International Day For Street Children

Imagine yourself for a moment as a kid again. But this time, your parents are gone, you do not know the next time you will eat, you have no roof over your head when you sleep, and you don’t know where to hide from the abuse of strangers, gang members or even the police. You have no home and no family, except for the other band of kids who have nothing and no one just like you. This is a reality for millions of children living on the streets around the world.

Estimating numbers of ‘street children’ is fraught with difficulties. The exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world. It is likely that the numbers are increasing.

The International Day for Street Children: Louder Together was launched by the Consortium for Street Children on 12th April 2011.  It is a new campaign to give a louder voice to the millions of street children all around the world so their rights cannot be ignored. Governments need to listen. We want to help make this happen. We must give street children a voice. Together we are louder and have more impact so we are asking everyone to Raise your Voices for Street Children.

In honor of International Street Children Awareness Day, Athentikos is offering 50% off Reparando digital downloads. Reparando tells the story of several Guatemalans working to bring hope to a beautiful country that has been ravaged after years of civil war and violence. Response to this documentary was overwhelming both in Guatemala, the USA and around the world. Athentikos is producing a new documentary titled Becoming Fools. Becoming Fools focuses on the street youth of Guatemala City and the grassroots efforts working to improve their living situations and give them hope.

Download your copy of Reparando.

Proceeds from Reparando sales go directly toward the Becoming Fools project.
Please support Athentikos as we raise awareness and provide hope to change the lives of street children around the world.

Questioning Reality

I knew this day would eventually come. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I could never wrap my brain around why. Perhaps I was just scared. But today was the day.

Micah came home from school today and explained that kids at school said he was adopted and had another mother. He asked us if that was true.

We have always told our sons they were born in Guatemala and celebrated their heritage. But for the past couple years, they thought everyone was born there. We repeatedly explained that we weren’t born in Guatemala, but it never sunk in. According to Micah, “even Jesus and Santa Claus were born in Guatemala”. That was his perceived reality … at least until today when he was told by his peers that he was different.

My first reaction was anger and sorrow. I was angry that these kids might have told Micah this information to be mean to him. I was sad that that they might have hurt his feelings because they didn’t know the truth about adoption and his story. And of course, there was the fear that perhaps somehow my son would view us as people other than his parents who loved him. We planned to have this conversation with our sons eventually, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. At least we had read a lot of books that prepared us for the question. I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself as we ate dinner.

After dinner Amelia and I explained to Micah and Elliot in further detail how they came to be our sons. In short, we told them that their birth mother (tummy mamma) loved them very much, but that she could not take care of them. She loved them enough to give them to us so that we could take care of them and become their “forever parents”. We explained how Amelia and I tried to have babies from Amelia’s tummy but couldn’t and that we were very sad. But God had different plans. He gave us the gift of children through Micah and Elliot. And even more, we believe it was God’s plan all along. We told them that adoption is not second best or less special than being with a tummy mamma. God chose to give them to us and we are so very thankful that they are our sons. We were proud of their heritage and story and loved them both so, so, so very much.

We talked for a long time and explained our story in several ways. We even used Kung Fu Panda 2 as an example of adoption. I could see the wheels turning in Micah’s head. His eyes told me that he was contemplating this information. Then, he asked us the name of his tummy Mamma … And suddenly, after years of wondering to myself when it would happen … It was happening …

… and then just as quickly as he asked about his tummy mamma, he began talking about a video game …

Maybe it sunk in. Maybe it didn’t. We gave Micah and Elliot hugs and encouraged them to ask us questions about their story whenever they had them in the future. I am sure there will be more questions. Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe it will be next week or next year. But the questions will come, and we will answer them when they do.

For now, I know this: our sons KNOW that we love them and we are one more step further into our story together. It wasn’t a bad day after all.

Questioning Reality

I knew this day would eventually come. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I could never wrap my brain around why. Perhaps I was just scared. But today was the day.

Micah came home from school today and explained that kids at school said he was adopted and had another mother. He asked us if that was true.

We have always told our sons they were born in Guatemala and celebrated their heritage. But for the past couple years, they thought everyone was born there. We repeatedly explained that we weren’t born in Guatemala, but it never sunk in. According to Micah, “even Jesus and Santa Claus were born in Guatemala”. That was his perceived reality … at least until today when he was told by his peers that he was different.

My first reaction was anger and sorrow. I was angry that these kids might have told Micah this information to be mean to him. I was sad that that they might have hurt his feelings because they didn’t know the truth about adoption and his story. And of course, there was the fear that perhaps somehow my son would view us as people other than his parents who loved him. We planned to have this conversation with our sons eventually, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. At least we had read a lot of books that prepared us for the question. I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself as we ate dinner.

After dinner Amelia and I explained to Micah and Elliot in further detail how they came to be our sons. In short, we told them that their birth mother (tummy mamma) loved them very much, but that she could not take care of them. She loved them enough to give them to us so that we could take care of them and become their “forever parents”. We explained how Amelia and I tried to have babies from Amelia’s tummy but couldn’t and that we were very sad. But God had different plans. He gave us the gift of children through Micah and Elliot. And even more, we believe it was God’s plan all along. We told them that adoption is not second best or less special than being with a tummy mamma. God chose to give them to us and we are so very thankful that they are our sons. We were proud of their heritage and story and loved them both so, so, so very much.

We talked for a long time and explained our story in several ways. We even used Kung Fu Panda 2 as an example of adoption. I could see the wheels turning in Micah’s head. His eyes told me that he was contemplating this information. Then, he asked us the name of his tummy Mamma … And suddenly, after years of wondering to myself when it would happen … It was happening …

… and then just as quickly as he asked about his tummy mamma, he began talking about a video game …

Maybe it sunk in. Maybe it didn’t. We gave Micah and Elliot hugs and encouraged them to ask us questions about their story whenever they had them in the future. I am sure there will be more questions. Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe it will be next week or next year. But the questions will come, and we will answer them when they do.

For now, I know this: our sons KNOW that we love them and we are one more step further into our story together. It wasn’t a bad day after all.

It’s a Team Effort

The kids involved in Fergie’s classes are not the only ones learning.

Throughout my time here in Guatemala and throughout production, I have been learning a lot about filming, photography, technology, scheduling shoots, coordinating crew members, organizing transportation, and even a bit little of clowning.

Our Guatemala production team is learning too, as they are authentically responding and volunteering their talents.  We have been blessed with such a great crew of volunteers willing to help us along this process!!

“I feel so happy and privileged to be volunteering with Athentikos. It has been a great experience getting to know the crew and all the people involved in the documentary. I’ve met people from different backgrounds and situations that are passionate and have a heart to see a better Guatemala. I have so much to learn from them, they have inspired me and challenged me to give my best in this project and to stop being indifferent to the need around me.”  – Alex Ortiz

 

The Athentikos team has had a filming shoot just about every week since I arrived here in January.   We have had informal shoots and formal shoots, shoots with the kids and shoots of random scenes around the city.  We have shot a clown show, a memorial service, conducted several interviews, and now every Tuesday and Thursday we are documenting the kids process through learning the art of clowning with Fergie.

With all the cameras around, Mefi has even started dreaming about what it would be like to one day be in a movie.  Mefi asked me once… “Gary have you been in a film before? Because I like a girl and I think she likes me, it will be funny if I take her to the movies to see myself.”

Along the way we have experienced ups and downs.  We struggled through technical issues at first as we worked to learn about the equipment.  But most issues have been resolved.  We know have a procedure we follow to ensure all footage in dumped and filed correctly, memory cards are formatted, batteries are charged and then all equipment is ready to go the night before the next shoot.

“One of the things that happen when you’re working in audio is that you have to be super careful with not getting any outside noise in the recording. Therefore, you have to be silent and try to find places that won’t have a lot of people laughing or talking.  When we recorded Panchorizo’s show, I didn’t know what to expect.  I heard the show was very entertaining, but I had my goal of being there to record audio.  The funny thing starts, when I realize I’m recording audio and that the ZOOM is super sensitive to noise, but I just can’t stop laughing at Panchorizo.  He was so funny and creative; the show was so welcoming that I literally had to cover my mouth and nose so I wouldn’t make noise that would go into the recording. That’s probably been one of the hardest settings I’ve been recording in and still is probably the funniest…” – Hubert Bendfeldt.

With the kids well on their way to become clowns, we are now well on our way to becoming a professional film crews.  And through this process relationships are forming.

“For me the best was when byron came behind me and hugged me. I cant describe how good that felt….” – Josue Porta.

‘Becoming Fools’ together has been such a blast!

 

Clowning Around

We are well underway in the process of ‘Becoming Fools’!

Clowning is a performance art. It’s experiential. It’s theatre. And … it’s cathartic. Clowning can help these kids process their tragic stories and better understand their wounds. Clowning can also empower these kids to begin to communicate their stories non-verbally – in a way that crosses culture and language – so that we the audience can begin to understand their needs and respond. Both the clown and the audience have the opportunity to heal.

Classes are now in full swing every Tuesday and Thursday.  In these training sessions, kids are learning and perfecting a variety of skills included in clowning and in theatrical performance.  After each class the kids are tasked with specific skills and exercises to continue practicing at home.  How fun it has been to watch the kids being creative, being silly, expressing themselves, and improving their skills!!

At times, it may seem that a theatrical performance at such a big scale may be a goal that is unachievable.  But the kids involved in this project are extremely talented.  And these kids are passionate about influencing people around them in a similar way that Italo inspired them.

“My dream is leaving the streets for good and being able to have myself  a small business to have a training shop – workshops with makeup and stuff like that. And help people that are in need like I am need right now,” Byron says.

“That is part of my dream, to become an artist, a great artist like himself.  I like to bring joy to people’s lives, and I like to see people laughing. My purpose is to bring joy and happiness to people, to bring a moment of joy to others, a moment of entertainment, a moment in which they can clear their minds,” Mefi shares.

The kids have been practicing skills like improvisation, vocal coordination and projection, facial expressions and exaggeration, stage directions, dramatization, the art of applying make-up and everything in between.  All the while embracing a stronger understanding of self-confidence.

Throughout the process of preparing for the Becoming Fools Live Event, these kids are given a goal to work towards, something to practice and thus a very tangible way to see their skills and themselves grow.

We have a long road ahead of us, but the kids are enjoying the ride and so are we!!

Qué mundo tan pequeño!

Today was a busy day! I visited the street kids of El Tanque with At Risk No More, and then we drove two blocks down the street to spend some time with María the Doll Lady, who everyone has grown to love from the movie Reparando.

We greeted her in the street, and she immediately invited us into her house.  We brought María a scarf made by someone in Tita’s workshop.  After presenting the scarf and taking a photo we began to talk. María detailed several ways in which Reparando has blessed her.  We were humbled by her immense gratitude.  She mentioned that her life is simple. She works, but only has one obligation, and that is to follow God.  Over and over she shared with us how God has provided everything she needs personally and for her business.  She is very grateful for the work that she has and the blessings that Reparando has brought her.  She even mentioned that she feels a little like a ‘celebrity’ because of the film.  People that have seen Reparando have recognized her within the community and around the Potter’s House.  Her grandchildren also find it amusing when they see their grandmother appear in a movie!

María invited us to the back room of her house where she used to work and store all of her dolls.  However, the room is now less full than it has been in the past, because with so much work she had to find another location down the street to work and keep the dolls.  This room had several finished dolls lying on a bed, but its walls were lined with bags of baby clothing that has since been donated to her through different organizations.  Organizations have donated both money and clothing to María upon seeing the Reparando and being touch by her story, and inspired to respond.

María also shared with us that she has been so blessed that her work has now extended beyond working with the dolls.  She has started working with paper recycling to keep her even busier.  Her kids often urge her to stop working, or at least cut back. But she says her body is used to it and she does not want to stop.  God has blessed her with health and with work that she loves, and therefore she will continue to do it.

Throughout our conversation, she told us about her family, about her work and about her neighborhood.  She told us of kids who sleep in the street outside her house, who never caused trouble or violence, but could always be found sniffing solvent.  She talked with Gary and Rachel of At Risk No More about their work with the kids of the streets, and mentioned El Tanque, a central location where At Risk No More and Athentikos are pursuing change for the kids in the street.  She mentioned Marvin, a young man of El Tanque, whose family lives just across the street from her.  We told her that we knew him and she laughed a little saying that he was like family to her, explaining that her nephew lives with Marvin’s sister.

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that character from Reparando knows and shares family with a character of Becoming Fools.  Qué mundo tan pequeño!

-Ericha Penzien

Renewing The Heart of a Child

One of the greatest blessings of producing documentary film is the opportunity to learn from interviews. It begins as a conversation that in itself is enlightening, but ultimately the wisdom of an interview is revealed at a much more profound level during the editing process. A much clearer picture presents itself when interviews are listened to over and over again in the context of other interviews which make the collective story. Sometimes people say things that seem so simple, yet change my life. Last week I tripped over a statement from an interview that will not let me go.

Fergie is a professional clown in Guatemala City who worked with Italo to develop the idea of a clown school for street children. After Italo’s death last year, Fergie continued this vision with passion and perseverance. We interviewed Fergie in November 2011 as part of our first production trip to Guatemala. He explained how he personally began clowning, and how he hopes to use clowning to help heal street children. I remember being inspired by his noble initiative during the interview and thinking it was a “neat idea”, but I didn’t realize just how profound his vision really is.

… Fast forward …

I have spent the last three months reviewing and evaluating footage and interviews from our November trip. I have read and listened to these stories over and over again. I have read books about street youth and I have listened to lectures about the issue. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the subject, but I do have a greater understanding now than I did 3 months ago. One thing that is unfortunately common in many stories of street youth is abuse. Some family member abused them – often repeatedly. Ironically, these children fled the danger of home to live in the safety of the streets. The memory of this pain often drives them to self medicate and becomes a dangerous cycle of drug abuse.

In a sense, their childhood has been stolen from them. It is this idea which is contrasted by profound wisdom from a clown. Fergie says,

“In the Bible there is a verse that says you must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. And children have a forgiving heart. I´ve seen them fighting with a friend, and half hour later they are playing together again. That (forgiveness) is something that we all should have.”

He goes on to say,

“And a clown has to be like a child as well. A clown is really a child – a silly child. In the same way a clown has to learn to forgive.”

Through the art of clowning, these children have the opportunity to learn forgiveness. This simple yet profound thought deepened my understanding of the Becoming Fools story. In the context of this issue, forgiveness is the first step towards rehabilitation. Anger and resentment drive these children into cycles of addiction. And … Anger and resentment keep these children in cycles of addiction. They will never leave the streets unless they can forgive the people who hurt them the most. Forgiveness is one of the most important parts of the healing process … letting go of the hurt that stings, letting go of the anger that overwhelms, and letting go of the obsession that controls … So that they may find the true peace that they have longed for.

Fergie is living out his faith by reaching out to children who have been abused by family and ignored by society. He isn’t simply teaching them to be silly. He isn’t just giving them vocational training. He is consistently investing in their lives and becoming a father figure they never had. He is teaching them to trust again and let go of their pain. He is igniting dreams and passion in their lives and as result renewing the hearts of children that were once stolen.

And THAT is authentically inspiring.

Renewing the Heart of a Child

One of the greatest blessings of producing documentary film is the opportunity to learn from interviews. It begins as a conversation that in itself is enlightening, but ultimately the wisdom of an interview is revealed at a much more profound level during the editing process. A much clearer picture presents itself when interviews are listened to over and over again in the context of other interviews which make the collective story. Sometimes people say things that seem so simple, yet change my life. Last week I tripped over a statement from an interview that will not let me go.

Fergie is a professional clown in Guatemala City who worked with Italo to develop the idea of a clown school for street children. After Italo’s death last year, Fergie continued this vision with passion and perseverance. We interviewed Fergie in November 2011 as part of our first production trip to Guatemala. He explained how he personally began clowning, and how he hopes to use clowning to help heal street children. I remember being inspired by his noble initiative during the interview and thinking it was a “neat idea”, but I didn’t realize just how profound his vision really is.

… Fast forward …

I have spent the last three months reviewing and evaluating footage and interviews from our November trip. I have read and listened to these stories over and over again. I have read books about street youth and I have listened to lectures about the issue. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the subject, but I do have a greater understanding now than I did 3 months ago. One thing that is unfortunately common in many stories of street youth is abuse. Some family member abused them – often repeatedly. Ironically, these children fled the danger of home to live in the safety of the streets. The memory of this pain often drives them to self medicate and becomes a dangerous cycle of drug abuse.

In a sense, their childhood has been stolen from them. It is this idea which is contrasted by profound wisdom from a clown. Fergie says,

“In the Bible there is a verse that says you must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. And children have a forgiving heart. I´ve seen them fighting with a friend, and half hour later they are playing together again. That (forgiveness) is something that we all should have.”

He goes on to say,

“And a clown has to be like a child as well. A clown is really a child – a silly child. In the same way a clown has to learn to forgive.”

Through the art of clowning, these children have the opportunity to learn forgiveness. This simple yet profound thought deepened my understanding of the Becoming Fools story. In the context of this issue, forgiveness is the first step towards rehabilitation. Anger and resentment drive these children into cycles of addiction. And … Anger and resentment keep these children in cycles of addiction. They will never leave the streets unless they can forgive the people who hurt them the most. Forgiveness is one of the most important parts of the healing process … letting go of the hurt that stings, letting go of the anger that overwhelms, and letting go of the obsession that controls … So that they may find the true peace that they have longed for.

Fergie is living out his faith by reaching out to children who have been abused by family and ignored by society. He isn’t simply teaching them to be silly. He isn’t just giving them vocational training. He is consistently investing in their lives and becoming a father figure they never had. He is teaching them to trust again and let go of their pain. He is igniting dreams and passion in their lives and as result renewing the hearts of children that were once stolen.

And THAT is authentically inspiring.

Teatro Abril will host Becoming Fools Live Event

We have secured Teatro Abril as the venue for our live clowning event this June, and we couldn’t be more excited! Teatro Abril is one of the most historic and celebrated theaters in Guatemala City, known for its amazing charm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marble floors, spiraling staircases, ornate European-inspired statues and beautiful chandeliers fill the lobby of Teatro Abril to create a breath-taking entrance. These elements give the theater a sophisticated charm that inspires and represents Guatemalan culture. The exceptional attention to detail in the design of Teatro Abril continues into many salons located throughout the theater. It is estimated that over 50,000 people attend events at Teatro Abril each year.

The theater is located off the lobby through a large, golden curtain. It comfortably seats 700 people on the main level and two balcony level seats. The carpet and seats are a beautiful red fabric that gives the space color and continue the character of Teatro Abril.

Take a min to look at some more pictures at: http://teatroabril.com/. We will keep you updated and look forward to sharing the live event with you in months to come.

Streets kids attend clown show at National Theater

On Sunday, Feb 12, 2012, the Athentikos Guatemala team and primary characters from Becoming Fools went to a show performed by Pancho Toralla in Teatro de Cámara of National Theater of Guatemala. During the show, Pancho Toralla, professionally known as Panchorizo, showcased a variety of talents including juggling, miming, singing, playing several instruments and dancing among other acrobatic stunts to entertain the crowd. Panchorizo also incorporated lots of jokes and several very Guatemalan elements throughout the show to add to the theatrical performance… everything kept us laughing throughout the whole show!!

Panchorizo doing the splits..AUCH!!

Several members from our team scouted Panchorizo’s show 2 weeks ago to develop a plan for documenting the event and the street kids’ experience. Athentikos captured the event with 3 cameras. One camera focused on Panchorizo and the other cameras picked up different angles of the show and captured the kids’ responses as they watched. We plan to use this footage in the final cut Becoming Fools to show the process the boys from the street have gone through in their training to become clowns.

Cesar setting-up to film the event

 

Mefi, Byron, Willy and Raul attended the show our team. They had front row seats to enjoy the show. Afterwards, they met Panchorizo personally and talked with him about the show and his experiences with clown performance. The kids enjoyed spending time with Panchorizo and sharing their hopes and dreams for performing.

Panchorizo discusses the show and their future

Raul is a former street youth who is rehabilitated. He currently works during the day remodeling houses and attends CAFNIMA at night in order to get his high school degree. He receives additional assistance from At Risk No More. God has changed Raul’s life. He is proof that with holistic support, these children can get to a place where drugs are no longer a temptation and that they can reintegrate into society.

Mefi is currently working for the local Guatemalan government as a gardener for highway beautification. He finished sixth grade last year and graduated with honors. As result, he received a scholarship from MOJOCA to study high school in a private institute. He really enjoys clowning, singing and walking on stilts.

Byron and Willy are still living on the streets of Guatemala City, but have big dreams of performing. Byron really enjoys making people laugh and smile as well as sharing a message through his performance. Willy loves magic and is affectionately known as Willy El Mago. He shared with Panchorizo that he would love to develop his skills and travel.

We want to thank to our AWESOME Athentikos team that is helping make all this possible! Thank you for ‘Becoming Fools’ with us!