Street children. One day they’re filling you with enthusiasm and goodwill and the next they suck it back out of you. The engagement that you’d carefully teased out of them is gone, dissolved into the glue and vanished up their nose; the glimmer of hope you’d guarded just for them is snuffed out. So it was with David, Pablo (the first boy presenting the video) and Martín.

I returned last week to give Martín the disposable camera, but he was nowhere to be found amongst the littered environs of his base. David was to be found but still hadn’t finished the camera roll. He’s had it 3 weeks now and my patience is being tried. I asked if he wanted to come and practice another hour with the SLR. He took a deep breath from the worn, sticky hanky of glue and shook his head. I rolled my eyes, told him there’s more to life than Activo and gave him another week to finish the photos before I take back the camera. That’s tomorrow. And Pablo. Pablo escaped from Casa Alianza about a month ago and is a different person from the one you see in the video. His eyeballs have turned yellow, he has new scars on his face and he looks tired, really tired. He ignored me when I approached him. After all we’ve shared, Pablo! I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, but then you can’t take these things personally.

No, you can’t take these things personally. I hadn’t lost faith entirely, so on Thursday when JJ (Hota Hota) introduced me to 15 year old Andrés Brayan I gathered up my shattered enthusiasm and made an arrangement for a Friday morning meeting. In the end, JJ couldn’t join us, so I decidedly went alone, and there I found Andrés Brayan where he said he would be, by the traffic lights of Metro Hidalgo.

Andrés Brayan works a tireless 12 hour day at the traffic lights, washing windscreens for a peso or two. He has to ensure he makes enough everyday to pay for his bedsit room (that’s MX$100, about £5), so I felt bad taking out three hours of his precious time. But if he was annoyed he didn’t show it. We ummed and ahhed about where we would take our photo session. “Why don’t you go to the Basílica?” said the wife of his boss, “there’s loads of activity there. Just don’t be giving him any glue…” (Andrés has been off glue for over a year). I assured her that that is not the way I roll and she noddingly gave her consent. Off we bumbled just Andrés and I, a funny pair we must have looked.

After some time, he ventured to ask me, “Where are you from?”

“England,” I replied, “Do you know where it is?”  He shook his head, although funnily enough I noticed he was wearing an Inglaterra t-shirt. The bus arrived.

“Do you miss your home?” He asked me.


“Me too, I miss my home sometimes.”

A silence ensued as we got on the bus, both contemplating our respective homes, although the situations that had got us there couldn’t have been further apart.

The Basílica was heaving, it being the days running up to the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. We gazed on at the people bent backwards carrying their bedecked plastic Virgins. “I don’t believe in the Virgin”, said Andrés before asking a man if he could take his picture.

Andrés' first documentary photograph of a couple with their Virgen de Guadalupe.

Usually with these sessions it is I making the suggestions for a photograph, but not with Andrés. I found myself following him around like a limp biscuit as he snapped quality shot after quality shot. “I think I understand this!” He finally exclaimed, “I just need to work more on understanding the settings”. He was even self-criticising and that does show an understanding beyond the basics.

I went back to the traffic lights today as we’d arranged. There he was, leant over a bonnet, scrubbing away. He saw me and waved. I showed him the contact sheet of his photos and we picked out together the ones he would like to exhibit (see below). I then put all my faith in him and handed him the disposable camera. “I want you to document your Christmas, Andrés Brayan, make a visual diary.” He nodded. “We’ll see each other next month?” He nodded again. I trust him.

A cripple sits next to the Virgin. Andrés wanted to show how much the people rely on her for help

Andrés stood for ages waiting for the perfect moment to take this picture of people paying for their blessings.

And finally, both our favourite - a father and son touch the painting of recently sainted San Juan Diego, who had the vision of the Virgen of Guadalupe all those years ago. The light came out just right!