look & listen

New hope

After having tried for weeks, from Madrid and also from here, I have finally reached MOJOCA, another NGO which works with street children. Works out that the phone number and address I had were of a building which they are renovating, and on the door was a photocopy with a new address and phone number. So I just went there unannounced, and as with everyone in this country, they received me with open arms (no doubt that’s less related to me and more related to the way people are here).

MOJOCA (Movimiento de Jovenes de la Calle) wasn’t very big when I was last here in November 2003, but has grown out to be one of the key organizations on the subject. They used to just offer daycare – a place where one could go and bake a cake or do something else creative, get a haircut and a medical check-up – but they now have various shelters throughout the city. Funny thing is that there seems to be a sense of informal  competition between Casa Alianza and MOJOCA. As a general rule, one doesn’t really work with children from the other and vice versa. Strange eh?

In view of the little time I have left, MOJOCA offered to take me out later on today, in spite of it being Saturday, to meet two new pregnant girls. When I explained what I was looking for, they thought they could really fit the bill. That remains to be seen, but having renewed access to new people, especially to one called Chispa (= Spark), gives me new hope that I will leave here with a few important choices made.

For the rest yesterday (Friday) was very productive. The ambassador was extremely nice, and gave me several local contacts I could talk to. His background is human rights (he used to work with Amnesty International) and was really interested in the project. He also set me up with another person from the embassy who knew a lot more about safety issues and the police, and even personally escorted me to see someone in the Spanish office on the 4th floor with whom it had been hard to get in touch with (people from the AECID, who after all are paying for my trip). I also met with Save the Children, had a take-away wok lunch in a shopping centre, and a great evening with my former hostal guests sitting around drinking beers after dinner. All in all, a productive day.

A photo

EVERYTHING is going well, except the most important thing: finding the future mother. Yesterday and the day before I spent a lot of time with Casa Alianza, first with its director and the person in charge of communication, and later with a team of street workers who took me out to meet people. They were all saying: “ah, you should have been here six months ago, we had five births at the same time!”

I have been saying that it would be very difficult to find the right person, and even more difficult to ensure she sticks with it for the full year. But I think it will be even more difficult than I thought just to find the person.

Few of the young women I was taken along to meet, fit my brief. The first is only 13 years old, she is very likely to be pregnant but still not confirmed medically, and she is extremely withdrawn. This could be a problem, since it’s the protagonist who has to be able to “carry” the film for the full 80-or-so minutes. Her case is however impressive, if only for her age. She was also completely drugged when we were with her, so it was hard to get anything coherent out of her. The next was 20 years old, it’s her second child, and she gave her first child up to her mother who lives in the slums. This is likely to happen again with her second child. Good for the child, not good for the film. The third is 18 years old, she is three months pregnant and might be an option, although her sisters have had children (they are orphans and all five of them live on the streets) and have given their children up to the grandmother who also lives in the slums. She is an outgoing character and if she decides to keep her child with her on the street, she may be a good option. And finally there’s another girl I am hoping to meet today or Monday… which is another challenge: time flies!

I think I will try to talk to 2-3 young women, and let there be a natural selection. The director of Casa Alianza recommended this as well.

So, am I trying to make a documentary about something which hardly exists? I am not. Just in the few hours I was taken around, I saw many young children as part of the groups that live on the streets. The youngest one is this girl, who lives on the Central Square and is 40 days old:

I also met other babies (result of the baby-boom six months ago) and some other 2-3 year olds. And then again, Guatemala is only one of dozens of countries where children are born and raised on the streets, among the constant presence of drugs (the smell of solvent sticks with you all day!), petty crime and prostitution (I insist we don’t judge, these children have no other means of living and the state is not that interested in taking care of them either).

I came to Guatemala with a list of objectives, which all have been met save the above (likely to always remain a weak point in this whole process). The rest is going well. I met with the local executive producer here, and he put me in touch with some more people who can get involved from here. One is another producer, from Zaragoza (in Spain) who has lived here for ten years and has an affinity and interest in films with social issues. I am talking some more with him on Sunday, because he may be a good local partner who can continue the work I am now starting up. I am also to meet a sound recordist, and a composer. One of my desires is to have music composed by a Guatemalan, and if I have to believe Robert (local producer) I am to meet the Alberto de Iglesias of Central America this weekend. Exciting!

In other developments: I have been invited by the Dutch ambassador to come and see him to talk about the project, which is happening this morning. One of the reasons for this meeting is for our security when we start shooting: I would like them to be informed of our movements so that, in case we get in trouble, we can call for their support without much further explanation. Although I have already figured out that the issue of security isn’t as complicated as I was made to believe back in Spain.

And am enjoying my time in the hostel, talking to a colourful bunch of international travellers (who tend to stay one or two days) and American research students (who are here for one or two months). And of course the wonderful owners, Ana and Joe (both very hospitable and helpful persons and, as a bonus, terrific cooks).


Just want to say that I have arrived. It remains a long haul… 

Makes me wonder whether we can really make it on time when important things are about to happen. One of my objectives for this first trip is to put in place an infrastructure together with Casa Alianza and the local producer which guarantees that we keep track of the protagonist(s) and are able to be present (i.e. filming) when needed, even if it means someone here has to start while we are on the way. Another thing we really need is for Iberia to colaborate. They have a direct flight MAD-GUA and can really help us in case we need to hop on a plane from one moment to the next, without having to pay 6.000 euros for it… I’ll work on that when I get back to Madrid the 10th.

Anyway, I am staying at Hostal Guatefriends (the first time I stayed in a 4-star hotel and the second with the High Representative of the UN, so everytime is a different experience) and have met a few interesting backpackers already. I just woke up and today is devoted to Casa Alianza, and to making phone calls to plan the rest of the trip.

Was reading the latest version of the Diary of Anne Frank on the way in (recently published extended and complete version), and am wondering what her life would have been like had blogs existed in 1942.


Something on the generations.

I have read a lot about street children, books and articles, and seen many films and documentaries. There is an abundance of material, too much to get through in a lifetime. But never have I read about the different generations. As far as I can tell, nobody has made the distinction between the 1st and the 2nd generation the way I propose to do. Yet, they represent totally different problems. At least in Guatemala, where the focus of my research has been.

First generation street children tend to escape from home. They are on the run. Often from poverty, or from violence or sexual abuse by a family member. Some of the children come from villages to the city, dreaming of getting a job and being able to send money home to their families. Whatever the cause, often they are at least 5-6 years old, sometimes even older, and have had some education. Many street children can read and write. And all first generation street children have a reference of the family model. They were raised in a home, with a roof over their head, and most likely know their mother, their father, and have brothers and sisters.

Second generation street children are born on the street. Sometimes literally, but often their mother was accepted into hospital for the birth only to be shown the door a few days later. The babies grow up on the street. When they first open their eyes, they see the sky and not a roof. They are raised there, as if they were savages of the city.

The big difference is that: the first generation has a reference of the family model and a home, of which they have escaped for whatever reason. The second generation is not escaping. They have nothing to escape from. Their reference is the street, and all it bring with it. They represent an entirely different pathology, live in a different dynamic, and require a separate form of support, help or even treatment.

As such, we are not only trying to make an interesting documentary, but it will also be a first.

When the idea got me

Not all ideas are “had” (as in: “I have an idea!”) nor do we “get” them. Quite the opposite: important ideas get us, they have us.

Hijos de la Calle (its temporary name in Spanish) is a feature length documentary film about second generation street children: those whose parents are street children themselves, those who are raised in the streets from the first day of their lives.

Knowing I wanted to do something in Guatemala with street children, the idea got me in Brussels in the summer of 2003. As I was leaving the metro one day to go and see my co-producer on another documentary project, I saw a begging Gypsy woman seated with a baby in her lap. Not quite the same thing (Gypsies tend to have homes, the mother was no child, and Brussels is not Guatemala City) but the trigger was right there. I thought a lot about the baby, spending her days in her mother’s lap in the street, begging.

The idea followed me around. Got (to) me.

An old and very respected Danish documentary maker once told me that it is unprofessional to compare with my own children, and to use my fatherhood is not a good enough excuse to explain my reasons for wanting to make the film. But that’s what happened when the idea got me: our oldest daughter was 4 at the time, and my “having-a-baby” memories were still fresh. The begging baby. Free of prejudice, had they known each other, my daughter was that baby’s equal on all accounts. Until reality gets to them?

Why is life organized in a way that some are forced to go and beg with their mothers, while others get to play and learn in a protected environment of relative luxury? A basic question, asked by many and often.

With this film I want to show that it is possible to violate the rights of a child even before it is born. That despite Guatemala having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is doing little to protect their minors. I want to do this by following, during a whole year, a baby and its mother: from the day of the birth until his/her first birthday. The mother and her unborn baby live in Guatemala City, on the streets. And I am about to find out who they are…