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Young people in Bangladesh show their world through photos

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Tanvir Murad Topu
Farida Khatun, 18, taking a picture of her sister Tajmohal, who has a physical disability , in Balugram, Bangladesh . Shuktara is among 30 adolescents who received photography training supported by UNICEF and the European Commission.

By Casey McCarthy and Sophie McNamara

DHAKA, Bangladesh , 20 January 2010 – As of three months ago, Rubaiya Akhter Shimu had never used a camera. Today, she is explaining the power of photography to a crowd of hundreds at the launch of a photo exhibition including several of her works.

Rubaiya, 14, is one of 30 Bangladeshi teenagers who received five days of intensive training in basic photography as part of joint initiative between UNICEF, the European Commission and Patshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography.  Each student was given a camera to take photos for a week.

While taking photographs in her local district, Rubaiya heard a woman crying inside a house. She went in and took a photo of the woman being beaten by her husband.

“In the evening, the husband came to my house accompanied by elderly people of the village. He asked me to delete the picture. He also promised me that he will never beat his wife again. I realised then how a picture can tell the story of a society,” says Rubaiya.

A picture can tell a story

The project aimed to inspire these young people to tell their stories using photography as a tool, and to introduce them to a new mode of expression. The result is a collection of striking and moving images that expressed the beauty and tragedy of their lives, and pointing at wider issues in the Bangladeshi society.

The launch of the exhibition at the Dhaka Sheraton Hotel was part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Tanvir Murad Topu
Shuktara Khatun, 17, photographs children as young as eight working at a cement factory in Balugram, Bangladesh.

Daily reality

Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Bangladesh, Dr. Stefan Frowein, told the audience that the daily reality for many children is still in sharp contrast to the standards set in the CRC.

“Millions of children still lack the chance for quality education, proper health and social care. There are still many victims of the worst forms of child labour, sexual exploitation and violent abuse,” he said.

Most of the young photographers decided to reflect these complex societal issues.

The next generation

Shuktara, 17, focused on child labour because many children work in a cement business across the road from her house.

“Children are our next generation of leaders. If they are deprived of their rights... they will not be able to lead us,” she said.

Like many trainees, Shuktara had some difficulty gaining access to her subjects, particularly as a woman entering a male-dominated arena. Overcoming this challenge helped build her self confidence and assertiveness.  

“These adolescents are very thoughtful about their society,” said one of the photography teachers. “They are so desperate to take great photographs that capture the struggle they themselves or other children face.”
Supporting the family

For Forida, one of the young students, the decision of what to photograph was simple. Forida and her family know all too well the prejudice faced by the disabled — her father and two sisters have dwarfism. “I hope my photos will help to sensitize people in Bangladesh about disability,” said Forida.

Forida’s sister, Tajmohal, had a normal growth rate during her infancy, but at three years of age, her growth was stunted. To help support the family, Tajmohal works as a tailor and embroiderer, making less than two dollars a day.

The exhibition called ‘Do you see my world?’ is now touring the districts of Jamalpur, Chapainawabganj and Barguna, where the photos were taken. There will also be a mobile exhibition on the back of rickshaws and bullock carts, allowing remote villages to see the photographs. The photos have also been published in a book to raise awareness of the issues these young people face in their daily life.




UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a mobile photo exhibition by young people in Bangladesh.
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