For Interim Semester at Singapore American School, it’s usually recommended to visit a new place or a place you wouldn’t normally visit. This year, though, I made the decision to go back to somewhere I’d already been to visit a foundation I had been involved with since the beginning of freshman year. I had already visited the Stairway Foundation on the island of Puerto Galera in the Philippines last spring. It became clear to me after that trip that it was a place I would want to visit time and time again.
Interim Semester provided another opportunity to return to the Stairway Foundation. This time it was different. It was a longer period of time (a whole week as opposed to just a long weekend over spring break), which allowed us to learn a lot more about the organization. Stairway is a home for boys who have been sexually and physically abused on the streets of Manila. They work to relieve the boys’ trauma and prepare them for the world by teaching them social and physical skills, such as bracelet making or cooking, that will help them find a job once they leave the foundation.
Those who visit the foundation participate in something referred to as “service through friendship” in which we form connections with the boys by getting to know them. This helps the boys prepare for the real world. The trip allowed us to spend time with street children in the city before we went to Puerto Galera, which helped us to truly understand how the boys residing at Stairway lived their lives prior to being given the opportunity of a new start at the foundation.
Arriving at the foundation for Interim Semester was so exciting, and I knew that the week was going to be transformative. Anyone who has been there will know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t been there, you’ll just have to take my word for it. All of the boys are talented and unique in their own ways. Some of them love music and are constantly playing the guitar or the piano. Some of them love art, and you’ll find them drawing in a sketchbook that you might be lucky enough to see if you become friends.
I learned that not only does Stairway help teach boys who have gone through so much what it’s like to be a real kid who doesn’t have a care in the world, they also provide for the children of the Baclayan tribe in Puerto Galera by providing them with access to education and steady meals. We learned that the actions of the founders, Lars and Monica Jorgensen, have reached thousands, if not millions of kids in the Philippines and affected each and every one of them positively. I hear Bohemian Rhapsody at a school assembly and I think of John Miel and how much he loves that song. I eat something spicy and I think of Melvin and how he covered his entire pizza with hot sauce and then had to go back to get water nearly 10 times at dinner. I see a spider and I think of Carlos laughing as he chased us down the mountain with the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in his hands. It’s hard to leave Stairway, but these beautiful memories take me back there all the time.
No matter what these boys have been through, they maintain their happiness through it all. This trip was so special to me, and I felt I not only bonded with the boys at the foundation but I also formed such special friendships with the other kids on the trip. While getting to know the boys to help them adapt to a new life, it helped me as well. Spending a week at the foundation taught me to appreciate the little things in life, and that is something I can carry with me always.
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Alumna Jeniffer Park (Class of 2019) talks about her Catalyst project journey and how it opened doors to experiences and encounters guided me in her career choices.
In this three-part series, high school personal academic counselor Dr. Jeff Devens shares how parents can help their children settle in as they transition into a new culture, school, and country.