A Year of Hope

Monday afternoon and the sun is smiling from a blue sky, which is filled with the insisting sunlight of spring. Only a few clouds are stretched across the sky, painting it with long eggshell colored lines. Of course the sun is shining, I think to myself, when I walk across the parking lot, it couldn’t be any different. It is Monday, March 19 and it is premiere day for the documentary ‘A Year of Hope’. It is a strong story about the cruelties that swallows the children of the streets but also about all the light, that despite of all of this, is found in the world. It is a documentary about the boys of Stairway Foundation and their development and about street children, the work that Stairway is doing and the rights of children.

I walk across the parking lot and right away I spot Lisa who is standing and waving at me. Lisa is from Stairway Denmark and together with two others we almost just arrived from the Philippines and Stairway. “What an amazing weather” she says. I smile and we agree on the fact that it must be the sunshine that we promised to bring home from the Philippines. We get in the car and head towards Copenhagen where ‘A Year of Hope’ will have its premiere in only a few hours. I can feel that we are both excited and it is the thought of a night filled with Stairway people and, none the less new people, that gives us this feeling of excitement.

We arrive in Copenhagen and the light of the afternoon throws itself at the busy town with a golden glow. We all meet at Bremen Theater where we get ready for the premiere. I look around at all the faces of joy. This is the joy of reuniting – this is a Stairway reunion. I walk into the theater with a group of people. Like a group of working ants we quickly place the newsletters from Stairway Denmark on the movie theaters chairs and look out at a sea of red theater chairs that soon will be filled with excited people. Some might already know what to expect and what they will be watching where as others don’t know. One thing is certain though: no matter what they know about street children and Stairway they will all be walking out of the theater with a great experience and an expanded horizon.

The front hall is suddenly filled with people. The sounds of conversation fill the room with noise. There are people in all ages. An elderly married couple is standing in a corner where they quietly sip a glass of white wine. A bigger group of young people and adults are standing and talking. I can’t hear what they are talking about but their faces laughs out loud. Suddenly someone pokes me on my shoulder and I turn around to see that it is Ate Donna and Ate Nancy. They have come all the way from the sunshine and Stairway and are now in little cold Denmark. While I bury them in my hugs I think about how amazing it is that they are here. I ask if they are excited and they both nod with a smile on their faces. “Very excited Ate, there are so many people” Ate Donna says while looking around the room. I nod while looking around the room just as impressed as she. We get eye contact with a lot of familiar faces and suddenly we are all standing in a group of former volunteers with Donna as the center of attention. Some have met each other before while others haven’t. Despite this it feels like there is a connection between us – a connection that is Stairway, which forms a hub that releases a lot of memories and conversation.

People start walking into the theater and it slowly fills. There must be at least 600 people in the theater. We follow the crowd and end up on one of the front rows. A woman appears on stage and everyone quiet down. She welcomes everyone and gives thanks to a bunch of people who have been involved in the movie. The instructor Mikala Krogh is brought to the stage where she presents the movie. People are listening with eyes of expectation. She leaves the stage shortly after and the whole theater goes dark. In the dark I smile to Sofie, who is sitting next to me. We were both volunteers when the movie was filmed so there is something special about knowing the boys in the movie – the boys of Stairway. She smiles back at me. We both turn our heads to the big screen where the sound of the million-city Manila fills the room. Suddenly we are in a Government Center for boys in Manila, where Ate Donna is interviewing the future group of Stairway boys patiently.

We are all brought into the process. All the way from the beginning where Ate Donna interviews and pick up the boys in Manila and to the first moments at Stairway where the boys are filled with new impressions and knowledge. The movie is about children’s rights and the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation. I have a knot in my stomach and I can feel my eyebrows fold into worried wrinkles. We hear one of the boys’ voices as a speak over describing how a group of foreigners used and abused him and his friends. It is heartbreaking and I am shaking inside. It is so unbelievably unfair and I can feel the anger building inside me. But the movie is also about the boys’ personal fight against their past and the ghosts that haunt them. It is about the shadows of the past that slowly disappears alongside with the boys’ development. We see the boys throw themselves in the waves at beach time, see them fight like brothers, and we see them with proud smiles at the One Wish Christmas show. Once again I think about how important it is that Stairway is here and how important is the work they are doing.  They are a living proof that with the right kind of help, treatment, attention, and a big portion of love it is possible to move on as a street child.

We see a scene from a night down at the beach, which was supposed to be a hunt for beach crabs, which by chance turned into a night where we found a lot of baby sea turtles. I remember how excited, but at the same time calm, the boys were. I remember our flashlights that threw cones of light out in the darkness. The waves frothed at the sand where we sat out the sea turtles. The boys helped them out into freedom where the lives of the sea turtles were about to start. It is a memory and a scene in the movie with symbolic character. It is like the start of a new chapter in their lives after a year of hope. We see the big smiles that the boys have and the joy that almost skims in their brown eyes. It is these smiles that melt your heart.

The movie ends an hour and twenty minutes later. “Stairway has existed for 27 years. 85% of the street boys that has been in Stairways program do not return to the streets” it says in the end of the movie with white letters on the black movie canvas. With these words we continue with the Q&A with Kuya Lars, Ate Donna, Ate Nancy and Mikala Krogh as the panel. Ate Nancy explains about her work at the police schools and the horrifying cases of child sexual abuse that are reported and registered. But the work Stairway does make a difference and it is exactly this advocacy work that is helping them create an awareness about the huge problem it is, that so many children are abused daily, Kuya Lars explains. Ate Donna talks about the work with the boys and how amazing it is to follow them in their progress. And it is these many different people with a common passion that makes Stairway what it is. They make it a place that fights for children’s rights and a world where children can be children and be safe.

People are clapping while the lights slowly come back on and we are thrown back to the fact that it is Monday night in little cold Denmark. In a big lump we all leave the theater. A woman is looking around the room, filled with thoughts in her head. “85%, is that really true? That is incredible. It must be possible to copy this in other places!” she says. I nod. It is impressive. We step out into the cold spring evening. Our invisible breaths become a steaming cloud in the cold air. The movie is put on pause inside all of us and the night continues. Everything continues despite of the misery that takes place in the world. The world has not ended yet. Stairway’s former street boys are a living proof of this. Despite the horrible things that have devoured them through out there time in the streets it is possible to let go of their inner shadow. It is indeed a year of hope – ready to guide them towards a new chapter. We move through the streets of Copenhagen. The night is in the spirit of Stairway.

Contributed by Sarah Staub, board member Stairway Denmark

Image Stine Heilmann