The project was conceptualized by Lars C. Jorgensen and Monica D. Ray during their first visit to the Philippines.
It was the year of our 30th anniversary, and it was the year where a virus put the entire world to a halt. In January, the Taal Volcano in Tagaytay blew its top on the same day that students from Harvard returned to Manila after another successful Youth for Change Camp at Stairway. That was the first and the last camp of the entire year. Following the eruption came the Corona virus pandemic. We closed our Manila office at an early point in time to protect our colleagues from commuting on crowded public transportation. Our Mindoro Center followed suit a few weeks after, when a total lockdown prevented anybody from leaving home. We ran our Family Home Program with the help from our house parents, who stayed in house, our head cook, who moved in, and a group of amazing volunteers, who had decided not to leave the country. With this great team, there was absolutely no compromise in the quality of care and education for the 13 boys in house. While our local community suffered under frequent and long power cuts, we had stable power from our solar panels, and in terms of food, we had access to a steady supply of fresh organic vegetables and fruits from our farm in the mountains. All our farm workers decided to stay at the farm and continue the production.
Our Community Assistance Program was challenged, as nobody was allowed to go out. For a couple of months, all we could do was assisting our friend and volunteer doctor, Francis Daytec, on his trips with food and medical supplies into the mountains. Fake news had caused a high level of panic amongst the indigenous people and many had fled deep into the mountains out of fear for the virus. As Dr. Francis’ vehicle had broken down, we could bring our new Hilux 4WD to good use by lending it to him throughout the lockdown.
While under lockdown, we adjusted our action plan in the new context of the pandemic. As the entire municipality of Puerto Galera was financially crippled due to a full stop in tourism, we were faced with acute severe poverty issues. We put focus on food security and emergency assistance. We also stressed the role of the local government and barrio councils to monitor and secure the safety of children under lockdown. We increased the number of beneficiaries in our educational assistance initiative to more than 600 children and youth. Aside from the usual education assistance activities, we partnered with the local government unit of Puerto Galera for the distribution of learning kits to all enrolled public school students of PG. Overall, we provided 47,000 Break the Silence (BTS) Advocacy notebooks, 214,000 pencils and 18,422 ball pens, while the LGU provided crayons, portfolios, pad papers and other supplies. The BTS notebooks contain useful information about the COVID-19 and the touching rules, along with contact information for local helplines. With the indigenous community in Baclayan, we established three feeding stations, powered by the local parents with supplies from SFI. From the time that the Enhanced Community Quarantine was moderated, we have fed more than 300 children every day, even during holidays. The need for assistance was greater than ever.
Throughout a year dictated by the threat and the devastating effects of the Corona virus, our e-learning platform became an asset of immense value for our child protection work in the Philippines and beyond. Nationally, we reached more people with our trainings in 2020 than ever before (more than half a million), and at the same time we laid the ground work for localizing and utilizing the e-learning in several other countries starting 2021. Our collaboration with the Department of Education and the Department of Social Welfare and Development was further strengthened thanks to the e-learning, and with regards to our long time work with the National Law enforcement, we started working on new plans and strategies that will make the child protection component under their training program more sustainable. In 2022, we will start to develop online training modules customized for the police and to be included in the Philippine National Police training curriculum.
Our Environmental Awareness for Children and Youth program was also seriously affected by the pandemic, as children were not allowed to leave their homes from March and throughout the entire year. The Sea Adventure School made 27 trips in total, but the floating classroom was substituted with other activities that focused more on the adult population in our community. We made good progress in our local community in terms of waste segregation, making compost, development of food gardens (back yard gardens or community based), and through community partners, we planted several thousand trees, with families accountable of taking care of each one of them to enhance survival rate.
Since we started EACY Dive a few years back, it has been in a constant positive development, and we ended 2019 on a very high note. 2020 also started out with great promise, even though the Taal volcano was already putting a dark cloud over tourism and travel to Mindoro. We still had dives almost every day in January and were looking forward to a great season based on the number of inquiries and interest in our unique concept and approach. However, in March we closed the dive center for the remainder of the year.
It was the 30th anniversary for the United Nation’s Convention on the Right of the Child, which we marked in various ways. We launched our e-learning Platform after nearly 4 years of development work and comprehensive testing. We were the country representative at the Facebook Global Safety Summit in New York. The Stairway CyberSafe initiative was presented during the Facebook Asia Pacific Safety Summit held in Bangkok, Thailand. We developed a database for the BTS National Network with some very encouraging results. Since the start of the network development some 10 years back, we now have 46 member organizations spread over 12 regions, who have delivered 12,894 training sessions on child sexual abuse prevention reaching nearly one million individuals, mostly children. Opportunity for national-level legislative advocacy has been opened for the BTS NN through membership of the Child Rights Network (CRN) — the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the country. After more than a year of struggle with customs issues, we were finally ready to give 660 anatomically correct dolls to the national police, to assist them in investigations on child sexual abuse. The dolls were made specifically for Stairway as a donation from IKEA. We were invited to speak at the DepEd First National Summit, and what made our presence even more special was the nearly 100 children participants running a parallel session using our cybersafe e-learning course. Our programs with DANIDA are progressing according to the plan, and that is also the case with our collaboration with the British Embassy on a major child protection program covering three municipalities in Metro Manila. We started a new 4-year program on cyber safety to reach 40 schools in four regions, working with three BTSNN partners. The program is financed by Kindernothilfe and the BMZ under the German Department of Foreign Affairs.
In the Family Home program, we had 13 boys graduate and move on to their next safe destinations. Before their graduation, they did a series of performances of the Lorax reaching a record high number of local school children with an important message on environmental conservation.
In the Community Assistance Program, we increased the number of youth beneficiaries for scholarships up to 500, while enhancing the quality of the program with more workshops and sessions for the students. The feeding program for around 180 indigenous children ran better than ever with stable parent participation, and the collaboration with the teachers at the school improved as well. Our efforts at the Baclayan Indigenous School were reinforced through a collaboration with the organization Teach for the Philippines, as they placed three fellows at the school. With new human resources placed at the Children Health and Education Center, we ran several trainings and workshops for the local community, including health and hygiene, family planning, livelihood - and with assistance from a specialist volunteer, we also engaged into the training of teachers on more child friendly and participatory teaching methods. Finally, we agreed with the LGU that SFI will run a comprehensive 5-year child protection program to capacitate their people to be able to deliver their mandated tasks in relation to child protection. Kindernothilfe will finance majority of this program.
The Environmental Awareness for Children and Youth (EACY) Program was enforced with an additional team member, which had become necessary, as our services and advocacy are more and more in demand. We had several talks and presentations in schools, and the LGU is increasingly placing environmental protection on its agenda. The Baclayan organic farm was 100% run and managed by indigenous team members, and the production over the year was record high. The farm also functioned as classroom for a group of local women interested in learning about organic methods in growing their gardens. We also extended the garden training to students from the local school, who develop their own plots in a section of the farm. The EACY program attracted several groups of senior high and college students to do their internship at Stairway, which led to their further engagement as active environmentalists in their respective communities.
The EACY Dive center had a remarkable year in terms of advocacy and business as well. As the Sea Adventure School boat needed a serious overhaul, we invested a portion of the profits into repairs and improvements of the boat.
Last, but certainly not least, with the generous assistance from Solenergy Inc., we expanded our solar power capacity to cover between 75 to 100% of our total power consumption, depending on load.