Part 1: Leaps of Faith
Two years ago this month we completed our “Dia de Visita” photography documentary project. My wife Amanda took the photographs and I interviewed children and their families on visiting day at the detention center. It was quite a challenge to get permission and finally complete interviews with children and parents in the Mexico City juvenile detention centers on visiting day. Since then, the exhibit has been seen by 1,500-2,000 people.
As our 2016 Annual Celebration approaches, I realized that it would be wonderful to have a new component to the photography exhibit that better reflects our new project in Chihuahua, Mexico. I have been contemplating this possibility since we first visited Chihuahua a year ago. But, once our work started it quickly became clear that simply showing up on visiting day with a pen, paper and camera would not work in Chihuahua. Mexico City, while having a huge population, is the smallest state in Mexico by geography. Whereas Chihuahua is the largest. Public buses across Mexico City may take two hours, but only costs a dollar or two at most. But in Chihuahua many families live four or more hours away from the detention centers, and many are too poor to be able to pay for bus fare to get to the capital where the detention center is to visit their children. Some children go years without contact with their families. No, if we were going to document families and children in detention, “Dia de Visita” or Visiting Day would not be sufficient.
I started asking our government contacts in Chihuahua how we could contact parents, how we could find transportation, what would be the logistics? “Very complicated” was the response, which in Spanish basically means it is too hard to bother with. But I didn’t get this far by accepting weak “no’s”.
Six weeks ago I met Olivia Meneses and I knew the time was ripe. We took our first leap of faith and we hired Olivia. Her job was to create, out of thin air, a Family Reunification Project so that we could document visiting day in Chihuahua. She didn’t seem sure we could pull it all off, but she took a leap of faith too and started giving it her all.
Without knowing where the funding would come from, she started getting permission from the prisons, working with state agencies and getting lists of teens who don’t receive visitors due to extreme poverty. We would need so many things to fall into place – permission from the attorney general’s office to photograph, permission from the detention centers to extend visiting day hours, get a list of families and find addresses or phone numbers to contact them, find transportation, find housing for families that would have to stay overnight, provide for food, call families and arrange pickups – so many details. We couldn’t start calling families to arrange transportation until we were certain we would get permission from the government. We couldn’t arrange transportation until we had a list of children whose families didn’t visit them. We couldn’t get a list of families until the prisons approved the project. And we didn’t want to purchase airfare for our photographer (Amanda) and Olivia until we had some certainty that the whole project would happen!
One leap of faith at a time, we slowly pushed the project forward… and today Olivia called the first family on our list to ask if they wanted us to pick them up to come to visiting day at the detention center…
Next, Part 2: Olivia calls the family (Coming Soon)
If you would like to help reunite families, contribute to our Care Package Project