The Whale and the Jonahs: Impressions, thoughts and dreams from a short stay at Stairway

Kirsten Seidenfaden and Piet Draiby, a psychologist and a child psychiatrist respectively, authors of two unique books about relationships:  The Vibrant Family and The Vibrant Relationship, as well as being holiday-tight-rope walkers, landed in Stairway last January.  During their 10-day adventure, they delighted and inspired Stairway staff and children with their stories, skills and antics.  Read below about their colorful impressions, thoughts and dreams from their short stay at Stairway.  You will have a whale of a time!


Impressions, thoughts and dreams from a short stay at STAIRWAY by a Psychologist and a Child Psychiatrist


Engulfed and gone!

Walking through the gate into STAIRWAY you’re Gone. Away from your everyday churn, away from all you know of.

After passing the gate you fall into the whale-mouth of a huge performance scene that you cannot help but be swallowed by, inviting and a little scary as it is! Down, down, down you go.

You’re gone but you are certainly not alone! There are other Jonah’s!

Kids and grownups soon show up out of green nowhere, welcoming, relaxed, friendly, smiling, and inquisitive.

Another world starts unfolding and revealing itself inside this huge belly, a world of buzzing activity. Although seemingly chaotic and restless at first the structure and the focus slowly gets more clear to us.

The unconditional wonderful warm welcome in the upper hidden dwelling meeting Lars and Monica certainly nourished our excitement, inspiration and beginning understanding of the complexity we have been plunged into.


You do not get to see the whole institution in one go. Hidden by the bambooed jungle canopy at first, the very varied huts and houses reveal themselves as you stairway yourself up the steep mountain hillside, each one of them having an artistic, playful decor.

Time and history becomes apparent recognizing the different materials from the open thatched bamboo shelter around the art studio to the arguably contemporary lazily laidback huge 3 storied concrete combined dormitory-library-etc. building, called the “Red House “.

Still, being gray – this apparent mismatch calling the grey house Red – might well illustrate what the whole thing is about here: Being in – and tolerating – the long haul unending process of becoming rather having arrived. The Tao of moving towards ambitious, idealistic goals not being too frightened or frustrated over not already having achieved.

A bell tolls. A soft hustle of kids and grownups. Everybodyknowswaddodo-like, no hurry, time to greet, eyes meet, smiling, helloing, sit-downing, each group at their table. We’re supposed to sit at the “Support” table. Before getting frazzled trying to figure out what and how to support we are softly introduced by Lars –
Christian name, where we come from -silent attention, more smiles and a no studied “welcome” make us feel welcome and belonging, forgetting all about supporting anything.

Small stuff about how to be and feel included. Just like that. Magic.

A soft voice sounds from nowhere, a short prayer by one of the boys. Again silence, relaxed attention, just being.

A meal materializes under the thatched open-air dining room, fish, rice (or RICE!!) and some vegetable stew. Simple, tasty, healthy together with filtered icy water.


A family meal in the best sense of this expression, including all of us being held by invisible unspoken rituals. All of us are cared for, so all of us dare to be caring.

So as guests and newcomers we feel certainly included as well as – we imagine – the hundreds of guests before us must have.

We are exposed to – and learn to enjoy – the intense, informed and effective teamwork around planning the day as we go along.

We want to express something that has been very important for us: Being invited to have a voice, so real dialogue can commence. Maybe that’s the essence of what everybody needs, including your kids?

We make up, that this sense of openness to strangers, to the world as being a friendly place is a very important message to convey: Yeah, you’re included; you make sense….go on, I’m with you!

So in this way the more we learn and experience during our short stay the less confused we get as to the how’s and why’s – and the more we get to appreciating what we find.

These are – though sketchily described – in our understanding some core basic elements of the fertile, generous acknowledging and loving atmosphere the 14 boys live in and by – drawn from the streets of Manila now staying at STAIRWAY.

There’s this all-encompassing 07am-3pm “working time”: School, studies, meals, short breaks. And then playtime after work hours releasing fireworks of energy!

One evening for example an open unplanned slot of time suddenly became apparent the following night. So the theatrical piece “Broken mirrors” was thrown in to be shown. But but….how on earth is this possible? The answer being ” well, this is STAIRWAY…this is how we work!” Implying an attitude of generous availability as as well tolerance to intuitive change.

Needless to say this composite play “Cracked Mirrors” is just another piece of art. Besides the pluritranslated animated material “Red leaves falling”, “Daughter” and “Good Boy” by “The STAIRWAY’s” irresistibly showing us the inhuman spectrum and aspects of sexual abuse. The voices, the songs, the wrath, despair and deep sorrow is brought to life in the show by Jao, Johnny and Susan. Yet at the same time conveying the irrefutable possibility of growth through Breaking the Silence as each one of them quietly tell their own story!

One early morning, 6 o’clock, going along in the jeepney to pick up some 20 young scholars being transported to high school from the local community, chatting, rumbling along in the dark morning. One project amongst many others run by STAIRWAY supporting more than 100 of the youth to make their further education possible. This makes totally sense: Only very few of these talented adolescents would by themselves be able to attend high school. Just thinking of the logistics of the coming and going is probably overwhelming to most of the families here.

The Baclayan Village School Food Project is another local initiative, that feeds 100-120 kids in the community – one meal a day.

We Stayed in the STAIRWAY house just above the village a few days. The village lies hidden, up the mountainside, an hours 4-wheel drive away from the sunny beaches. Amidst clouds and showers we got to understand the challenges of this -needless to say – also ambitious Ecological Resort Project, witnessing the unending fight against insects, bugs, weeds – and animals. Roaming cows and goats heading straight for the neatly arranged, juicy crops exposed to the flak of shouts and a stone or two.


During our stay we were invited to join the group of professionals and share some of our experience and teaching around attachment and mentalizing.


Dedication and and energy in abundance is what characterizes the adults at STAIRWAY, so feeling also energized it feels easy and a privilege to try to understand, share and work together.

This is some of what we did together around the themes of Trauma and Mentalizing:

– Joint presentation and reflections around the 5 year training project BREAKING THE SILENCE for professionals in NGO organizations in the Philippines.

– Workshop with the Residence Group.

– Lecture and Workshop with all professionals and semi-professionals at STAIRWAY

– Supervision, individual, focusing on the Level 3 training-program.Challenges, reflections on further developments through integration of Mentalizing theory and method based on the training program – Level 1-3

as well as

-Consultations with Lars around possibilities around further integration and individual developments.


Playtime as we see it unfolding on a sunday outing down the beach, in the daily afternoon swim or inside the precincts of STAIRWAY: uncoordinated playful creativity. Usually not grown up-initiated – though observed and supported.

Bathing alone or together in the warm clear waters of the Philippine Sea, you have to have eye contact with one of your caretakers. A wonderful way- in our thinking – to create and train your own end of responsible behavior co-creating the safe space and thus practicing and training mentalizing: To see to that you are seen!

The kids usually play with each other in pairs or changeable groups. No apparent negotiation and certainly surprisingly few -if none – quarrels or fights that might be expected especially in this group of kids.

As a weekly ritual evening cinematime in the familyhouse of Monica and Lars. The group of boys just arrives out of the pitch dark, eager, shoes off. Popcorn in buckets, huddling and cuddling on pillows all over the floor. On top of everyone lies London! She loves cinema but couldn’t care less about film, this sweet cream caramel colored Labrador that everybody loves back, tolerating her overweight wherever she puts herself. Showtime all inclusive!

At the time of writing we have no observations of conflict behavior and therefore no good understanding of how conflict is resolved neither in relation with grown-ups nor between the kids. We wonder why! Is it a culture thing or is it a sign of success of the STAIRWAY program? We do not know.

How to contribute to the high level of playfulness with these talented boys and grown-ups? One nights reminiscing on old interests and competencies brought forth: Walking and playing on the tightrope. Why not?

Tightrope caught on!

Preparing the tightrope idea was f_8quite something. Realizing difficulties and scarcities in finding and laying hand on relevant equipment. “Mmmmm…….tijtrop…no have!” Keeping us wandering, shop hopping in Calapan, on our way creating alternative solutions, understanding gradually some of the challenges of creating anything even microscopic whale-like.

After a full days excavations we were able to return bringing back some promising goods.

The show was scheduled, pushed around a little to meet different competing relevant needs, to hit after work hours. An exquisite location on-stage is chosen.

A sweaty preparatory joint last-minute of wirework, welding and putting together the hard won pieces landed us with just enough time for the necessary grow up handicap before our improvised gala opening show together with the kids.

Popcorn, balloons, sweets as well as high energy including every-body-on-the-tightrope trying, experimenting, playing. 40 different approaches, styles of meeting this wild-side challenge of finding, keeping and developing your own balance. Great fun.


Having time to understand more about this truly unique institution with its dedicated and lovable crew.

Maybe coming back for a follow-up, hoping for some of our teaching to catch on and inspire new ideas, focus and behavior for further reflections.

Another stay Close to Heaven amidst clouds and torrents in Backlayan, witnessing the Sisyphus job of wrestling with nature – as well as culture in the shape of roaming goats and cattle heading for the precious prey: the newly sown green and juicy ecological crops.

A voyage through the belly of a whale called STAIRWAY as witnessed and survived by:

The Jonah’s

Kirsten Seidenfaden & Piet Draiby