Tag Archives: youth
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.
These past few days have probably been some of the most “eye opening” days for me personally throughout our entire trip. We’ve been visiting Captain Paul Moulds and the Oasis Youth Support Network – a network of people and services that help the thousands of young people living on Sydney’s streets each night. Unfortunately, homelessness is a real problem in Australia and its cities, as it is in many major cities all over the world. Over 32,000 people under the age of 25 are homeless every night and the numbers are only growing. Luckily, there are wonderful people like Captain Moulds and many others at Oasis who have dedicated their lives to helping these young people, giving them a chance at changing their lives by just being there for them and listening, as my mom elaborated on previously. And while I have certainly been inspired by Paul and his Oasis colleagues, what has impacted me the most has been talking with the kids.
In the past few days, I have gotten to meet several of them and hear their stories – one heartbreaking story after another. Pasts full of abandonment, sexual abuse, drugs, prostitution, sleeping on the streets, being forced to steal food to survive. I watched a young man cry, as he explained how he didn’t have a home because his mom had chosen prostitution over him. I sat and listened to another person describe the numerous ways he has tried to kill himself, without even blinking an eye. One girl showed me her enormous scar running down her back where she had been stabbed while trying to stop a street fight. As horrific as these stories are, what has really affected me is the fact that these people are my peers – many of them are the same age as me. And yet they have already experienced so much pain and neglect, more than I can even imagine. They dream of just having one person they can count on, knowing that there’s someone who cares about them – something I definitely have taken for granted.
This experience has certainly made me reflect on my life and the things that I am very fortunate to have. Two parents who have given me the moon and the stars, and who have supported me in every way. Friends and loved ones who I know I can trust and count on in any situation. A bed to sleep in every night. An education and options for employment. The freedom to choose my own life path. It’s so important to remember that there are many people who don’t have any of these things and don’t believe that they ever will.
I’m happy that say that there is certainly hope for alleviating youth homelessness here in Sydney, thanks to people like Paul who actually do acknowledge and care about the issue. Having that human connection, a person to trust, a person who will listen and be there for you – that certainly is the key, and I’ve seen the results firsthand. I’ve heard many of the kids say that if it weren’t for Paul and the people at Oasis, who listened to their stories and helped them get through each day as they worked through their problems, they would be dead right now. Instead, they’ve started new lives – going to school, getting a job, pursuing a musical career, educating others on the problems of youth homelessness. In fact, we attended an event tonight that was put on by a young guy who went through several Oasis programs, and who recently started his own entertainment business – six months ago he was homeless, with no hopes or dreams in sight. It’s quite amazing to see the power of the human connection and how knowing that someone cares about you can make all the difference in the world.
We’ve spent the last couple of days with Captain Paul Moulds at Oasis in Sydney, Australia. Oasis is a Salvation Army initiative and a youth support network. They do more than offer “street kids” a meal and a bed to sleep in – they give them a shot at a better future.
Homelessness is a big problem in Sydney, Australia as it is in other civilized, cosmopolitan and economically advantaged cities across the globe. It stands out as a contrast to the wealth and prosperity within the same city confines. And what is most staggering is that the majority of the homeless are young people.
How tragic for youth to start their lives with so many strikes against them. But people like Paul Moulds, his wife Robbin, and countless others are committed to reaching out to these youth to help them find their place in society and hopefully a better future. Paul clearly has a gift with the way he can communicate and “reach” troubled youth. He says it’s his calling and that is evident in just the few hours I’ve spent with him.
Some people would be intimidated or even frightened to venture into the night and talk to the homeless and the “tough” kids that have made a life on the streets, and along with that a life of drugs and violence. Paul may provide a cup of coffee but more importantly, he provides the human connection and the basic human need for communication and belonging.
I spoke with one young man who has been coming to Oasis since he’s been 16 years old. He was thrown out of his house and all he really wants desperately is to be part of a family. His wants are simple – to love and be loved. How very basic and yet so tragic that being part of a family seems so out of reach for so many.
Paul reiterated these same thoughts to me during our interview with him and how important the need for a sense of family is. It’s so easy to forget that coming from a stable family environment and background. But I will never take that for granted again – to know that I have people in my life who care for me and whom I can depend on. People who will be there for me no matter what. And I can’t help but wonder – but for the grace of God – things could have been different for me or for my daughter – merely by chance because of the world we were born into.
After meeting people like Paul Moulds and Ronni Kahn on this great continent and country, I feel so blessed that we had that great fortune and that they agreed to participate in our film. I cannot wait to get this project edited so that I can share with all of you their wonderful words. I truly know now that we were meant to do this film and meet these inspirational people and am convinced that they will be an inspiration for countless others to share their passions and make the world a better place.