Photojournalism Project Mumbai
About the Project

In July 2012, children from Mermier Bal Ashram and Vaduz Girls Ashram, two orphanages in Mumbai, India, participated in a three week photojournalism project. During this time, the children were taught skills in photojournalism, and they were mentored individually to develop their own photojournalism projects.

The training sessions covered topics such as:
-What is photojournalism?
-Operating the camera
-Camera techniques and shot composition
-Capturing emotions in your photographs
-Sequencing shots to tell a story

This blog contains the children’s photojournalism projects that were produced at the conclusion of the training sessions. These stories will also be published into photo books for the children to keep as a memento of their experience.

The stories these children have told are a powerful, confronting and touching portrayal of life as it is for many children who are trying to break the cycle of poverty in their families. They demonstrate the power of an image to tell a story in any language, to transcend cultural barriers, and to touch people’s lives on the other side of the world.

There are twelve stories in total, each of which explore a different aspect of life for children living in two of Mumbai’s ashrams. These are the lucky children; the children who once lived on the street as beggars and ragpickers, but who are now living in an ashram and attending school.

Take your time to read the stories, and be inspired by the simple, beautiful approach to life that these children have.

Ashleigh

SHABAN’S PROJECT - Life in a Slum

I didn’t realize how nervous Shaban was about his project until it was finished. He seemed relieved as we walked away from the slum with several incredible photos, but also proud that he had been the first boy to complete the project. Shaban is one of the two boys in the ashram enrolled in dance classes. The priests enrolled two of the older boys in a weekly class, hoping that this may give the boys something to teach the other boys in the ashram.  During my time in the ashram, Shaban’s mother came for a visit. As a young child, Shaban’s father died, and his mother was left without money to raise him. Today, Shaban’s mother lives in Mumbai as a maid, and Shaban enjoys her regular visits.

For Shaban’s project he photographed at a slum which is located behind an oval, about 200 metres away from the ashram. The boys see this slum every day, and for Shaban, it reminds him of the place where he grew up. When we arrived at the slum, Shaban explained the project to some of the women. At first, the women were concerned that our intent was to expose them to authorities, but they soon understood the purpose of our visit. Shaban was nervous speaking to the men and women who live in the slum, but he eventually mustered up the confidence to enter into conversation with one of the women about her family and daily work. The conversation was in Hindi so I had little idea of what they were saying, but when Shaban translated the woman’s words into English I was very impressed with Shaban’s newfound journalistic skills.

About Shaban

My name is Shaban and I am 17 years old. I was born in Mumbai and there are four members of my family. My aunt told my mother about the ashram and they brought me here when I was small. My father is dead and my mother is a maid, but she doesn’t have enough money to care for me. My father was once able to pick me up in one hand, and my mother has photos of this. My interests are football and dance, and I’m not sure what I will be when I finish study.

My project is about… what life is like living in a slum. I chose this story because the children are not going to school and the cycle keeps repeating itself. I care about this because I come from a similar place. Many of the friends I grew up with are working in garages, and others are living in ashrams like this. I don’t get to see them often. It is difficult living in a slum. If you don’t work hard, bringing in bricks, you don’t get clothes and food. During the rainy season, there are many problems. The water in the well gets dirty, so it is important to boil it over the fire pit before drinking.

This photograph is of the entrance to the slum area. When we walked in a lady was combing a girl’s hair, a boy was playing and the women were washing clothes.


This is a photograph of a hut being built. It is not very strong, especially during storms. Because of the garbage in the slum area, many of the people get diseases.


This is one of the ladies who I spoke to in the slum area. She is staying there and cooking for her family. In her family there are two sons, one daughter and her husband. She has lived in this place for four or five years.



This is a photograph of the lady with her family.


In the slum area, the children don’t go to school. They just roam here and there, picking up garbage and selling the plastic they find.




In the slum area they have two toilets. They also wash their clothes in this space, and bath in here as well. Then they wash the waste away with water.

JOY’S PROJECT - School and Study

During my first visit to India I was both amazed and inspired by the level of motivation the boys have for their studies. Many of the older boys stay up into the early hours of the morning with their pen and paper. They don’t use computers; they just read, absorb, memorise and pray that their efforts will lead to a reliable, well-paid job. When I visited the ashram in 2011, I spent a lot of time helping Joy with his studies. By coincidence, he happened to be studying a unit in Australian geography, so we spent study time talking about wheat crops, sheep, states and territories, and the tiny population of Australia. Before coming to the ashram, Joy would spend his days washing plates, cleaning the home, and helping his aunt with her duties. Joy’s aunt would promise him that, “One day you will go to school.” For Joy, school is a blessing that he always dreamed of. Now that he is at school, Joy, like all the other boys, is determined to make the opportunity count.

About Joy

My name is Joy. I am studying in 7th standard and I am 15 years old. I have lived in the ashram for eight years. Before living in the ashram I lived in Nerul. There, I lived with my aunty and I used to help her with her duties. I would wash the plates and clean the room, but I didn’t go to school. She told me that when I go to the ashram I would be able to go to school. My hobbies are playing football, and playing games on computers.

My project is about… study and school. My school is called Ryan Christian School, and my favourite subject is maths. My favourite teacher is my maths teacher and her name is Bindu. I like her because she has taught us from 3rd standard and she likes us so much. Her birthday was earlier this month, and our class gave her a party and some gifts.


 

I go to school six days a week, and Saturday is my day off. I get the bus to school at 12pm and it takes 15 minutes to get to school. I finish school at 5.30pm.


These are the medals that boys in the ashram have received for their studies and school sport. I have received two gold medals and one bronze medal. They were for running races.



This is Omkar. He is in the book library at the ashram. We have so many books and we read them sometimes when we don’t have any work. It’s important to study now, because after becoming big we will get a good job.


On the day I did my photojournalism project I was studying chemistry. In chemistry we are learning about chemicals, liquids, and about aluminum. I don’t like chemistry so much, because there are big chapters and I get bored, but I still study hard.



In the morning and evening the boys study in the study hall. Vanessa comes to help us with studies when we have difficult subjects, like chemistry. Vanessa doesn’t like chemistry but sometimes she teaches us. Vanessa goes to our church, and likes to give her time to help us.
 
 

ZANTU, OMKAR AND KARTHIK’S PROJECT - Pollution in Koperkhairne

Many of the boys in Mermier Bal Ashram aspire to be scientists and engineers. Naturally, some of the boys were keen to add an element of science to their photojournalism projects. I enjoyed watching Zantu, Omkar and Karthik link their studies in science at school to issues facing their city such as pollution and garbage. They know the value of good health, and they understand how lucky they are to have access to medicine, clean water and a healthy living environment in the ashram. These boys, who have experienced a far less comfortable life as young children, have a great ability to reflect on the impacts of living in an environment surrounded by garbage and sewage. When these boys enter the workforce as scientists and engineers, they are bound to have a rich, unique perspective to offer their fields. Zantu, Omkar and Karthik have escaped the streets, but their deep knowledge of life as it is for the poorest of the poor in India will no doubt shape and enrich what they offer to the world through their work.

From left to right: Zantu, Omkar, Karthik.

About Zantu…

My name is Zantu and I am 13 years old. My hobbies are playing games. As a young child I lived in Andheri with my mother in a girls’ ashram. I stayed there for two years, then after two years I came here. My mother lives close by, and does housework in Mumbai. She enjoys coming to the ashram to visit me.  Our project is about pollution. This project shows how life is difficult when you live in a polluted city.

About Omkar…

My name is Omkar. I am 14 years old and I have lived in Mermier Bal Ashram for ten years. Before I was here I stayed in Satara district with my grandmother, and after that I went to my uncle’s house. My uncle put me in boarding but I stayed there for only one day. I then came to Mermier. I chose this project to show how people in Koperkhairne are becoming sick and dying of diseases due to pollution.

About Karthik…

My name is Karthik. I am 14 years old and I live in Mermier Bal Ashram. I have lived here for six years. Before I came here I lived in VT, and my mother was a tailor. I have one brother, and my hobby is to play football. I chose this project because it is important to save the lives of poor people.


In this photograph, a man is collecting garbage and a dog is eating the garbage. When dogs eat garbage they carry diseases. Then, when they bite humans, they poison us and make us sick. In Koperkhairne there is lots of overflowing garbage.


These children were collecting garbage to sell and collecting money to eat. They have no shelter.


Some children are affected by the pollution and they cannot get clean food and clean water to drink. These children live in the slum behind them, and they don’t have proper clothes to wear. They are also suffering with diseases.


To help with this problem, the council are building toilets for better sanitation.

 

Many people who don’t have good sanitation and live in dirty places should go to the medical centre. But to buy medicine they need to work hard because medicine is expensive.


This river contains sewage and is very polluted. Those who live near the river often become sick and suffer from diarrhoea, jaundice and other diseases. In this photograph you can also see they are polluting the air and the water.


In conclusion, we know about pollution because we study science and environment subjects at school. We learn about personal hygiene, water pollution, and how to take care of the environment. It is important to know about this because pollution is eating the earth and causing global warming.

VISHAL’S PROJECT - Afternoon Sport for Ashram Boys

Vishal, at 13 years old, doesn’t look his age. But as you engage him in conversation, either about his sister, cricket, or school, his maturity is revealed. I cannot think of Vishal without thinking of his older sister, Pooja, who lives in Vaduz Girls’ Ashram. With the same stunning features, long eyelashes and a big smile, the pair also share the same unique leadership qualities. It took me a while to pinpoint what it is about the siblings that draws others to them. I believe it has something to do with their humble nature and their commitment to that which is right and truthful. When Vishal was two years old, both his parents passed away. (See Pooja’s story). He spent some time living in a slum with his aunt and cousins, but when his aunt was unable to support them, Pooja and Vishal came to live in the ashrams. I met Vishal’s aunt when I visited the slum with Pooja. It isn’t difficult to see the strong network of extended family these children have around them. Vishal and Pooja know that they are loved by their extended family, but they also know that if they were to return to the slums, there would be no one to support them financially. They are aware that the key to a successful future is education, and that living in the ashrams will provide them with this opportunity.



About Vishal

My name is Vishal. I am studying in 7th standard and my age is 13. I’ve lived in Mermier Bal Ashram for five years, and my sister lives in Vaduz Girls’ Ashram. She is in 8th standard. I like to play football, cricket and table tennis.

For my project… I clicked photos of children playing in the ground. Some are playing cricket and some are playing football. The boys play outside every day at 5pm.


In this photograph the children are coming out to play games like cricket and football. We play from 5.00pm to 6.15pm. At 6.15 we wash our hands, legs and faces, and at 6.30 we come for snacks. I like this time of day because we play different games and I get to play with my friends.


In this photograph the boys are playing, pushing each other and kicking the ball. Sometimes the games get rough. One time when I was playing cricket I was catching the ball, and I fell down and I got hurt.



The boys in the ashram love cricket. My favourite Indian cricketer is Gautam Gambhir. He is an all-rounder, but I prefer batting.


In this photograph Akash and Amol are doing a pose. Akash is funny and he makes me laugh. These boys like to play soccer and cricket like me.

THOMAS’ PROJECT - The Markets

It isn’t hard to get on with Thomas. I remember one afternoon when I was Skyping my brother, and Thomas was in awe of the fact that my brother was on the screen in front of me. After overhearing the Skype call, Thomas began to ask me about my family. I told him that I had another brother, and Thomas requested that together we create a video message to send to my brother. It was a great privilege getting to know Thomas, and behind his quiet manner is a wealth of knowledge about the world around him.

Walking through the markets with Thomas as he photographed for his project was fascinating. It seemed that every bracelet, every store and every flower arrangement had a rich cultural meaning which Thomas was able to explain. It was beautiful watching Thomas display a sense of ownership over the religious and cultural traditions that he knew so well.


About Thomas

My name is Thomas. I am studying in 5th standard and I am 13 years old. I have two sisters who live in a village which is three days away. I used to live in the village with my mother’s sister and father. My school’s name is Navi Mumbai NMMC. My favourite subject is geography and when I grow up I want to be an engineer. You have to get high marks to become an engineer so I must study hard.

For my project… I clicked photos in a market which is close to the ashram. I wanted to click at the markets because there are so many fruits, vegetables and fish at the markets. 



These bracelets are for the Raksha Bandhan festival. It is the festival for brothers and sisters. First the sister will put the rakhi around the brother’s wrist, and the brother will give a gift to the sister. The festival is next month on the 2nd August, so markets are filled with rakhi at the moment. My sisters are coming to the ashram for this festival. Giving the rakhi means that the brother will protect the sister, and that the sister will always love and care for the brother.



Many markets sell these flowers. These flowers are for worship of the gods. The girls put the flowers in their hair and they display them in their houses. The boys might decorate their cars with the flowers. The flowers are also placed in churches and temples. People of all religions use these flowers in India.


In this photograph a lady has come to buy fruits and the man is weighing the apples. Most people in Mumbai buy their fruit from markets.



In this photograph a man is weighing the apples which he brought from Jammu and Kashmir. I asked him where he got his apples from and he told me. Apples are very costly in Mumbai but when we eat apples it is nice for our health. Every morning we should eat fruit. The cheapest fruits in Mumbai are oranges and bananas. Mangoes and apples are very costly in India.


Ashram boys like chicken. One kilogram of chicken is 110 rupees ($2 Australian). Many food markets sell chicken, and most people come to buy chicken on Saturdays and Sundays, on Christmas and during festivals. In India during the Muslim festival Eid, they sell many goats. Meat sellers make most of their money during festivals.


In this photograph the man is cutting the sugarcane and after that he will put it in a machine to make juice. One glass of juice is 10 rupees. In my village, small kids eat sugarcane. When I am on summer vacation in my village I eat sugarcane. In summer seasons, sugarcane is most common.

SERINA’S PROJECT - Life in the Ashram

The thing I loved about Serina’s project was its simplicity. After Serina decided that her project would be a documentation of life in the ashram, we began discussing the five photographs that would best capture her life there. It didn’t take long for me to learn that a significant aspect of Serina’s life in the ashram was the community of girls around her. She was so proud to photograph her friends with whom she eats, prays, plays and studies every day. I loved watching the way the projects gradually became a reflection of each child’s personality. Serina didn’t create a generalised documentation of life in the ashram on behalf of the sixteen other girls. She documented her life and aspects of her everyday routine that carry special meaning.

I will always remember the night that Serina photographed the girls as they said their evening prayers. Serina walked around the circle of girls with the camera in her hand, zooming in on her friends as they prayed so beautifully and earnestly. After Serina had taken the photographs she needed, I watched as she placed the camera down and joined the rest of the girls in the circle. She clasped her hands together, closed her eyes and, along with the girls around her, entered into deep prayer. This sudden transformation from what appeared to be an outsider looking onto a scene to an active participant really epitomised the essence of what photojournalism, and journalism in general, should be. I will never be able to tell a story the way a local can. We can enter foreign countries and attempt to document life as it is for locals, but it takes someone who lives this life, day in and day out, to produce the most accurate journalism.


 

About Serina

My name is Serina. I am studying in 6th standard. In summer vacation I went to my village and I played with the small children there. I also went to a marriage. I have lived in Vaduz Ashram for seven years. Here I like to play with my friends, and I share my things with the other girls. I also like to study. My favourite subject is science.
 

My project is about… sharing with other girls in the ashram and the things we do together.




These are my friends in Vaduz. My best friends are Ruby, Manisha and Paru.


This is me in the chapel at Vaduz. I pray to God in the chapel, and I like it here because it is quiet and peaceful.



I also pray with the other girls, and sister joins us too. Always we are praying. In the morning and at night we pray. I pray for my family and friends, and I pray for poor people.


This is a photo of my friends studying. They help me in study time.


Finally, we have dinner at the end of the day and we all eat together. Dinner is at 8.30pm and after dinner we say prayers and then go to bed.

POOJA’S PROJECT - My Childhood Story

Pooja is the second eldest girl in the ashram. If you ask Pooja to tell you something about herself, she will tell you about her brother, Vishal. Vishal lives in Mermier Bal Ashram for boys and Pooja, on several occasions, would tell me how much she misses him. I get the sense that Pooja feels somewhat responsible for her brother’s wellbeing since both of their parents have passed away. During one of the workshops, the children were asked to answer questions about themselves, one of which was, “If you could change something about the world, what would it be?” Pooja answered, “That my brother might always be happy.” I don’t believe that Pooja’s brother is unhappy, but Pooja often worries about him.

One of the most memorable evenings was my last night in Vaduz when I was finalizing the children’s stories. Pooja knocked on the door of my room, along with Fatima, and in her hand was a small photo album. “Diddi,” she said (which means big sister in Hindi), “I have something to show you.” Up until this point, I knew that Pooja’s parents had passed away, but I was unaware of the circumstances of their death. Pooja sat beside me on my bed, with Fatima on the other side, and she began to flick through the photos. One of the photographs in the album was one i had mailed to Pooja’s brother last year after my stay at his ashram. The photograph was of me and Vishal,  and plastered on Vishal’s face was a huge smile. I asked Pooja why she, rather than Vishal, now has the photograph. “He wanted me to have this so I may always see him smiling,” she said.

As Pooja continued to flick through the album, she came to one of her father, her aunt and her uncle. “Diddi,” she said, “I have not told you the full story of my parents.” At this stage Fatima stepped in. “There is a longer story to her parents’ death,” said Fatima. Between the two girls, they recited step by step, the series of events that led to the death of Pooja’s parents. “It began with a rumour that was spread by a neighbour about my mother,” Pooja said. I get the impression that the rumours and lies caused a great deal of trauma for the family.


Pooja then handed over to Fatima to recall the events of the night that Pooja’s mother had ended her life. While the death was a suicide, Pooja’s father, who was in the room at the time, was charged with murder. A few months into the jail sentence, he too committed suicide, and Pooja and Vishal were left as orphans.

Pooja told me early on that she wanted the topic of her photojournalism project to be her childhood. But part of her wouldn’t believe that it would be possible to return to her slum. I must have told her at least five times that this was really going to happen, but it wasn’t until the day before our trip that it clicked, “Pooja, it’s happening. We’re going tomorrow.” Her smile was the most illuminated beam of joy I have ever seen, and shortly after this conversation she pulled me aside to explain what to expect. “Diddi, you must understand that my home is only small, maybe no bigger than that shed over there. But it is beautiful to my eyes.” I assured her of my view that any home with lovely people and a nice atmosphere is beautiful and, as I said this, Pooja nodded. In her mind, I guess she was thinking, “My home has exactly that.”

And she was right. As our rickshaw pulled up outside the slum area, Pooja was instantly recognized by a woman at a stall. The woman, who was obviously surprised to see her, handed her a packet of biscuits. As we began to walk through the slum area, Pooja ran. She ran like a master of the slum, with a knowledge of every corner, ditch and crevice. The ground was flooded in areas, with large, brown, smelly puddles. A different smell emanated from every slum and alleyway - odours I had never smelt. For Pooja, I can only imagine it was like coming home to the smell of your grandmothers cookies in the oven.



About Pooja

My name is Pooja. My name means “to worship God.” My age is 15 and I am studying in 8th standard. My brother, Vishal is staying in Mermier Bal Ashram and is studying in 7th standard. My hobbies are singing and dancing.

My project… is about my childhood, and for my story I travelled home to the place where I was born. We travelled by train, then we took an auto rickshaw, and my aunty was there waiting.



This is a photograph of my father, my aunty and my uncle. When I was born my father did not come to the hospital because he wanted a baby boy. My aunties came to the hospital to bring my mother and me home. Then after some time my father returned. My aunty gave my father advice but there were lots of problems and much fighting. For a short time, things became alright and after a few months my brother was born. His name is Vishal. For a while we lived happily together as a family. But it became bad again when I was aged four. Due to some quarreling, a misunderstanding and some lies about my mother, both my parents died. 



I went to stay with my aunty who is pictured in this photograph. My cousins stayed with me too. Then after a few years I went to the centre for education, and my teacher Shobha helped my brother and me. She gave us a nice chance to study, and she also gave us clothes and food. 



This is the slum area where I was raised. There are always people everywhere, and it is very colourful. But when I am at home I cannot study because nobody is there to look after me. But I like it here very much. We eat lots of nice dishes such as dhal, rice and vegetables. The lady pictured at the front of this photograph is my cousin and her name is Sangita. Here she is cooking vegetables for her family. 



This photograph is of me with my aunty and cousin. We are standing in the temple which is in my slum area. When I was a child my mother used to go into this temple every morning to pray. I was very excited to come back to this temple.


In my slum area the men go out to work during the day and the women stay as housewives. This photograph is of Lalita and she is my cousin. Lalita has one child, a girl, and she is still a baby. When I visited my slum area Lalita was washing clothes.


In 2008 I came to Vaduz Ashram, and the teacher, Shoba (in the centre) brought me here. My brother Vishal went to Mermier Bal Ashram for boys and we started going to school. This picture is of the sisters and my aunty when they came to my home.

In Vaduz Ashram I have learnt many things from the Sisters, things like singing, dancing, doing craft and other activities. I also go to school now and, when I am an adult, I would like to help poor children in slum areas who do not have a place to stay. I would like to thank Father Francis for giving me such a nice opportunity to live and study in Vaduz. Thank you, Father. 

KUSHALI’S PROJECT - The Rainy Season in Mumbai

Kushali is a leader, and every day I spent in Vaduz she would inspire me in some way or another. It was her intelligence that amazed me. Kushali has a worldly intelligence. She knows about things that would go over the heads of most thirteen-year-old girls. I distinctly remember a particular afternoon when the girls were brainstorming ideas for their projects. The take-home message of the session was that photojournalists tell stories about the things they care about. I asked the girls to write a paragraph about something they care about. Many of the girls spoke of how they care about sick people, lonely people and poor people. But Kushali’s response just blew my mind:

"Good morning. I will be discussing about girls, particularly girls who are raped in India. We are all Indian first, right? So we should support all girls who are raped and save them. For example, if you are the friend of a girl who is in trouble, there are many ways you can help. You can give a complaint to WWC (Women Welfare Committee) and there are many other different ways you can help them. But please, save teenage girls and stop human trafficking. Thank you."

Working with Kushali on her project was a lot of fun. She knew exactly what she was doing, and she had planned in her mind precisely the way her final project would look. Kushali’s approach to the project was very methodical, and she was determined to inform those viewing her project the step by step process of making bricks.

About Kushali

My name is Kushali and I am studying in 9th standard. I like that I am a part of this project. I enjoy writing stories, reading books, and many other things. I came to Vaduz Ashram in 2008. I was so excited to come here. Now I am feeling like I am  part of this ashram.

My project… is about the good and bad sides of the rainy season in Mumbai. I photographed close to the ashram on an afternoon in July.



When we were walking we saw this hut and this boy. In India in the month of July, rains are falling strongly. The boy is living in this hut because his family does not have the money to build a house. It is hard to live in this hut during rainy season because when the strong storms are coming, the hut falls down. So it is important that houses are made out of bricks.




One day my bus stopped because it ran out of petrol. We had to get out of the bus, so I sat and watched how the men nearby make bricks. From that day I came to know how bricks are made. 

The people who make the bricks are experts. They put hay inside the bricks, then they burn it out, and the bricks become like charcoal. Then they put the bricks inside the muddy water, and after two or three days they take them out. After that, the brick has formed because of the sunlight, the dirty water and the bacteria. 




These workers are making this house out of bricks which are safe for the rainy season.



The rainy season is a good time for agriculture. As you can see in this photo, the ladies are putting the little crops in the soil. When the rain comes, the crops will grow. Then they cut the crops and sell them at a market to get profit. This is how they earn their living.


The green patch in this photograph shows what it looks like once crops have been planted and it starts to rain.


You can see here that the crops are beginning to grow because of the rain. 

In conclusion, I like the rainy season because the poor people get the profit because of their hard work, and the farmers are also very happy that the crops are blooming. Because of the blooming of the crops, plants get more water, and they refresh in the rainy season. But the problem is that in the rainy season there is often no electricity. When there is no electricity, we cannot wash the dresses and we cannot use the water. People are thirsty for water. 

LEEZA’S PROJECT - My Childhood and my Family

The day I arrived at Vaduz was Leeza’s 14th birthday. One of the girls had beaded her hair and dressed her in a traditional garment. She looked simply elegant. I envied her round eyes and long, dark eyelashes. Leeza’s father and stepmother had visited the ashram for the afternoon to celebrate Leeza’s birthday. At this stage, I was not aware of Leeza’s story, and to me they appeared like a normal, happy family with a mother, a father and a daughter. I wondered why they would send their daughter to live in an ashram. But shame on me for judging. As I would soon discover, there was a lot more to the story.

Leeza, like Pooja, wanted to do her project on her childhood. While some of the children rarely mention their lives prior to the ashram, Leeza and Pooja would have happily spent hours sharing their childhood. It is easy to box children’s stories into the narrative of a bad life before coming to the ashram, versus the good life at the ashram. But as I listened to the children, what became clear was the complexity of the situation. Sure, there were horrid, brutal aspects of the girls’ childhoods, but this didn’t necessarily equate to a desire to forget their childhoods entirely. Leeza, despite being abandoned by her birth mother, and later beaten and abused by her uncle, still felt a deep connection to her mother’s village. During the last summer vacation, Leeza returned to her mother’s village which she describes as having the most beautiful peacocks whose feathers she would collect. I learnt from Leeza the intense human desire to know where you came from. Even the individual with the most brutal, horrendous childhood will still feel some element of connection to the place they were raised.

For Leeza’s project, she photographed at the slum in Navi Mumbai where her father and stepmother reside. Clearly, money was an issue. Yet, as we arrived, Leeza’s father rushed out to buy some special Indian sweets, and Leeza’s stepmother, Anserbanu, prepared some chai tea. As we sat on the cool, concrete floor of the slum, Leeza was clearly in her element. 

About Leeza

My name is Leeza and I am 14 years old. When I was born my mother left. She was not married to my father so she left me. I never saw her again. My father thought he could trust his brother, so he sent me to live with my uncle. But my uncle was very cunning, and for the small, small things he would beat me. So I used to cry every day, and I got very sick. One day my father got the message that I was sick and not living properly, so he took me to live in Mumbai with him. After coming to Mumbai my father kept me in the centre for study. In 2004 he married Anserbanu. She is nice and she treats me like I am her child. My father was searching for a hostel to keep me. He found one hostel but it was very terrible. Then after a few days my father found Vaduz Ashram. He talked to the Sisters, then he spoke to the Fathers, and they decided to keep me over here. When I first came here I brought biscuits, chocolates and gifts for the other girls. I soon made friends with the other girls. 


These are photographs of my second mother. She is a good cook, and she made my cake for my birthday party at the ashram last week. These photos were taken in the kitchen inside her home.


My mother buys her food from the market in the slum area.


These photos were taken near their home.


Finally, this is a photograph with my second brother, the son of Anserbanu. He is deaf and he must use hand signals to speak. I have learnt the hand signals so I can speak to him. My second sister is also deaf. 

MANISHA’S PROJECT - Shopping at the Markets

Manisha is just a gem; bright, bubbly and a real girly girl. Manisha recalls living with her parents on a train before coming to the ashram in 2005. “I came to the ashram because my parents have no house,” Manisha says. “My mother and father work in trains selling jewellery. Since they have no house, I stay with my aunt or sister during vacations.” I get the sense that it is a big deal for the girls to go ‘home’ during school vacations. For the children whose parents are no longer alive, they spend their holidays with other family members. It was important for Manisha to give me a good impression of her family, and she was proud to introduce me to her aunty who works hard selling flowers at the local market.

Coming up with realistic ideas for Manisha’s project was somewhat of a challenge. For the first few days, Manisha was determined that her project topic would be “the beach,” and I could see her dreaming of sand, shells and seawater. Unfortunately I had to explain to her that the beach was too far away as it would require an overnight journey, so instead she decided to do her project on shopping. We later narrowed down her project topic to market shopping, and we planned a trip to the market where Manisha’s aunty works.

At the market, Manisha took photographs of absolutely everything, from vegetables to clothes to statues to gadget stands. She photographed things that I didn’t even notice were there. I guess that’s the beauty of seeing the world through the eyes of a child who knows the streets like the palm of her hand. 

About Manisha

My name is Manisha. I am 13 years old, and I am in 6th standard. My hobbies are drawing, and dancing.

I also like shopping, so for my project I photographed at a market. This market’s name is Shiva Complex, and is about 15 minutes’ drive from Vaduz Ashram where I live.


My aunty sells flowers at this market. When we arrived I saw my aunty and I spoke with her. Then I clicked a photo of Aunty and her friend.


 

My aunty gave Sister some flowers and magra. I like my aunty very much. She is generous and kind. She works hard at the markets so many days a week. Always she is in the market.


At the market they also sell vegetables like cucumber, beans, carrot, beetroot, cabbage, brinjal, capsicum, and potato.


While we were walking through the markets we saw a man. He was calling us because he wanted to show us his temple. So we followed him across the road to view the temple.



The temple was so wonderful, and I clicked a photo of Ganesh who is a Hindu god.



Finally, the market also sells clothes. I love clothes and fashion because it is fun to get dressed up.
 

PARU’S PROJECT - Our Garden

Paru was one of the quieter girls in my photojournalism class. While some girls wanted to discuss their photojournalism projects all the time, Paru was happy to wait until the end and listen to the ideas of others. Chatting to Paru, she told me on a number of occasions how much she wanted to be a doctor or a scientist when she grows up. With her quiet confidence and determination, I am sure she will achieve anything she sets her mind to.

Watching Paru taking photographs in the garden was beautiful. She floated through the garden like she was part of the landscape, and she told me the story of each of the animals. I was quite honoured to have one of the rabbits named after me!



About Paru

My name is Paru, my age is 13 and I am in 6th standard. My hobbies are singing and dancing and when I grow up I would like to be a doctor or scientist.

For my project…

I photographed the greenery in our garden at Vaduz. I like the greenery very much but, sometimes when it is wet, we fall down in the garden, and we get hurt. 


 

This photograph is of me in the garden beside a flower because I like greenery and the many things in the garden.


Here I photographed a goose. We have two geese. I call this goose Pinky.


These are our rabbits. I call them Tealyn and Ashleigh. These names I decided myself.


This fruit is called a custard apple. I like it very much.


This is my friend Fatima. She is my best friend so I took a photo of her with the rabbits.



 

Finally, I clicked a funny photo of Kujur holding the goose. He helps to feed the rabbits and other animals.
 

FATIMA’S PROJECT - New Panvel Centre for Street Children

Fatima is 15 years old. She is the eldest girl at the ashram and she knows the background story of most of the girls. In fact, she can recite the childhood stories of her friends better than she can recite her own. With long, dark hair that frames her face, she has a feminine beauty and a quiet, humble nature. Fatima is like a mother to the younger girls. Naturally, Fatima was the first girl to complete the project. It wasn’t until Fatima paved the way that the other girls began thinking of their own project ideas.

When Fatima told me that she wanted to be a teacher, I wasn’t surprised. Some people lead with force, and others with words, but Fatima is one of those people who leads with grace. There was an evening when I had temporarily lost a memory card to one of the cameras, which became somewhat of a habit over the three weeks. As I found the memory card, I clasped my hands together and said, “Thank you God!” to which Fatima responded, “Yes, thank you God.” As Fatima spoke her words, she looked up, and I could tell she really meant them.

For Fatima’s project we took a rickshaw to the New Panvel Centre, where children who are either living in slums or on the streets are able to get a free education. When Fatima grows up, she wants to be a teacher, but not just an ordinary teacher, “I want to teach poor children.” At the centre, while most of the action was taking place inside, Fatima, for much of the time, stood at the door and watched life go by outside. Absorbed by what was happening on the streets, and with the camera in her hands, she photographed a child running past with a biscuit, two boys sitting on a dilapidated couch, and a young girl running to the centre for class. As the rain grew heavier, Fatima later told me how she observed a young boy in the street drinking the rain like a tap. “I tried to take a photo but I was too slow,” she noted with regret.

Fatima knows how lucky she is to have an education. Her story illustrates both the struggles and the desires of slum children across India to gain access to a good education. Attending one of centres located within slum areas is the first step towards gaining an education. But the centres are only an intermediate stage; they run for three hours a day and they offer no formal qualification. The ultimate dream of many children is to attend school.

About Fatima

My name is Fatima and I’m staying in Vaduz Ashram. I am in 7th standard and my age is 16. I have lived in Vaduz Ashram for eight years. I like this Vaduz Ashram, I like the sisters and my friends. I am happy to stay in Vaduz Ashram.

What is your favourite hobby?

Singing, dancing, clicking photos.

What is your best memory?

My best memory was when I was a child and I used to play with my mother and brother.

If you could start a magazine, what would it be about?

If I could start a magazine it would be about the environment.

What is your dream?

My dream is to become a teacher and I would like to teach poor children.

If you could change something about the world, what would it be?

For those who are going in a bad way to start to go in a good way.

For my project…

I photographed in New Panvel. New Panvel is a centre for street children. The children at New Panvel come for a free education, and the teacher is coming from far away to teach them. Her name is Hema.


Many children are sadly living in the streets. These are two boys who I photographed. They are not going to school. They are just playing in the street.



When I was standing outside the centre, a boy was playing in the rain near the centre. One woman came and she gave a biscuit to this boy, so the boy was running happily.



This girl is also from the street, she likes to study so she is going to the centre.



Here I photographed the children and teacher inside the centre. The children were studying and the teacher was sitting between them. We saw how they were learning and studying.



 

When we were inside the centre, the teacher was teaching the students. The children enjoy study and very happily they were answering the questions which the teacher was asking them.