One of our teams worked at the Boeng Kak Youth School, a community center set up by the NGO Village Earth. It is about one kilometer north of the Lakeside School, also on the shore of Boeng Kak Lake. From a distance, the houses on stilts look idyllic, even charming.
Upon a closer look, this is really a shantytown, a slum. Most of the houses are run down, barely protecting inhabitants from the winds and rains. Many of the houses are not much larger than a bed.
Many little kids run around completely naked. With no shoes, and no clothes. They don’t seem to be embarrassed themselves - yet I cannot bear to look. I am ashamed to have taken their pictures. But a photograph conveys the sense of poverty better than my meagre words.
A man sways tranquilly in a hammock - above a carpet of trash. It is surreal. Perhaps, one can get used to even really bad situations. And will find ways to live through, and even attempt to create small comforts and enjoyments. But I cannot help but wonder - since many of the people seem to have nothing else to do, why wouldn’t some of them try to clean up the space around them?
The community center offers English lessons, computer lessons, etc. It sits on - again, a trash-covered pond. Most of their kids attend public schools, which lasts for half a day. They attend classes at the Youth School before, or after their classes at the public schools. Public educations are free. Yet there are fees to be paid, to make up the teachers’ meagre salaries, at around 50 US dollars a month. Many kids cannot attend public schools because they cannot afford to pay the extra fees.
We taught the kids there rudimentary image theatre. We asked them to decide on a story, set themselves up to depict various scenes, and then photograph themselves. A team decided on a classroom theme.
Another decided to depict family violence. A man drinks, beats his wife, the children cry, and ... they make up, ... a happy family again. If only reality is this neat and tidy.
We also taught the kids to edit the photographs, and to put together stories with the photographs. The concept behind these lessons is that story telling is a powerful way to learn and to express themselves. And it is en-powering to help the kids to examine their own lives, and to express themselves. At least that is the theory. We are not naive enough to believe that we can achieve all that in a few days. But at least the kids have a good time learning this. Kids love computers and cameras.