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An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka
I remember my first day waking up in Dhaka. The world’s most densely populated city with 14 million people—a city filled with blaring horns, faded concrete walls, the smell of dust, yellow curry and the serene calls of prayer five times a day.
I had partnered with World Vision Canada on their No Child For Sale campaign where we would visit area development projects in the slums of Bangladesh and visit communities deep in the country. Our goal was to gather resources on child labour involved in the supply chain and how it leads back to consumers in North America.
I remember visiting countless night schools, interviewing five year olds that worked as waste pickers on garbage mountains and meeting children with stories that seemed too brutal to exist. Along the way, I was also cared for by staff that treated me like family and meet people that were working as hard as they possibly could to improve those situations.
When I tell people that I have travelled to Bangladesh most people reply with “Why would you go there? It’s so chaotic and dirty.” or “You must feel super grateful now when you see the way people live there.” Both are true and both are perceptions that barely scratch the surface of what is real and what it was like being there.
Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.
Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.
Creatively, this trip really made me realize the beauty of photography and how it gives me the ability to document stories and be a voice for people that need to be heard. Along the way, I also realized that it was less about me fulfilling my creative vision but about being a person that cared more than taking a great photo and walking away.
I remember being anxious about how gruesome the environment was and doubting my ability to pull off the project. This trip really stretched that idea and my hope for these photos is to share snapshots of beauty I found in this country and translate what it was like meeting the Bangladeshi people in real life.
Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir’s hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.
To think that you can love someone you’ve met for 10 minutes and care for a nation of kids on the other side of the world is impossible. But I want to to share that the Bangladeshi people I met there were people just like you and me. They are warm, they are welcoming, they are funny. They love, they get frustrated over daily life and they love ice cream. They don’t view their living situations the way we do but work at it every day with much dignity and love for those around them.
Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.
I guess what I am trying to point out is that these trips have given me a capacity for compassion and a boldness to talk about issues that seem better kept in the dark. The decision to go on this trip was to challenge myself and take on a project I believed in; knowing that I had to be prepared to be honest about my experience and have the courage to speak out. Now that I know about these things, it seems quite foolish to stay silent.
Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which is later exported. Everyday, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.
There is a deep imbalance about the way we live in developed worlds and the way people live in countries like Bangladesh. After putting a face to these stories and knowing these people that can use our support, I believe that we should all do our part in creating change.
A simple decision can really make a great impact in a child’s life. There are children working in terrible situations and getting paid half of what they deserve because they are young and in situations that make them very vulnerable. By refusing to support brands who are not transparent about their manufacturing process, you might be giving a child a chance to go to school, to make their own decision in marriage and a chance to have a better life.
My travels in developing worlds have taught to be a minimalist, to not purchase what is unnecessary, and to be very aware of brands I support and educate myself and others about transparency in goods we consume. To learn more about the campaign I worked on, visit www.nochildforsale.ca and see on how you can take part in creating change.