our documentary about a global epidemic

hg2In my work, producing media for NGOs in the developing world, I’ve found that there are three things that all of the poorest places in the world have in common when I arrive. First, there’s the smoky haze from wood fires and the open burning of garbage. Secondly, there are tragic numbers of homeless street kids…either abandoned by their parents through economic necessity, or orphaned by gang violence or AIDS. And third, there is a visible presence of kids sniffing glue. Inhalants are the drug of choice and availability for the world’s poorest youth.

When discussing my travel experiences, I find that many people are surprised that glue is one of the most abused substances in the world. The majority of people in the West are unaware of the scope of this problem. Inhalant abuse by street kids is, in fact, a greatly under-addressed global health issue.

Glue sniffing quickly and permanently destroys the addicts’ ability to function in society, and dooms them to a lifetime on the street, in an institution, or to an early death. Glue is cheap, readily available, and it both curbs hunger and lessens the misery of street life. Moreover, there is little attention paid to it by law enforcement because it’s not illegal to possess glue, and there are no drug cartels involved…greatly diminishing international interest, agency cooperation, and media exposure.

These kids, in huge numbers all over the world, are either regarded as “invisible” or are treated with contempt in their societies. Subsequently, programs to curb this brain-damaging addiction are rare. In Honduras, for example, glue-addicted youth are seen as a nuisance and a source of crime, so neighborhood vigilantes routinely execute them. The local police appear to have a “good riddance” attitude toward this kind of street justice. I actually witnessed the digging of two graves in a vacant lot, intended for two glue-addicted boys who were known to be persistent thieves. The next morning the graves were filled in. An NGO worker in Nairobi told me that the police, collecting a fee, enable foreign pedophiles to exploit glue-addicted children. Inhalant abuse raises the already high odds of becoming the victims of violence and sexual exploitation for children in many of the world’s poorest places. Shunned and persecuted in their communities, the only help that is available usually comes from small, underfunded local NGOs that are already over capacity.

During my travels in Latin America and East Africa, I’ve seen glue sniffing up-close and in-person countless times. I saw a young woman in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, walking nude in traffic, howling madly from inhalant-induced dementia. I’ve seen pre-teens in Nairobi, Kenya, with a bottle of glue stuck to their lip to keep the fumes available all day, competing with huge storks for the rancid scraps from a slaughterhouse’s landfill. I’ve seen teenagers with soulless eyes in São Paulo, Brazil nervously shaking pencils, which I found out are used to stir the glue to produce vapor. The fact is, I never had to look hard to see these things. Glue sniffing is prevalent and constantly encountered among the poorest of the poor, all over the world. This is an issue that has had little attention in the international media, but is producing a generation of addicts with nothing to lose in their daily pursuit of a bit of furniture glue.

To that end, 18 rabbits digital media is producing a documentary about glue sniffing in order to bring attention to this global health crises among the world’s street youth. We will be filming segments in Central America, East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. Our journey will begin in northern Honduras where we’ll be working with an NGO that has programs for at-risk youth.

We hope that you’ll sign on to our blog and follow the process of the documentary through pre-production, location shoots, editing, and distribution.

-Richard Lakin


9 Comments on “our documentary about a global epidemic”

  1. Carole Nicholes says:

    Richard,
    Keep up the great work of exposing this tragic problem. Great job, my friend.

  2. Very good documentary on glue sniffing. This is not very common health issue in our region but undernourishment of children due to extreme poverty is real issue in this part of the world. Please consider to make a documentary on this pressing health problem

  3. Reem Khan says:

    Interesting work. I’ll look forward to reading updates about your project.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Excellent, Richard. Congrats on bringing this to our attention. It should be a PBS special. Carolyn

  5. Great project to bring awareness to a little spoken of problem. The problem is also found among the Indigenous youth in Australia. I wasn’t aware of the extent of the problem in East Africa, so I’ll be interested to follow your project and learn more.

  6. laura jonsen says:

    I read this article with great interest, i currently work with a solvent abuse trust in Scotland , and have been researching the growing global use of glues and other solvents, this is an issue that needs more attention and funding to address. Too many children ( and adults) are dying needlessly every year . keep up the good work , and i will be following this with great interest. Unfortunately this issue is not just prevalent among the poor, and as you say it is a hidden thing.

    • Thanks for your comment. We would welcome an editorial from you on the subject. We’ll be leaving for our field production shortly, and will be posting regular content from on-location.


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