into large red areas like an eczema, and Milena thought that it was some sort of skin parasite. Really horrible, and so itchy I could not sleep at all. So again - if you are heading to KL, I would stay away from Pondok Lodge!

Posted by monkyhands 11:31 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Singapore

Big City Blues

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From Chennai in India, we flew with Singapore Airlines’ budget subsidiary; Tiger Airways, to Singapore. It was almost a shock how clean and organised Singapore was, after spending so long in India. Indian cities more or less define chaos, whereas Singapore was order personified (if you can say that about a city). The city was full of malls - all of them huge and air-conditioned. It almost felt like the sidewalks were simply there to get you from one mall to another - there was no real life on the streets as such. A clean, efficient city characterised by high rises and futuristic buildings.

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In each mall, there was a food-court with cheap, decently edible food - mostly Chinese inspired, but also Indian and other styles. It was fairly easy to stay fed without breaking the budget - but it started to feel like you were eating in the same restaurant all the time. Even outside the malls, most of the restaurants seemed to have more or less the same menu. All in all, Singapore was certainly a relief after India and its mad cities, and it was a convenient and easy city to be in - but it began to feel almost soulless. There was not much character there, not much personality. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Singapore, but I did get a nagging sensation that something was missing. Maybe it was an after effect of India - maybe I had come to expect or even secretly enjoy chaos, I don’t know. I mean, Singapore did have some little details, like the small colonial buildings in Little India where we stayed, that made it more real, but overall, it seemed too organised for its own good.

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We stayed in the Prince of Wales pub and hostel - it seemed like a good idea at first, but it turned out to be infested with bed bugs, which left me looking like I had been attacked by a swarm of angry bees. So don’t go there if you ever head to Singapore.

Posted by monkyhands 11:11 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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