Potential in Poverty

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5: 3-6

When you become an Athentikos team member for I AM ART, you are strongly encouraged to watch Athentikos’s documentary, Reparando. So, armed with my favorite pillow and blanket, I set up my laptop and sat on my bed with my roommate and we began watching. Neither of us really knew anything about Guatemala, so this was going to be an educational experience for the two of us. If you didn’t know, Guatemala suffered through a 36-year civil war, the longest in Latin American history. Their civil war lasted longer than I’ve been alive. As a result, Guatemala has been struggling to rebuild, which is quite a challenge when poverty levels are high. The most extreme examples of poverty are slums in “Zonas Rojas,” or “Red Zones,” where the crime rates are high and the standard of living is low. Reparando focuses on La Limonada, one of the largest slums in Central America, with an estimation of 60,000 inhabitants. The conditions in which people are living are horrible. There is violence, hunger, intense pollution — things that most of us could never even imagine. And some of the people living in those conditions are children. There are kids living in dangerous places, experiencing traumatic things, stuck in a cycle of poverty, all for a war they had nothing to do with.

A study done in 1994 by Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, and Klebanov looked at poverty’s impact on child development. They concluded, “Family income and poverty status are powerful determinants of the cognitive development and behavior of children” (Duncan et al., 1994). And unfortunately, nothing about that conclusion is surprising. Poverty-ridden areas are known for drugs, crime, and low standards for education. This information sounds hopeless, I know. No one wants to hear that there are children in these conditions. Casa Bernabé (House of Comfort) is an orphanage and Oasis Residential Home takes in girls who have been the victims of sexual abuse. The kids from Casa Bernabé and Oasis Residential Home have been in extremely rough conditions. There’s nothing easy about that.

Fortunately, coming from a difficult background isn’t a life sentence. Resilience is the ability to adapt to challenging or threatening circumstances and kids are notoriously resilient. But that doesn’t mean just hoping for the best. Change requires action. Athentikos is helping kids learn how to express themselves and process the world around them through creativity. This isn’t something that will instantly transform Guatemala. Our camps will not reverse the problems that their civil war caused. It’s not going to fix the world. But it will, in a unique and beautiful way, change their individual worlds. I read that proactive orientation is “taking initiative in one’s own life and believing in one’s own effectiveness” (Alvord & Grados, 2005). Immediately I thought, “that’s what Athentikos is doing.” We’re teaching these kids to believe in themselves and to see the possibilities that are available to them. We hear over and over again about how children are the future, so it’s important we treat them well. Their lives have not been easy but they have potential to create beautiful art and tell their stories.

If you want to watch Reparando, the incredible documentary I mentioned, you can rent it on the Athentikos website for $2 or purchase it for $10 (https://athentikos.com/reparando/). This documentary solidified my passion for going to Guatemala and it’s well worth it to see how the people of Guatemala are finding their potential in poverty.

View More: http://ameliajmoore.pass.us/iamart2014

Am I a Product of My Decisions or Circumstances?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

I recently read a quote that said, “I’m not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions.”

That phrase has been like a splinter buried in my skin, constantly irritating and demanding attention. I’ve wrestled with it over and over and tried to figure out why it bothers me. Then, it dawned on me. At the core, this statement is about justice …  and was obviously written by someone with opportunity … someone like me.

I understand the context of taking responsibility for the decisions I make in my life, but I’ve had opportunity. I was born in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, to a financially secure and emotionally stable family, with parents that loved each other and loved me. My parents encouraged me to study hard in school that was easily accessible and free because I lived in the US. I was given fertile soil in which to grow and blessed with freedom to make good decisions. But this is not everyone’s reality.

DSC05932-girl_at_terminal
A young girl at the Terminal Dump in Guatemala City. Photo by Scott Owen Moore.

For the last five years, I’ve been immersed in stories about the least, last, and lost – people whose circumstances include things like civil war, murdered family members, drug addicted parents, physical and sexual abuse, poverty, prostitution, theft, gang culture, street life … and survival. Are these people also products of their decisions? Yes … but where I had the freedom to make good decisions, they have been forced to decide between bad and worse, just to survive.

Circumstances filter the options from which to decide. But, creativity gives us the power to see beyond our current circumstances and limitations. 

Creativity doesn’t just open existing doors, it creates new structures and frameworks to walk into. Creativity multiplies opportunities for everyone regardless of circumstance because it enables us to dream. Creativity empowers a child born into a slum to escape the cycle of survival and move into a new hope of opportunity like micro-enterprise. Creativity also enables leaders to envision governmental structures built upon justice.

Children Playing at the Terminal Dump in Guatemala City. Photo by Scott Owen Moore.
Children Playing at the Terminal Dump in Guatemala City. Photo by Scott Owen Moore.

Our nation’s forefathers dreamed beyond rule of monarchy when they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our forefathers collaborated in creativity born from and for justice because the God who created all men equal, also created the creativity which enabled these men to see beyond autocratic rule.

God is the creator of everything … including creativity. Creativity flows from God through us in a spiritual language that shares prophetic vision of who God wants us to be. It’s an opportunity to meditate on truths that we are unable to speak or comprehend on our own. Creativity invites each of us on a shared journey through opportunities that were once invisible. In the midst of fearful survival, creativity illuminates opportunity for justice.

As someone with opportunity, I choose to help others who live without it.

Through creativity, I choose to dream with others to share a story greater than myself. Our story is a beautifully diverse ensemble of broken and lost souls singing songs of grace, mercy, and undeserved forgiveness from a creator who loves us so much that He created a way to redeem us all through his own sacrifice: the ultimate expression of creativity AND justice.

If this resonates with you, we’d love for you to join the community in Athentikos: I Am Art .

Let’s explore creativity and justice together.

I’d love to know your thoughts. What do you think?

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_button dimension=”two” corner_style=”rounded” size=”x-large” url=”http://Athentikos.com/iamart” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″]Learn More about Athentikos I AM ART[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Wrestling With Thanksgiving

I’m wrestling with Thanksgiving.

wrestling_featured_image
I’m not wearing a Lucha Libre mask, leaping high off the ropes to grapple a turkey (although that would be epic). I’m talking about being honest with myself about what I’m thankful for.

I’m typically thankful for the good things in my life:

God, Family, Food, Shelter, Health, Education, Friends, Travel … things that warm my heart and put a smile on my face.

But what about the other stuff?

What about the stuff that has angered me, saddened me, or hurt me? What about the things that have really been a struggle? Am I thankful for those things? What things fit into that category? Depending on my perspective (or lack of one) … anything can.

I’ve been immersed in Becoming Fools for the last three years. It has been a stressful journey and I have found myself growing more and more exhausted … and less and less thankful for the opportunity to be involved with the project. I used to feel the same way about Reparando. But that changed over time, after we released the film.

Like most humans, I forget too easily.

During my Becoming Fools scouting trip in 2011, Tita asked me to personally attend a screening of Reparando. I was honored for the invite, but was exhausted from two weeks of 16 hour days interviewing people and capturing footage in Guatemala City. Part of me wanted to just go back to my room and go to sleep. I couldn’t understand why it made a difference if I was there. I thought, “I am just a silly Gringo. They won’t care. And besides … I’m in Guatemala for Becoming Fools, not Reparando.” But Tita was persistent. She said she really wanted me to come. So, we drove straight from our production across the city to a church near La Limonada. Tita met us outside the church with hugs and we watched the film from the back of the room.

reparando_tee_01

After the film ended, Tita called Shorty and I to come up in front. She hugged me, and while everyone was clapping, they presented a gift from the people of La Limonada: A T-shirt covered with signatures of people who live in La Limonada … People who were very thankful we made the film. I could not have been more wrong about … everything.

My perspective was renewed.

Reparando brought me closer to many things in the list I made above – God, family, friends, education, and travel. On a personal level, it helped me understand my sons’ stories in a way that I could never grasp otherwise. On a broader level, Reparando has inspired countless resources given to mission that have blessed people with much more struggle than I could ever image – people who are very thankful.

I believe that Becoming Fools will do the same eventually. So why am I wrestling with thanksgiving over Becoming Fools? I’m human. I forget. That’s why we’re called to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (continually refocusing our perspective on truth). We forget. That’s one of the reasons we celebrate Thanksgiving: to remember. I am personally challenged to remember things that might not seem to easily fit into a warm and fuzzy Thanksgiving box. Because most of the time, I’m just trying to put these things in the box from the wrong angle.

Here’s the right angle:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Everything fits in the Thanksgiving box with the right angle.

It’s not easy, but hopefully if I continue to wrestle, Thanksgiving will eventually win with a knockout.

What Thanksgiving do you wrestle with?

Homeless Youth Aren't Always Orphans

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.

cast-600w

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.

street_youth_01

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.

youth_clown_01

youth_clown_02

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.

Help us conquer tragedy with joy by giving a tax deductible donation to the Becoming Fools Screening Tour.

Homeless Youth Aren’t Always Orphans

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.

cast-600w

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.

street_youth_01

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.

youth_clown_01

youth_clown_02

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.

Help us conquer tragedy with joy by giving a tax deductible donation to the Becoming Fools Screening Tour.

New Orleans Community Raise Awareness of Homeless Youth

New Orleans Local Leaders Raise Awareness of Homeless Youth

As we ready to release Becoming Fools on a nationwide screening tour we are highly encouraged by the work of local leaders all of the Untied States who are raising awareness of homeless youth. New Orleans is no exception. The Covenant House is a nationwide network of homes and advocates for providing children a safe refuge from the streets in which they live.

The Covenant House in New Orleans, which was established in 1984, is featured in this local news article talking about their latest challenges and their desire to bring more awareness of the problem they see in the New Orleans area.

“The number one thing we’re doing is we’re filling these kids with respect and with dignity. We’re telling them that it is okay to hope and to dream,” said Jim Kelly, Covenant House executive director.

But the Covenant House doesn’t stop with just providing shelter. They also provide crisis care, healthcare, education services, job skills training, family counseling and pastoral services. It’s exciting to see these organizations like the Covenant House stepping up and making a huge difference in the lives of homeless and at-risk youth. Please take the time to view this article.

Casa Bernabé Gives Hope To At-Risk Children in Guatemala

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.

Casa Bernabé gives hopes to at-risk youth

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.

A Child’s Barrier to Education

“Homelessness is not a sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment”…argues legislation introduced last month.

On April 25, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced “The Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes Act of 2013”.  This legislation aims to strengthen parts of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act originally passed and signed into law in 1987.  The McKinney-Vento Act aimed to protect the right to education of homeless youth.  This act defines homeless children and youth as “any individual who lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”  This includes children “hotelin” with their families as well as:

  • Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing;
  • Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
  • Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
  • Children “awaiting foster care placement”
  • Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
  • Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations…”

A Child's Barrier to Education

Children across the country slip out of the education system everyday.  To address this problem, it is important to empower education systems to identify and enable the youth that fall into these categories and slip out of school.  The Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes Act of 2013 proposes to increase the federal protection of and expand services for these children.

As our previous blog Hotelin at Disney: A New Way of Living explains, some families living in hotels are renting out one of their beds to make a little extra cash.  Under recent legislation families living in “doubled-up” arrangements in houses, apartments and hotels would be included under the definition of homeless.  A Huffington Post article cited in the last blog entry states, “As of now, the only homeless people eligible for help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are those who live in shelters or on the streets, with narrow exceptions. The law would add around 700,000 kids to the thousands who already meet the department’s definition of homelessness.”

A Child's Barrier to Education

A Child's Barrier to Education

“Homelessness is not a sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment”…argues legislation introduced last month.

On April 25, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced “The Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes Act of 2013”.  This legislation aims to strengthen parts of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act originally passed and signed into law in 1987.  The McKinney-Vento Act aimed to protect the right to education of homeless youth.  This act defines homeless children and youth as “any individual who lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”  This includes children “hotelin” with their families as well as:

  • Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing;
  • Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
  • Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
  • Children “awaiting foster care placement”
  • Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
  • Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations…”

A Child's Barrier to Education

Children across the country slip out of the education system everyday.  To address this problem, it is important to empower education systems to identify and enable the youth that fall into these categories and slip out of school.  The Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes Act of 2013 proposes to increase the federal protection of and expand services for these children.

As our previous blog Hotelin at Disney: A New Way of Living explains, some families living in hotels are renting out one of their beds to make a little extra cash.  Under recent legislation families living in “doubled-up” arrangements in houses, apartments and hotels would be included under the definition of homeless.  A Huffington Post article cited in the last blog entry states, “As of now, the only homeless people eligible for help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are those who live in shelters or on the streets, with narrow exceptions. The law would add around 700,000 kids to the thousands who already meet the department’s definition of homelessness.”

A Child's Barrier to Education

Hotelin at Disney: A New Way of Living

Uprooting your life after one storm is bad luck.  Displacement from a second natural disaster is unimaginable, but unfortunately this is the reality for many families.  Even families with savings accounts and plans for emergency situations can find themselves unprotected from the devastating effects of bad weather, and in certain circumstances, homeless.

A recent article from the Huffington Post describes one family’s unfortunate journey to homelessness caused by natural disasters:  “This family had started out in New Orleans, lost its home in Katrina, moved to Nashville and lost that home in the floods. At that point the parents figured they might as well leave the next choice of destination to their 7-year-old daughter. And so they’d arrived on the steps of Disney, where they [are] now renting one of the two beds in their room to a Vietnam vet for a few extra dollars.”

Photo provided by The Associated Press

This article focuses on the growing issue of homeless families living in hotels around the Disney World Resorts in Central Florida.  “According to the U.S. Department of Education, at least 2,000 children live in the hotels of Central Florida…”

Central Florida attracts families in times of economic hardship because to some it is “the land of perfect weather and plentiful paychecks”.  But shortly after arriving, these families find themselves in a very different world than what they expected.

Without finding a secure job, “[these] families run up a big bill and move to another hotel down the road. They called it “hotelin’.”

The Huffington Post article states, “For homeless families the lack of stability is arguably the biggest obstacle on the path to a better life.”  The lack of stability is also a long-lasting and devastating effect on the children in these families.  The article sites several supporting studies that highlight the effects on the development of a child and the risk factors of an unstable environment.  A study conducted by the University of Chicago found that homeless children may move 3-4 times per year, and each move sets the child back about 6 months in their schooling.

Another study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “children who live in poverty often have higher-than-normal levels of stress hormones, which can actually warp the architecture of the brain in ways that make these children more vulnerable to anxiety and depression and more prone to poor decision-making, and thus more likely to remain poor and to raise kids who will themselves remain poor.”  This instability creates more instability argues the article “Bringing up a child in the chaotic conditions of poverty must be something like building a skyscraper on quicksand. Instability begets instability begets instability.”