A Fierce and Bright Spark

One of the people I met on Monday’s tour was Chhavelith, a social worker helping the hospital’s HIV/AIDS population. He offered a tour of one of the local slums where some of the hospital’s patients reside, and on Tuesday, I took him up on his offer. We were also joined by Caterina, who is taking a sabbatical from her residency in the U.S. to work at the hospital.Specifically, we were going to check in with a group of families with HIV+ members who had been evicted from their home by the government and relocated to the slum. They lived in a series of green painted, corrugated metal enclosures. One look around, and it was easy to tell it was a slum. All the signs were there – the dirt, the smells, the insects.What I didn’t expect were the children. The ones playing cards, the ones who mugged for the camera. What a rowdy and lively bunch they were. Constantly getting in each other’s pictures, making “cool” handsigns. Laughing, fighting.

There was one young girl who caught my attention. What a fierce and bossy thing she was; completely unafraid of taking control of my camera and ordering the other children as necessary for the composition of her shots. And sharp too. She just had to see me use the different controls once to understand and manipulate them as needed. It’s laughable – I’m such a photographer, because it was in that moment she caught my heart.

The children were so delighted to have their picture taken and then see the images on the LCD screen. What a novelty it was. How they laughed and carried on! I was at a loss, but I let them play as much as they wanted with the camera (within reason – it was my new camera bought in Bangkok). In the end, I missed the first few meetings with the parents of the children.

 I suppose children are children wherever you go. And parents, parents. In one of the “homes”, the parents of one child had posted some art scribbles. It was exhibited as clearly as on any American family’s refrigerator door. I, of course, have images of all this to show, and I hope some time soon to be able to show you.

Those kids were damn cute! And I keep stumbling over the potential dwelling in those little bodies. Will it ever be brought out to its full potential? It would be arrogance to think that their lives will be empty witout outside aid, but looking at them, I wondered at how much their poverty would limit what they were capable of. At how much it might grind them down.

Looking at those bright faces, I would save them all if I could. It’s hard not to be touched. But one person can’t do it. You could easily empty yourself out and barely scratch at the problem. It takes a community working together to protect their most vulnerable.

There’s a new building next to the slum. Apartments meant for the slum’s residents built by the government. The only problem is that electrical and water hookups will cost the new residents approximately 300 dollars US. How many slum residents can afford that, I wonder? How many will end up selling their space in the new apartment to someone better off? It’s an improvement over two years ago though. Then an entire squat was relocated to the middle of a rice paddy.

When I left the children, the bright spark opened her arms and waited for me to squat down so she could hug me. Then she ran off with the other kids to go play. Dazed, I rejoined Chhavelith and Caterina in their meetings with the children’s parents and as they talked about different things the residents were doing to get by. More on that later.

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~ by Samer on August 9, 2007.

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