Eight months ago, I took this photo on a trip to India, but I really didn’t think the shoot out.
I have been wanting to reflect on it for a while, and didn’t know how to best portray it. To make the story of the kids more pronounced, or to express the emotions I got as I interacted with them? Would it just be a picture I look at for aesthetic purposes, or would there be a ripple that would stir up emotions to do something about it?
The Unwritten Rules Of Street Talk
I had to follow the rules of engagement when I approached them, or rather when they approached me, for money.
They wore clothes that seemed old and hung on their shoulders like hangers. Laughter was unheard off, almost as if it had long escaped their expressions. When I arrived in the Tuk-Tuk (a type of public transport in an Indian metropolis), they were sitting on the curb, with other children.
I clearly recall an experience in Mozambique, where a man approached me and stated he needed money to buy food for his children. I wasn’t going to give it to him at first, but what changed my mind was the great effort he was putting into communicating with me, in English. I decided to give a helping hand, only to find that I’d been a victim of my generosity, when, the next day, I saw him repeating the same story to another stranger, and realized this is all a system far bigger than I’d imagined.
In West Africa, where I come from, things are different.
The children from Niger living in Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast are known to be more forward and even tug at your clothes to beg for money. Though they are undeniably adorable, you can’t fail to notice it was their parents who raised them to beg on the streets, as a means of making a living and sustaining their families.
When Money Isn’t Enough
The burden of having to go along with the status quo, and reproducing this cycle of poverty left me uneasy. Looking at documentary photography, they take pictures, send a report and very little is done afterwards. Sure, it’s good for awareness, but is awareness enough?
There has to be an equivalent exchange.
As a photographer, I believe more can be done, more should be done.
Whether it is in collaboration with NGOs or at the photographer’s initiative to profit from his/her work and make the lives of his or her subjects better, like all things media, it is not enough by itself.
The Luxury Of Being A Tourist
As a tourist, there isn’t much one can do.
I looked at the boy and I looked at the girl, it’s very sad that at a young age, she already knew what to do to get money, survive and take care of her and her little brother. The boy either doesn’t understand his situation or is just frustrated at life, but either way the expression he has on his face says it all.
A foreigner, in any context, would want to take it to the streets and experience the culture first hand.
The case of India, to me, is simply a bucket list for tourists.
With recent India-themed films, such as the well-acclaimed “Slumdog Millionaire”, the world was exposed to a side of India people weren’t ready for. I don’t believe in being a tourist, as tourists aren’t always the best travelers, simply because they most often then not go to another country with a fixed mindset towards things.
To be in a position to empower people for me is like bringing a lit candle into a dim room. Even though one is only able to do a small gesture, it could make the difference between being hungry and starving.
The Bottom Line
Anyone who has a happy childhood, would want the same for anyone as these formed the first impression of the world to the young mind. They are children, they want to play, they want to be loved, they want to be cared for. It’s not their fault they got dealt a bad hand from the moment they were born. Being on the streets isn’t for the weak-minded and if they should ever make it out of the streets, their endurance level and their history would make them bigger, and better citizens.
As to why they are on the streets, one explanation comes to mind: selfishness. Humans are known for being selfish, sure this isn’t always the case, but the few cases are enough. We are we as a result of our experiences.
Original Photos by Opas Onucheyo, check his Instagram for more!