By Jessie Mawson
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 1 December 2010 – Cities in Bangladesh are overcrowded with dense slums, squatter settlements and pavement dwellings, each home to thousands of children. In the absence of parental supervision, children who live on the street are forced to work long hours – sometimes in hazardous environments – in order to support themselves. Commonly deprived of their right to an education, they must fend for themselves in a predatory and unforgiving environment.
|VIDEO: 15 November 2010 - UNICEF's Jeannette Francis reports on the UNICEF-supported children's photo exhibition in Bangladesh, 'Living in the Urban Jungle.' Watch in RealPlayer|
It is this harsh daily reality that inspired the title of a photo exhibition, ‘Living in the Urban Jungle,’ launched last month in the capital, Dhaka, and the southern city of Barisal. The images from the exhibition are also featured in a hardcover coffee-table book of the same name.
What makes the exhibition unique is that all the photos were taken by a group of 20 disadvantaged children, living and/or working on the streets of Barisal and Dhaka.
Images of children at risk
The photography training project, supported by UNICEF in partnership with DRIK Gallery and the Telenor Group, saw the young photographers – all beneficiaries of UNICEF’s Protection of Children at Risk project – undertake a five-day training course that introduced them to basic photography concepts and techniques.
“On the first day I was nervous and afraid,” admits Chadni Akther, 14. “I knew hardly anything about photography, but the tutor taught us about shutter speed, aperture and other aspects of operating a camera.”
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Haque|
|Labony, 13, a participant in the UNICEF-supported photography training project in Bangladesh.|
Once the training was complete, the children returned to the slum areas and drop-in centres they call home. Each was armed with a digital camera, newfound journalistic skills and a determination to give viewers a glimpse into their daily reality – so often ignored or misunderstood.
“I like to photograph children at risk’, explains Dulal Hossain, 12. “Some of them sleep at the Barisal pier, and the rest of them live at the drop-in centre. I like to photograph them collecting bottles and carrying heavy loads.”
Opportunity for self-expression
After a week, the children returned with a total of almost 28,000 pictures, each one revealing a unique, symbolic, personal or surprising aspect of their lives. After a painstaking elimination process, 60 photographs were chosen to feature in the final exhibition, and the children got help with writing captions to accompany their images.
For many of the children involved, the opportunity to simply hold and use a camera carried special significance.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2010/Khan|
|Photography project participant Roni Hossain, 14, accompanies the mobile photo exhibition in Barisal, Bangladesh.|
“I used to see cameras in the houses of rich people, but I never touched one,” explains Chadni, who ran away from home at age seven and spent her formative years as a child domestic worker in Barisal city. “I feel good about the photos and about having the chance to express myself. Through pictures, I can tell the story of my hardships and the hardships of other children. Even though I am female and poor and young, when given the opportunity – I can achieve’.
The exhibition has been on display in both Dhaka and Barisal, not only in the traditional way but also mounted atop small boats and rickshaw vans and toured around to allow working-class families and other street children a chance to admire the work of the young photographers.
Addressing the crowd at the launch ceremony in Barisal, Roni Hossain, 14, described his experience with the photography project as “life-changing” and now dreams of becoming a professional photojournalist.
“UNICEF believes that the first step toward changing societal views about children who live and work on the street is to give these children a chance to express themselves in the public sphere – to have their feelings, ideas and creativity understood and appreciated,” added UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Carel de Rooy, speaking at the exhibition launch in Dhaka.