On their second day in the alpland of cheese and chocolate, the first snow of the year greeted six street children from the tropics.
When you are homeless in Manila, you are pre-rehearsed to the cold by sleeping under bridges, in the barong-barong (house built out of found objects) or in reclaimed facades and dilapidated temporary tenements. The body is even built for counter-dialogues with more than 200 stormy nights in twelve months.
However, snow was something new for the children. And indeed, the weather in Switzerland is a number of degrees different from the sunny part of the Earth where they were born.
Weather was just one challenge that Philippine-based Onesimo Bulilit Foundation considered for the performance tour of Basanstrasse 24 in collaboration with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor-Switzerland. To be able to effectively communicate was another.
Basanstrasse 24 (24 Basan Street) is a dance-monologue play based on the life of children in Quiapo Manila where Onesimo Bulilit also found its home in reaching out to children at risk. A result of team conception and patient training in theater, it was first shown in 2011 for Filipino communities directed and choreographed by Joanna Lerio. For the Swiss re-staging, it is spoken and sung in Filipino with German dubbing and subtitling.
The play weaves the characters of Jenny (performed by Jennylyn Victoria), Totoy (Joyamae Clemencio) and Abby (Lizel Lozada). Each has a struggle to tell and dreams to share.
In the opening dance Malinis na Trabaho (Decent Work, song by Ernesto Opiasa), children scavenge for food and trash to sell. Their meager yet hard-earned treasures are rudely taken away by three monsters. Abby strongly feels against this nightmare that she invites her fellow children to speak up for hope and progressive change in their life. Basan Rap (text by Marco Silvano and music by Mike Quezon) was an immediate response. Performed by Harold Idao and Aiza Rakim with German rendition by Julien Coray, children question the uncertainty of their future while telling themselves not to remain voiceless and being treated as nothing.
The following scenes unravel their survival in a society fettered by poverty and exploitation.
The sequences Jenny and Quiapo Bridge (songs by Emmanuel Heitz) reveal how Jenny is orphaned by urban demolition and drug syndication. She survives by vending in the city of high-rise buildings where she experiences hunger, neglect and delusions.
Meanwhile, Totoy finds himself in the den of police brutality when he only tried to evade the constant belting from his step-father (Noreel Faller). Alone in his kariton, a wooden push-cart which is also commonly used as shelter by homeless families, Totoy longs for his caring mother (herself a battered wife) and his father (a migrant worker). Opiasa’s song, Bakit Ganito ang Buhay (Why is Life Like This), provides the background in his isolation.
Abby shares the same longing as she dances Aking Ina (My Mother by Julie Julz; theme song from the cartoon Remi: The Homeless Boy). Rescued from deprived education, incestuous past and eventual prostitution, Abby is now a young leader who is ready to educate her fellows and rescue them from vulnerabilities in the street. The three found a family among each other along with adult educators (Rechelle Dionaldo, Ferdie Garay and Arnel Villanueva).
The next act features a place fit for children as envisioned by Onesimo where children have the freedom to play, study and wholly develop. Before the finale song Ngayon Na (Now is the Time, original composition by Mike Quezon) wherein children released their paper planes of dreams, the young casts reminded the audience of children’s rights and advocacy in a parade of streamers.
The show was capped with actual testimonial sharing from the children and staff as well as an invitation from Onesimo Executive Director Daniel Wartenweiler for the participation of Swiss people to the children’s cause. He himself has dedicated his capacity to alleviate the situation of urban poor children by living among them and establishing programs such as residential care and educational assistance. Likewise, Onesimo founders Christian and Christine Schneider had immersed among poor families in the Philippines and recollected 13 years of developmental work in the book, Himmel und Strassen Staub: Unser Leben als Familie in den Slums von Manila (Giessen: Brunnen, 2011) with English edition Rubble and Redemption: Finding Life in the Slums of Manila translated by Dagmar Grimm (UK: Piquant, 2012).
While migrant Filipino families and individuals spark instant synergy from their first smiling gaze and the following kababayan hugs, it is for people like Wartenweiler and the Schneiders who embraced both cultures that language was not a problem at all in mounting Basanstrasse 24 to a large Swiss audience. The Filipino cultural team was coupled with Swiss staffs who have a heart for the Filipino people and who are very fluent in Filipino language that it was not a hindrance to express in the native tongue the social problems faced by children.
Efficiency at work is also laudable among the Swiss.There were limitations however for technical adjustments and artistic glitz in the actual performance given that the varied venues: churches and halls in Trimmis, Bern, Basel, Bubendorf and Aarau had specific requirements. However, what stood out in the end as most important was the bondage made between the children and the families of Swiss audience.
For three weeks from October 26 to November 17, Switzerland, along with the home of Fortuna-Riethmuller family in the Swiss-French border, was a sweet and warm sanctuary for the six Filipino urban poor children.#
Photos courtesy of Onesimo Bulilit Foundation and Chrigel Maier.
You might also want to read:
- Munting Tinig from Quaipo’s Angels: The Making of Onesimo Bulilit Theater
- Protect our Children, Defend the Future
- Nueva Ecija Theater Workshop: Dramarama sa Hapon
- Portrait of Mangyan in a Festival
- Encounter with Youth Leaders of Moriones Island
- Nakar Quezon Youth Workshop on Environmental Care
- When the Curtain Opens, it doesn’t Fall