Saving Levy

Follow the journey of a teenage ex-gang member as he heals the wounds of his past and tries to imagine a better future.

Last updated: 03 Mar 2014 11:09
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Honduras today is one of the most violent countries in the world. The citizens, and especially the youth of the country, are targets of this violence. The ongoing battles between drug cartels fighting for control and rogue police battling for supremacy have left much of the citizenry caught in the crossfire.

One teen struggling to survive this bloodshed is Levy. He comes from a broken family, is in a gang, is hooked on drugs, and is one of thousands who are tempted by the dangerous choice of fleeing north to the United States and to presumed safety.

Juan, a social worker, is struggling to help youngsters like Levy stay alive and trying to keep them from further risking their lives by running north to Mexico or beyond. With little support and almost no resources he has come up with a unique way to help. Each week, working with teens such as Levy and adapting their stories, they broadcast a radio play that explores the reality of living in Honduras today.

Juan has recruited mentors among the local schools and drafted other social workers who are equally committed to try and end the violence. Levy, trapped by his gang affiliations and struggling to end his drug addiction, is barely able to manage a relationship with his family. He is the latest case they are trying to help. Saving Levy follows his journey.

Filmmaker's view

By Rodrigo Vazquez

Every year, tens of thousands of Honduran children attempt the arduous trip of crossing the Mexican border into the United States. These children, no matter their age or gender, brave the trip alone without a parent or a guardian. There are numerous reasons why they make a journey fraught with danger to cross the border.

Honduran migrant children are trying to escape a “war on drugs” that has given their country the highest crime rates in the world. Children as young as eight are being forced into drug trafficking in the country’s two main cities - Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. This phenomenon includes the use of sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, and/or poverty.

Most of these children cross the border with people traffickers or “coyotes”, who are now associated with the drug gangs to supply them with children and teenagers to be used in the drug trade. These children also risk falling prey to corrupt policemen, immigration officers or sex traffickers. The risk of being kidnapped en route to the US and ransomed for large amounts of money is high.

I decided to see for myself what these children were escaping. So I travelled to San Pedro Sula to meet a group of social workers who have set up a mentorship programme for child migrants and former gang members. Through them I met dozens of children with lives that no child should ever have.

I met Juan Calderon, 39, a former NGO worker who was setting up the mentorship scheme for former child migrants and gang members from scratch. Juan cannot afford to pay for buses as he does not have much money. But he persists because he and his wife were both street kids once and they know that there are no programmes for children at risk in the country.

There is a vacuum, in the context of social violence and growing drug addiction among teenagers, that they are determined to fill. Mentoring is a concept that Juan picked up during a seminar for social workers in the US. Combined with the technique of "friendly approach" to gang members, Juan has invented a new way of creating self-help groups in the country’s most dangerous 'barrios' - or neighbourhoods - controlled by drug traffickers. The idea is to educate mentors who are the same age as the mentees - 12 to 21.

These mentors then take charge of one child who is at risk in the neighbourhood. They meet regularly and talk things through. Juan says: "It’s an escape valve, a way to receive good influences from people who mean well. The biggest problem we have in Honduras is that young people don't have positive [role] models to follow. We need to create them."

Juan has already formed a group of seven mentors, who are in charge of one child each.

As part of the various therapies that social workers undertake with the children benefiting from the scheme, there is a radio-show which allows them to write and tell their own stories to the public on air.

The film follows the case of Levy Sequiera, an ex-gang member and crack addict, aged 14, and his mother, former prostitute Gloria Suyapa, 46. The family travels to San Pedro Sula and takes part in the radio-show to heal the wounds of the past and try to imagine a better future.


Saving Levy can be seen from Sunday, March 2 at the following times GMT:  Sunday: 2230; Monday: 0930; Tuesday: 0330 and Wednesday: 1630.

Click here for more Witness films.


Al Jazeera
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