This is Mario. He is one of the boys that was detained by the police and is now being sent to Guatemala City. We have his camera, but he only took two photos. He was resistant to the project, though present most of the time. Taking photos of life isn't that fun when life is only hard. I remember talking to the kids the day we told them their assignment was to take photos of things that bring them hope. They mostly looked confused, and as a way to explain the concept, Melanie asked, "What made you smile yesterday?" One of the boys just shrugged, and she said, "You didn't smile yesterday?" in a teasing tone, and he shook his head no.
Honestly, I'm not really sure what you do with loss like this other than to be sad. There is no silver lining here. You can try to find the good, but it feels like we've been digging for it and its just not to be found. Knowing kids are walking into abuse is horrible. It all feels hopeless as we stand by with our hands tied, waiting to hear news.
Thank you to those who have sent emails of encouragement, as well as your prayers. They are received with appreciation and gratitude. Thank you for caring. It has been hard to pick up and keep the project going, and though everything feels heavy, we look for slivers of joy as we continue.
We arrived at the park near eight to meet with the boys for portraits and a quick lesson. The guys work all day, and time in the morning is precious as they find customers, so we planned to meet early and get things rolling. We found Melanie and Victor sitting on a bench chatting, his eyes still droopy from just waking up after spending the night in the park. Just as Chris walked up to join us, Victor pointed at a police truck and said Mario (another one of our kids) was inside.
Chris flagged the truck, and it circled the park, where they began talking about why Mario was detained. In the meantime, the police requested that Victor also go with them, and a struggle ensued when he refused. The police said that they had orders to take the boys because they were sleeping on the street, when they've been told not to, and that they weren't cooperating. Present at the time as well, were several journalists from the news stations and paper there ready to document what was happening. It felt too coincidental, and indeed they were there to do a story about the police "cleaning up" the streets.
The photo below appeared in the paper the next morning, with the journalist commentary about the way Victor was treated.
There really isn't anything that can be done at this point. Melanie explained to the police that one of the reasons the boys sleep in the park is that they are physically and sexually abused in the dorms and children's homes, that they would rather be cold than violated. They boys were still taken away. We are told that they will be sent to a large boys home in Guatemala City, which isn't good. They are currently at the home in Xela, where one of the little boys broke his arm, climbing the wall as he escaped. The hardest part is that there are not better places available for kids. Life is rough when your best option to stay safe is to sleep on the street.
We are heartbroken, completely. The system is messed up. The fact that we don't have better choices for the kids and a way to keep them safe is equally awful. They should be protected, but they are not. Instead, it feels like they are managed and displaced so they aren't an eyesore.
What a struggle.
This day we considered photography as a means of storytelling. We studied photos and tried to guess at the story being told. We looked at emotion, and environment, the general feeling we got when looking at the scene, and tried to see the details we may have otherwise overlooked. Matt then divided the photos into a grid and talked about where our eye travels based on the rule of thirds.
The boys left with an assignment, as usual.
Take seven photos of a current struggle.
Some said they would take photos of food, because they don't know where their next meal will come from, others said they would take a photo of their wooden box and stool alone to signify that they struggle when they cannot find customers. I am anxious to see their photos, not only for the sake of the show, but rather the stories they will tell, and the things these boys find hard. I imagine it will be different for each of them, as it is for us. You see a group, and think you understand the way people work until we learn that some of us are anxious about relationships, others with money, and the list continues. We all worry, just not about the same things.
Teaching in the park has been a challenge. Originally, we thought we'd be indoors, and it was made available, but the boys said they wanted to stay in the park, so that is the plan. Instead of projecting photos on the wall and discussing concepts, Matthew has been talking briefly about a concept, then the boys walk the park and they snap shots on his camera, and learn that way.
Day two, we saw the boys sillier and easier with their smiles, but also more focused on what was being taught. Their second assignment was:
This is my job.
We said they could take photos on the job, of themselves or others working, their supplies, things that represent the way they feel when they work. Maybe frustration when they can't find a customer, or brushes from making others' shoes clean- hands dirtied in the process.
As a side note, and we'll post more today or tomorrow with details, but two of our kids were detained by the police yesterday morning for sleeping in the park after they've been told not to. They are currently at a children's home in Xela, but will be sent to a huge home for boys in Guatemala City next week. This is not positive, and all involved are incredibly, incredibly heartbroken. Pray for us. Pray for them.
By the time I arrived, the sun was already setting- the park in Calvario full of kids running around, playing on the minimal equipment; their older counterparts huddled in groups, watching the soccer match and having an afternoon chat. Matthew had finished teaching the first session. Some of our kids were already playing in the game. Two of the youngest hung around and emphatically showed me all they had learned about perspective, laying on the ground, then popping up and twisting their bodies to show different angles for potential shots.
Cameras were distributed when the game finished, with a refresher of the lesson, and a brief discussion of their assignment:
Take five photos of your neighborhood.
Matthew told the kids that your neighborhood could be a building, or a street, or the trashcan on the corner, or someone you pass every day. One of the little boys was getting squirrely, and when asked what his photos would be, he said the church and the corner, and a dog. He was mildly chastised on the spot for not paying attention to the assignment, but really, maybe those things are his neighborhood. I see Central Park as a place I sit for coffee and walk through it to get somewhere else, but to him, that is where life happens. The big black and white street dog, Oso, may be his neighbor. I know for certain that there are days when a bench is bed, and his home.
We see the kids again today at four, and look forward to hearing about what was good, and what was hard about their assignment, and their day. We only get to hang with these kids for two weeks, but for the InnerCHANGE team, this is every day. Their dedication and investment in the youth is unbelievable. They walk the park, checking in with the kids, making sure that even if they are not entirely well, that they know they are consistently loved, and heard- no matter what.
Take a look at Melanie’s blog, really. She writes beautifully, but more than that, the stories she tells will challenge you. I don’t wonder if she watches over her neighbors. I can already imagine what her photos would be if she were given this assignment- people and practical love.
If you were to take five photos of your neighborhood, what would they contain?
Unbelievably, we're here again.
Every time I think about starting again, I get butterflies. Partly because its so much to plan in such a short amount of time, with the teaching schedule, meeting with the gallery, ordering frames, creating flyers, printing photos, and the list continues. The rest of the fluttering comes from wonder, and that I get to watch and be a part of others tell their stories again.
Since our last show in Indiana, I've received an email from Johnny, with photos of the continued public speaking he's done. He looks amazing. I've heard stories of the participants and how life has changed for them just because they were brave enough to share their lives. I'm not saying that The Darkroom Project is responsible, only that we are so thankful to just be here. Bianca has an attorney helping her get the felony expunged from her record. He heard her tell her story. Darlene now has a job, because someone heard her story. I keep at it with The Darkroom Project because Johnny reminds me of his story, our story.
This time, things will be a bit different. We will be working with a group of boys (and maybe a girl or two?) that shoe shine for a living. We will teach, and get annihilated in soccer every afternoon, and eventually have a show. This project is dear to my heart, as I live the same streets and corners as these kids- we share a home. I see them run through the park with their boxes, talking every businessman with dirty, and clean shoes, into a good shine. There are two that continually waggle their eyebrows at me while I roll my eyes at them, and buy them lunch when my shoes don't need care- when I beg them to not shine my converse kicks.
The party starts on Sunday. Are you ready?
In the Bend:
ABC 57 News:
South Bend Tribune:
Thank you so much for your support. We are looking forward to two nights of storytelling as we celebrate the work of students.