Casa Bernabé gives hope to at-risk children in Guatemala though orphan care, a community medical center, family counseling and in-country adoption awareness programs.
An estimated 5,000 youth live in the streets of Guatemala City. Each of them has their own unique story, but all of them struggle with wounded hearts. Abuse and neglect have made it difficult for there children to integrate into society, but hope is rising. Individuals and organizations are investing in at-risk youth to prevent them from going to the street by restoring broken families and helping children in the street find their way back into loving homes.
Casa Bernabé has a long history of investing in at-risk youth. Located on 13 acres outside of Guatemala City, Casa Bernabé is home to more than 150 children that have come from at-risk living situations. Their unique approach to orphan care includes homes with family groups. Each child belongs to a loving, nurturing family made up of house parents and their own children. They live together in individual homes large enough for 15-20 children of the same age group. As a family unit they eat, pray, play and work together.
In this video, Lili shares how her life was rescued and healed through the community at Casa Bernabé.
Tamagochy is a Guatemalan icon, made famous for his performances in the streets of historic Antigua, Guatemala. We saw him performing during our scouting trip in 2011 and were totally blown away by his creative talent. We first noticed the crowd surrounding him and wondered why everyone was gathered. We approached the crowd to explore and quickly realized they were watching a master at work. Before we knew it the crowd unglued us as more people joined behind us.
Being a filmmaker, I pulled out my camera to capture his antics. Of course, Tamagochy dialed right in and pulled me into his show to be part of the act. I remember thinking, “It would be so great if someone like this was a part of Becoming Fools.” But at the time, we didn’t know much about the film. I didn’t want to prematurely invite him into something that wouldn’t pan out. So I decided to keep quiet. It was hard for me to walk away and not say anything because I could see Tamagochy’s potential. I regretted that decision for the rest of the scouting trip.
I pulled up Tamagochy’s footage after returning home and again felt regret for not reaching out to him. I couldn’t believe I met him personally and didn’t mention a single thing about the film. I didn’t get his contact info and I didn’t ask him to sign a release form either. So this footage was never going to see the light of day … And then …
About a month after returning home, I received an email from … Tamagochy …
He heard about the Becoming Fools project and wanted to help. I just sat there for a moment in awe of what happened. I hadn’t said a thing. I had no idea how to contact him. But that didn’t matter. Tamagochy contacted us!
Tamagochy is an absolute star when it comes to talent. But he didn’t come in with arrogance as a professional. He joined the team as a humble servant, volunteering his time because he understood the issues these youth were facing. He proved to be an incredible treasure for both the street youth and the Becoming Fools story.
If you are ever in Antigua, Guatemala, make sure you take some time to enjoy his street performance … and when he passes the hat, tip him well, knowing that you are helping an incredible artist continue to help make the world a better place.
Here’s a scene from the Becoming Fools Theatrical event with Tamagochy and Toñito – both are featured in the documentary, Becoming Fools.
Reparando means “repairing” in Spanish. Athentikos produced the documentary, Reparando in 2010 to:
Expose needs in Guatemala
Connect viewers to organizations responding to those needs
Inspire people to respond by giving or going to Guatemala to join the mission
Two years later, the film continues to challenge audiences all over the world and inspire them to live generously. An example of this is Josh Diaz, a Guatemalan who quit a job he loved in order to have time volunteer for Guatemalan mission organizations with his talents.
Diving into documentary production is like diving into the ocean. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but you can easily drown in it.
A year ago today I said goodbye to my family to spend 2 1/2 months in Guatemala producing Becoming Fools. At the time, I was anxious to get to Guatemala to start capturing the story. I had been directing the production from the US for a couple months and that proved to be quite frustrating. Every day there was a new conflict and obstacle that seemed to distract forward momentum. At least that’s what it felt like, because bad news travels fast – especially when you are trying to do something good. So, I hopped on a plane to dive into this film and immerse myself in something I felt called to do.
I thought my presence in Guatemala would somehow bring continuity to production. I thought that things would be easier once I was physically in the country. But, I thought wrong. Proximity to conflict doesn’t give you any advantage to control it. It wasn’t any easier. It was just a different kind of difficulty – and in many ways, even more difficult. I was simply closer to the waves that kept crashing down on everything and was quickly carried out to sea just like everyone else. But I know two things about waves that also hold true for documentary film production:
Don’t fight the current
Never swim alone
Charles Dickens was onto something when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” That prophetic description held true for the Becoming Fools production. It was grueling. It was stressful. It was absolutely heart wrenching at times. But, it was also one of the most joyful times of my life. I locked arms with close friends and purposefully dove into the crushing breakers with them because we believed in something greater than ourselves. We were all swept away by the crashing waves and pushed beyond our comfort zones. But somehow, “together was better” because we weren’t swimming alone. It was this community – this mutual trust and interdependency that gave us confidence to keep going in the face of enormous adversity. We all dove in together.
This is what you call irony – because in reality, none of us knew how to swim in the first place.
None of us had the capacity to accomplish the goal. All of us had failed at some point. We weren’t the dream team and at times it felt like a real nightmare. But somehow our group of incapable individuals was made capable, because it was called together by the One who makes all things possible. In this calling, my incapacity gives someone else strength … and vice versa, when we are committed to each other in the collaborative process.
But working together it isn’t easy. It’s ugly and full of dysfunction in the process. We all make mistakes at times and hurt each other in ways that would seem to prevent anything from being accomplished. A group of frightened people climbing on each other, gasping for air to survive in a surging tide will almost certainly drown each other. But we have a life raft if we will choose the right perspective. Somehow over the long run, the ugliness cancels itself out in a beautiful algebraic expression of grace, if the equation is built on a constant of God’s love. That love makes up for our mistakes and turns our pride of self ambition into a sacrifice for others. Thankfully, that love is a life raft big enough for all of us.
I dove into the ocean of documentary production hoping to make a difference in the lives of youth living in the streets. I’ve spent the last year being tossed around by a current I cannot control, and I still have no idea where it’s taking me. But, with help from my fellow fools, I’ll keep holding on to this life raft of love that transforms an ocean filled with broken people into an ark of redeeming grace, capable of bringing hope to distant shores.
You can join the story. Click below to give a tax-deductible donation to Athentikos.
Athentikos served on a leadership team with Lemonade International & Vidas Plenas to host an annual Art Camp
for 100 at-risk kids in the community of La Limonada. Guatemala.
Athentikos provided over 70% of the funding through individual donations
and a grant given by LEGO.
Stories inspire change and hope. We are thankful to be
able to share these incredible blessings from 2012! They would not be
possible without you! Please help Athentikos continue to inspire through
the art of story by giving a tax-deductible gift of $50, $100, $200 or
more. Your investment will be exponentially returned as it inspires through the art of story throughout 2013 and years to come!
Thank you for believing with us and generously sharing your time, talent
and treasure! We are all part of this story to inspire together!
It is crazy to believe that a little over a month ago I was in Guatemala with some amazing people, spreading the Gospel and capturing life in a very raw sense. I have been out of the United States several times, but this was the first trip that had a layered agenda, to document a broken world in hopes to rebuild it, to help people along the way, to show and share love, and to bring back the need for help and share that with others. I thought that was going to be the extent of what happened on this journey, but little did I know, it would change my life in a significant manner.
If someone would come up to me and say, “would you help us shoot a documentary out of the country for a couple of weeks?” Without a doubt I would say yes, however this wasn’t just some ordinary excursion of a documentary, rather this is a sequel if you will. Athentikos’s first documentary “Reparando” weighed heavily on my heart upon watching it. The film gave insight to various serious issues in Guatemala and the need for outside help, because help within is sparse. The documentary showed me how shattered a civilization, yet at the same time how Guatemalans continue to trudge forward and overcome adversity. With that said, that was even more of a push for me to go on this trip to document footage for Athentikos’s second documentary “Becoming Fools”.
I will admit I was scared to go to a country I had never been to, where there would be some culture shock and where I could personally experience some adversity. I went down there blindly, only knowing one person, Bobby Marko. I knew I was going to serve a loving and gracious God, so with that instilled in me, everything was going to be just fine.
Upon my arrival to Guatemala I had a warm welcoming from the Athentikos crew, as well as a lot of Español! I knew I had made the right decision the second I met everyone. From there on I knew I was there to minister, serve and do my job as a camera operator so we can influence the rest of the world and bring this story to them. The one thing I wasn’t counting on was changing my own outlook.
Without stringing this on, I was broken of my own walls and priorities, God showed me a side of life I had never seen before and He wasn’t holding anything back. Visualize this, a child who is barely a teenager, or even younger, who is just now entering the 6th grade. To us we would see them as a youthful being, probably playing a sport after school or doing some sort of extra curricular activity. In the United States we see the youth as a precious generation. Yet if we take this same age and apply it to a child in Guatemala, they are probably living on the street, don’t have a family, hardly any education, are malnourished and addicted to any drug they can get their hands on.
For me, seeing children struggling to live, to look to the future and see no hope, to not know love or God just kills me inside. To experience their lives as we did was so shocking, eye-opening, and at the same time humbling. If I could pick a day that impacted me the most, it would be a day when we were just driving around looking for children selling goods on the streets. We encountered a group of people ranging 10 to about 40 years old. We got out and did some interviews with them, but what became glaringly clear is how these children and adults were coping with their street life, and that was by huffing solvent. It is one thing for me to see a grown man or woman doing drugs, but when you see a 10-year old child huffing solvent just to quench their hunger, it does something to you. And even more so while we were interviewing these children the local police drove by and honked at us to get out of the street, and you can see that they could care less about the children who are addicted to drugs not but 5 feet from us. In a sense, as I am writing this, I am speechless because words cannot describe how hopeless these children and adults are, how this is their release, and that to them this is the best way to live.
If there was one thing that can influence/inspire others to lend a hand and support the street kids of Guatemala, I would say that the severe dependence on drugs is the most motivating factor. Now don’t get me wrong, not all hope is lost, there are some children who, with guidance, find a way out of the addiction, but the lack of guidance and love is what is keeping the other kids on the street.
I think that the documentary “Becoming Fools” will change peoples’ lives and break them in the same way this experience broke me. It will make you not only want to help these street kids, but it will make you re-evaluate your own life. We are so fortunate and have so many resources readily available to us that we live a sheltered life. I was living a sheltered comfortable life myself, living day to day, finding happiness in monetary items, and not praising God the way I should. Yet to see a child smile or a glimpse of hope in their eye because you are there to help them, to show them a way out of the darkness and spread that word to others around the world… that is the meaning of life and that is where true happiness should be found, in knowing you are helping someone else in their life struggle and that because of you and the faith you have, these kids have hope and see a brighter future. I would say “I have been fooled,” that I was a prime example of someone who needed a wake up call and that I had been tricked by a material world. Yet to have become a fool and realize what life really is about is the most rewarding factor of it all.
Nothing fills the soul like applause. As the receiver and the giver.
So many emotions flood that one moment: the sense of accomplishment, the sorrow of the end, the struggle of the hard work and the desire for more. It is reflection of countless hours of rehearsal and sacrifice; and of the belief that you could be more. It’s a time to celebrate, to come together. In this moment, you realize you didn’t give up, that your voice was heard, that others accepted you.
Life without applause slowly crushes the soul. Who believes in me? Who will be my champion? Who will celebrate with me? Who will allow me to have a voice?
For one week in June, I sat in a dark rehearsal theater in Guatemala City watching youth from the streets who have been given the opportunity to accomplish a huge task. I wondered if most of their lives were like the dark, cold theater. No audience. Little light. Unfinished work. Doubt. Disbelief. Frustration. Silence longing for applause.
Disbelief filled my thoughts, “There was no way this was coming together.” I was here as a champion for them, but I disbelieved. Could this event really come together? Could they REALLY accomplish this task? Did they have enough determination, enough skill… enough confidence?
For those of you new to our story: My husband and I are connected to Guatemala through the adoption of our two sons. We wanted to have a continued investment in the country and decided to respond with our skills in film and photography by sharing inspirational stories of hope. Therefore, we produced a documentary film, Reparando, which was completed in 2010. We are now working on a second documentary film project, Becoming Fools. This project is about young men and women who left their homes, lost their family or were abandoned as children and grew up on the streets of Guatemala. The streets of Guatemala City are home to more than 6,000 youth. Many of these children start their life of streets as young as 8 years old. They sleep in abandoned lots, beg or steal for money and get high to forget their hunger, the cold, the rain or worse.
However, they are not alone. Individuals and organizations working in the streets are making a difference in the lives of these marginalized children and young people. And one such man had a dream to host a clown workshop.
The handful of youth participating in the clown workshop had the opportunity to perform in front of 400 people at a large theater in Guatemala City. The purpose of this event was to bring to awareness the situation of youth and children living on the streets of Guatemala City. This theatrical performance was the final event in a series of weeklong activities entitled Festival: Voz De Las Calles. Through laughter and learning, professional clowns have been investing time and love into this group, teaching them the beautiful art of clowning. This performance was a dream for many members of the community. It gave the youth a chance to perform with professional clowns, taught them to dream, believe, achieve and receive applause from their community.
Applause The Show
The story of the show reflected their real life story acted out as clowns. Here’s the synopsis: The heartwarming journey of a clown turns into a tale of friendship and adventure as he finds new friends in unusual circumstances and teaches them his art of clowning. They find new joy in their skills and each decides to follow him to “The King’s Party.” Along the way, they encounter some obstacles, but are determined to together bring laughter and faith to the community around them.
The Purpose Of Our Documentary
As you may know, Scott spend two months in Guatemala this spring documenting the preparation of the clown event, the progress of the rehearsal and interviewing experts about the issue of kids who live and work on the streets. I was able to join him for the last two weeks, which included the theatrical performance. It was definitely a stressful week leading up to the show. Nothing is stable or consistent in the lives of children and youth living at risk on the streets. Their thought processes, decision making and behavior only mirrors the lack of stability in their own lives. While it is extremely devastating to see their immature actions, I am humbled by their courage to continue to live, grow and find family in the midst of difficult odds. While their clown performance is only a small moment in their lives, the hope and prayers of the community is that they would all see the rewards of hard work and this would be an inspiration on a variety of levels. I know it was for me.
And I am extremely proud to say that even in the midst of chaos and drama, the performance was beautiful. It was an honor to stand and give applause to the youth performers. Their talent and determination is amazing. And so we will be sharing their stories AND their performance in the documentary film, Becoming Fools, which we hope to complete by the end of 2012.
Here are some more of photos of the film production, which included a trip to Lake Atitlan and some underwater filming for me. This area has a special place in the story of the project; and is now one of my favorite places in Guatemala! And we got to have a little fun too. We also spent time with a sweet group of siblings who recently tragically lost their mother.
You have the opportunity to join the applause. We will share more about our documentary as it unfolds, however you can support the project now through a donation.
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!
We spent three weeks in Guatemala during the month of November to officially begin production for Becoming Fools. During this time, we interviewed 24 people including street youth, professional clowns, government officials, church ministries, foster families, rehabilitation participants and organizations responding to the needs of homeless youth. We also captured footage at several clowning events and training sessions. It was inspiring to see the street youth working so hard to improve their skills and pursue a dream. Needless to say, we were very busy!
We learned so much about the issue. Many children begin street life because their parents send them there. Children sell candy and trinkets to contribute to the family’s income. Parents sometimes physically abuse children who don’t bring home enough money. As result, many 8 year olds decide to leave their homes and keep what little money they make. We met a seven year old girl who was all alone, selling candy outside a restaurant at 10:30 PM on a very cold night. She explained that she hadn’t eaten in 48 hours, but refused to allow us to buy her dinner because it would end up making her more hungry in the long run. Guatemala’s streets are full of children just like her.
It was very emotional to immerse ourselves in the details of this issue. Day after day we listened to heartbreaking stories from youth who have been physically and sexually abused, addicted to drugs and have spent years surviving in the streets of Guatemala. But there is another side to the story. We were blessed to be able to document the hope and restoration that is possible when people invest their lives to help these youth. Ministries like Iglesia Sinai’s “Agentes de Cambio” are going to the streets to help these youth. Organizations like MOJOCA and VIVA are rehabilitating and providing job placement to people who have no opportunities … And … professional clowns like Fergie are investing into street youth in a very unique way that provides the theme for our film.
Mefi is a primary character of our documentary who tragically lost his parents as a child and spent years living in the streets addicted to drugs. He has been enrolled in a rehab program for almost a year and completely turned his life around. Mefi is learning to clown and dreams of one day performing as a professional clown to inspire kids. He is not alone in this dream. Others like Willy, Byron, Ernesto and Raul are preparing with professional clowns for a public event that we will document later in 2012 as a part of Becoming Fools.
Film production is hard work. Production days are long and there is very little rest. Several of us ended up getting sick and needed antibiotics. However, the work is very rewarding. We captured some incredible stories and enjoyed working with our Guatemalan team members who are passionate about film, their country and their people. We were exhausted, but we journeyed together.
Since returning home, we have been busy reviewing footage and interviews from our trip to begin the editing process. We plan to return to Guatemala early in February or March 2012 to continue documenting the story.
Art Camp Highlight
In addition to production for Becoming Fools, we also had the opportunity to invest in the the community of La Limonada, which is featured in our documentary Reparando. We partnered with Lemonade International to teach a week long Art Camp to children from La Limonada. Words cannot even begin to describe the experience. Click here to watch our Art Camp highlight video. It will make you smile! Towards the end of the trip, we also attended a screening of ‘Reparando’ with the La Limonada community. It was a blessing and an honor to share THEIR story with them.
We were able to begin the production of the film because of the generous support of so many individuals. We have collected $50,000 of the $105,000 pledged. If you pledged to the project, please consider making your tax-deductible donation so we prepare our 2012 budget.
Thanks to a grant from LEGO, Athentikos was able to partner with Lemonade International to take children from one of Central America’s largest slum communities to a week long Art Camp on the Guatemalan coast.
WATCH THE HIGHLIGHT VIDEO BELOW.
The camp was appropriately named ‘Emocionarte’, a combination of the Spanish words for emotion and art. Many of the children from Limonada have experienced violence and abuse, so “Emocionarte’ was designed to teach students how to process emotions and communicate them in a healthy way using various art forms. One of our friends suggested that it was a time for the kids to express their emotions and for us to hold ours back.
Our seven hour journey from Guatemala City took us on three school buses through the mountains, desert and jungle of Guatemala to El Faro, an absolutely beautiful retreat center located on the coast of Punta de Palma, Izabal. Most of the children had never left the dangerous red zones of Guatemala City. The wide-open spaces of the camp were a whole new world to these young explorers from the small concrete alleys of La Limonada. Words cannot even begin to express our delight as we watched them run and play in the lush green grass and swim in the ocean for the first time.
Athentikos taught 90 kids and 30 adults in classes involving painting, sculpture, drama, collage and LEGOs. Every night ended with a special event including a costume party, an acoustic concert by Amy Stroup, bonfires on the beach and a movie night. As camp started, the LEGOs were still held up in customs at the Danish Embassy, and we didn’t know if they would be released in time to make it to camp. Miraculously the LEGOs showed up via boat on the second day. We were thrilled to be able to share this incredible gift from LEGO with the children from La Limonada.
The kids were very creative with their LEGO projects even though they had never played with them before. They built houses with meticulous detail, including toilets, TVs, trash cans filled with trash, stoves with propane tanks, lamps and couches. One boy shared that he built his home with red and white bricks to represent the peace and love that he always wanted to fill his house. Another designed his house with a very large kitchen because he wanted to be able to serve food to his surrounding community. These thoughts were so profound coming from children with such painful stories. We constantly had to remind ourselves that these were children from La Limonada.
On the final evening, we screened Reparando, our documentary that features the community where these children live. They were fascinated to see familiar people and places on the big screen. After the film, the Athentikos team gave each child a doll made by Maria (the Doll Lady) and explained the purpose of the story’s metaphor. It was a perfect way to close the emotional week and a very special time for the Athentikos team to share with the kids.
Upon returning to Guatemala City, we hosted an Art Show for the La Limonada community. Families were invited to see the children’s creations and hear firsthand from several of the students about their experience. The energy level was high and applause filled the room as each group shared. We were extremely proud of the kids and honored to partner with the staff of La Limonada in this life-changing camp! Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible!