Homeless youth aren’t always orphans.
Becoming Fools documents the intriguing story of homeless youth in Guatemala learning to heal through the art of clowning. During production, we developed friendships with youth who began living on the streets when they were 7 years old – and we learned a lot about the issue. One of the most profound revelations is that a great number of these youth living in the streets actually have family that they could return to. But these youth choose to remain in the streets.
Some children lose their families. But many other youth CHOOSE to live in the streets – sleep in the rain, eat scraps from a dumpster, disengage from society, constantly “exist” in the threat of harm, and fall into the trap of drug addiction or prostitution … etc … rather than return home to a roof and company of a family? Why? Often, it’s because violent city streets are actually more peaceful than the homes they left behind. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around that fact. But, I grew up in a healthy family.
Many of these youth were born into extreme conditions that will continue to incubate drug addiction, child labor, violence, and abuse … unless something changes the paradigm and endless cycle.
Becoming Fools features stories from youth who fled to the streets for different reasons – but in a way, are exactly the same. Mefi lost both of his parents when he was 7 years old and moved in with a family member who abused him. Sandy was sent to the streets at an early age to sell candy to help provide income for her family. She was beaten when she didn’t return home with her quota. Raul lost his mother at an early age and lived with his alcoholic father who repeatedly abused him. They all have family … but their family members are abusive. They are guaranteed to be abused at home. At least there is a small chance of peace in the streets.
It’s an extreme issue in Guatemala that doesn’t have an easy solution. For many reasons, there isn’t yet a strong culture of adoption and foster care in Guatemala, but that wouldn’t matter anyway. These children aren’t orphans. There isn’t a strong social services program with funding and resources to intervene. Unfortunately, Guatemala is riddled with violence and many people confuse homeless youth with violent delinquents (gang members, drug traffickers, organized crime) and ignore opportunities to make a difference. As result, these youth slip under the radar as they wander the streets trying to survive.
But all is not lost. There are organizations responding to the issue, developing relationships with these youth and working with them day to day, in the hopes that their lives will be healed and transformed. During Becoming Fools production, we saw first hand how these “fools” pour their passion into the uphill battle of rescuing and rehabilitating homeless youth. On one occasion, a couple organizations partnered together so street youth from Guatemala City could share their clown performance with orphans outside of Antigua. Part of this event ended up in the final cut of the film and the symbolic significance of the event still echoes in my mind: homeless youth clowning for orphans, organizations partnering together, and joy conquering tragedy.