© Chen Ry / Global Children / PhotoVoice

Khmeye

CAMBODIA THROUGH THE EYES OF ITS ORPHANS

Phnom Penh, Cambodia , 2004-2006
© Chen Ry / Global Children / PhotoVoice

In 2004 I travelled to Cambodia, with colleague and photographer Eugenie Dolberg, to work with the non-profit Global Children. The aim was to establish a PhotoVoice project within an orphanage on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where Global Children ran a number of programmes. First we sorted the basics – accommodation (a beautiful but incredibly dusty building right next to a building site, above a bike shop and adjacent to a pig slaughter house where ‘pig, bike or child?’ became a regular guessing game) and transport – reliable Honda-dream drivers who be wiling to pillion us around. Second, we ran a series of interviews for a local photo-facilitator and translator and found a wonderful and very talented Cambodian photographer – Mak Remissa to work with us.

We had our first meetings up at the orphanage and then set about planning lessons and outshoots for ten-week photography course for eighteen young people, aged between 14-20.

Situated over the ‘Japanese Bridge’ and alongside the Tonle Sap River, the Kean Kleang orphanage is housed in an old French convent. One of only two state-run orphanages in Phnom Penh, it was home in 2004 to 115 children and 20 babies. The majority of children come from the provinces of Cambodia. Some had lost their relatives to HIV/ AIDS, a disease which is at endemic proportions in Cambodia, others died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge – some have been referred to the orphanage after being found wandering the streets of Phnom Penh, selling flower garlands, peanuts or small souvenirs to try and survive.

Armed initially with automatic cameras, and later with manual SLR cameras the students turned the lens in on, amongst other things, their native villages, the orphanage where they lived, daily Khmer life and the vast Steung Chey Rubbish Dump on the boundaries of Phnom Penh. They created their own photos essays based on their personal experiences and tackled serious issues such as poverty, homelessness and child labour. They took photographs o their friends, capturing the enduring playfulness and t joy of youth.

A first local exhibition was within Cambodia’s first ever shopping centre in June 2004. The exhibition was visited by over 5000 people and received substantial press coverage, including in the New York Times, the Bangkok Post, the Cambodia Daily and the Cambodge Soir, as well as on local Cambodian TV.

Back in the UK the work of the young people was exhibition at the Economist Plaza in Central London and a proportion of prints sales at the exhibition were sent back to the young people in Cambodia. All the photographic equipment was left with Global Children in Cambodia to continue the photography programme.

Mieng Heng and Chen Ry joined PhotoVoice collaborator Maria Stott in 2007/8 on her programme, On Photography Cambodia and took part in the 2007 Angkor Photography Festival. Mak Remissa continued to work with many of the students over the following years. Through Remissa’s assistance, Khmeye participant Pha Lina, did an internship and then work for the French Daily newspaper in Cambodia, Cambodge Soir. He went on to become a staff photographer for the Cambodia’s international newspaper, the Phnom Penh Daily, where he continues to work today, using his innate talent for photography, which shone through during our very first workshops with him.

Links:

The Cambodia Daily, 12th June, 2004
BBC News Online, 4th March, 2004
Associated Press, 6th July, 2004
Pha Lina’s work for the Phnom Penh Post
One of Pha Lina’s photo-essays for the Phnom Penh Post, 2013

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