The following was my project at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, held in in Chang Mai, Thailand a few weeks back, and was pretty awesome times with a lot of great people.
I decided to shoot at Children’s Shelter Foundation, a German-Thai run NGO, that helps less fortunate kids, mostly from Burmese minority groups, regain their youth through nature, education and work. About twenty-five children live, study, play and work on a large organic fruit farm about an hour outside of Chang Mai City. Below are the images from here that were presented on the last night of our workshop. A big thanks to my class, teachers James Whitlow Delano and Paula Bronstein, and to Ash Gilbertson for helping me nail down the final edit.
May Kin, 11, was one of my friends and guides for the few days I spent on the farm. Originally from Burma, he came to Thailand after he lost his parents, as many others do, seeking a better life. Judging from the smiles and laughs that constantly erupted from him, I’m pretty sure he’s found it here for now.
Most of the kids here attend a Thai public school about 15 minutes drive from the farm. A pickup truck, filled to the brim with kids, takes them and brings them home everyday.
Several resident farmers also stay on the premises, to help the kids take care of the crops. Here, Sua, 14, works in the vegetable patch to remove the weeds.
P.S. This image was also chosen after the workshop to be printed and exhibited at Documentary Arts Asia in Chang Mai. DAA is is a pretty amazing place for photographers, and also helped us host a few events of the workshop. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend a vist to spend a few hours flipping through the large library of photo books and exhibitions.
While showing me around the farm, May Kin, and his friend Poom, 12, became overly excited when they found a snake in one of the fruit trees. I tried to encourage them to leave it be, but boys being boys, they caught it, and needless to say, it is no more. It’s actually bad luck in Thai culture to kill a snake, but since these guys are technically Burmese, I guess that taboo doesn’t translate.
Directly upon returning from public school, Libi, 8, does his homework and submits it for his teacher’s approval. Libi is actualy the kid of one of the farmer families, but usually takes part in the activities of the farm with the other kids.
The center piece of their rural spread is a small pond and a rope swing, which the kids never seem to tire of playing with and in.
Sa Tin, 15, also from a Burmese minority, fled two years ago, walking for days through the jungle, to avoid being drafted into local rebel armies fighting each other and the Burmese government. Here, upon returning from school, he picks some fruit to give as an offering for a Buddhist holiday the following morning.
Playing hopscotch whiles away the time between after school chores and dinner.
I actually can’t remember her name, but she was 11, and from a nearby hill tribe. Caught out on the farm during a downpour, she finds shelter in a small gazebo, and begins weaving lemongrass leaves into flowers.
Some of the girls prepare dinner for the evening. They cook by wood-fire in an open-air kitchen, and everyone will eat together for each meal, promoting their family oriented philosophy.
After dinner, most of the kids gather in a large hut to sing together and play games before it’s time for bed. This night, some of the boys play a crude form of hockey with brooms and rocks, but it did seem they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
After a long day of play, work and study, the kids are ready to rest so they can do it all again tomorrow. May Kin and Poom share a room, just as they spend most of the day together. It’s actually quite a nice set up here, with just two or three kids per room, much nicer that many of the other centers for children I’ve worked in or visited over the years.
A big thanks again to the kids and staff at CSF for an awesome and fun few days! By the way, it is possible to stay a few nights on the farm with the kids, in quite nice rooms I must say. If you’re interested, speak to Joy at Joy’s Guesthouse in Chang Mai city.