Last February, students and teachers from Roedkilde Gymnasium from Vejle, Denmark visited Stairway Foundation, thus highlighting 25 years of friendship, collaboration and support. One former Roedkilde student, Sarah Staub, and present Stairway volunteer, shares her insights into how such a bond of friendship grew into a school wide movement.
In the middle of the global world you will find a place that, despite its modesty, almost appears as the safest country in the world. On the map it is nothing but a small dot, with its 5 million people, but there is room for everyone and the options seems to reach all. We are here talking about the small country in the north, Denmark. At first hand this little oasis of safety stands in huge contrast to the many burning points of the world where basic things as human rights are hidden behind an enormous global desire. And maybe you can fear that the surplus of this little country disappears in the greediness of the people but it does not seem to be the case. The surplus comes out as caring and interest for the world around them, but how?
In a small city called Vejle lays a 150-year-old gymnasium called Rødkilde Gymnasium. Here 800 young people are being taught and enriched by the knowledge of the world every day, both national and international. And in a way this small classroom suddenly expands to something much bigger. I guess it is all about knowledge and understanding and to create an understanding for each other, both good and bad. It is about trying to understand our world and the people living here and as people living here this is our main duty. At Rødkilde Gymnasium we seem to be able to find a big group of young and grownups who take responsibility and show interest for others than themselves. Through the past 25 years Rødkilde Gymnasium, and its many generations of students and teachers, have shown a great interest and support towards Stairway Foundation. A partnership that started 25 years ago when Kuya Lars and Ate Monica came and told Hans Tolstrup, a former teacher of Kuya Lars, that they had created an organization for street children and that they needed help. Without hesitating Rødkilde entered the battle and has throughout the years collected hundreds of kroners to Stairway and its many projects through their yearly ‘Stairway-day’. It is a close partnership that, over the years, has transformed into a close friendship that is about so much more that just the money being raised.
Every year the students of Rødkilde put in a big effort in their yearly fundraiser for Stairway. Here the young people of the school show a huge commitment and creativity in everyone’s effort to raise as much as possible for Stairway Foundation. People take extra shifts at work, they wash cars, go from door to door, make happenings around the city in forms of music and theater, and many other things in order to raise awareness of the cause and the work that is being done at Stairway Foundation, which is necessary. This, they show when gathering yearly, which of course is about money but in the long run is about so much more than that. It is about raising awareness and joining people in a greater cause.
This is a unity that through many years has developed into a strong friendship, which is held up by mutual respect and gratitude. It has with out a doubt meant a lot for Stairway as an organization to have a stabile support like Rødkilde through all these years. And maybe it is here that the word partnership seems to develop into friendship. Because friends do not let each other down and Rødkilde has put in their energy and support in the Stairway project right from the beginning. We can here talk about a loyalty which speaks for it self, when looking at the donation that has been giving through out the years, and when looking at the human aspect of things shows an extravagant engagement where it is clear to all how it is possible to learn from one another and to see new possibilities.
A picture is here painted of a close collaboration where both teachers and student are able to find a common passion in a project that in reality is found far away from the small and safe country, Denmark. Just the word street children, is so far from our world and lives that it can be difficult to relate to. But the students try and this is all we can ask for. They do their best and try to understand what it must be like to live on the street. How it must be like to daily having to fight for survival in the age of 7. It is horrible and I guess you do not understand it before you see it for yourself, hear the noises in the middle of the chaotic tumult of the big city, and smell the moist air in the slum of the streets. Then you finally get what it is all about, why it is so important to do something about it, and why a place like Stairway must exist.
This opportunity was given to a group of young people from Rødkilde Gymnasium, just this last month, where they traveled all the way to Stairway to see it first hand. This was a change for them to understand and expand their horizons. This Youth for Change camp seemed to have had a huge influence on the students who may not have known what to expect when arriving or what adventure was just around the corner. Through their three years at Rødkilde they have heard a lot about Stairway and have worked intensely with the project, which has all contributed to a greater understanding. Nonetheless it can still be difficult to fully grasp the concept and understand how big a project Stairway truly is. A group of students from Rødkilde Gymnasium spend a week in the Philippines that with its beauty and dark side stand in deep contrast to tiny Denmark. Despite of this, the Rødkilde students quickly found out that children are children no matter what their backgrounds are and their pasts. This was strongly underlined when one of the girls said this on our last night during reflection:
“Stairway has taught me that being a victim does not define who you are as a person but on the other hand is something you can overcome with the right kind of help and love. The road to a better life is full of compassion and happy moments but also the ability to be able to face your demons and accept and forgive. Stairway has also taught me that family is not necessarily the people who are related to you but the people who choose to love you for who you are and what you have been through.”
In general the words respect, gratitude and love were three main points in this Youth for Change camp and maybe even the main points for the whole partnership between Rødkilde and Stairway. It all seems to circle around a partnership that especially is marked by respect, gratitude and love. It is a strong passion that drives this.
“The Stairway boys have been a huge inspiration to. It is possible to smile, feel joy and love, despite the many let downs that they have been through. This exact thing is a huge inspiration that we ourselves will bring back to Denmark when we deal with our own “little” problems that, compared to the boys’ and the street children, suddenly seem redundant. It has given us a greater understanding of something that seems so far from our life in Denmark.” a tall blond boy says that is sitting in the circle, smiling, but with eyes that are looking around on everyone with a deep seriousness. This is respect and you clearly feel how big an experience this stay at Stairway has been. You can clearly feel it in everyone, like an energy of gratitude. It is with out a doubt that this group of young people will continue to support Stairway in all thinkable ways. Especially after they have experienced how big an importance Rødkilde’s yearly fundraising has on the place.
So if you ask hundreds of young people and students at Rødkilde Gymnasium why they have chosen to support Stairway through 25 years, the answer is simple or at least the essence of the answer is. Everyone at Rødkilde gladly support Stairway because it is an amazing project that, with its warmth and passion, manage to make a big difference, and for the students at Rødkilde, the thought of actually being able to make a difference appeal to them. The idea that you can show an interest, compassion, and share a passion for something this important must be what makes the whole difference. This big fundraising that Rødkilde manage to run every year would not even be possible if it was not because the school had so many students and teachers that shows compassion for others. They try to understand the world around them and as people and friends I guess this is a basic duty, which luckily seems to come very natural to the students at Rødkilde, when they raise hundreds of thousands of kroners for Stairway every year. And there is no doubt that this action is being appreciated by Stairway because what about the children of the streets? If there is anyone who are being swallowed by this violent global desire it is them and who listens to their stories? … Stairway listens, together with all the people who take action in the project no matter if you are in the Philippines or on the other side of the world in little Denmark.
We owe the world to take action in the miserableness that is destroying life around us. And it is about understanding the importance of listening and understanding in order for us to take responsibility. We must expand or horizon and in that way be able to think bigger. We should be able to learn from each other because we are stronger together than apart. Because it must be possible to create a stronger world if we believe in each other, listen to each other, and learn from each other’s lives and destinies. The ability to listen and understand is a necessity because in the middle of the darkness, thousand of lights are hiding, and believe me, this much light is to be found in the world. And with a magical place like Stairway and a huge interest from young people and children around the world it is possible to speak up. And throughout the 25 year that Stairway and Rødkilde have worked together it has been possible to make thoughts realistic, dreams come through, and create a friendship that speaks louder than words. Together we create the loop holes in the world.
Contributed by Sarah Staub, Stairway volunteer and former Roedkilde student