In 2009 I went to Suchana, a charity based in West Bengal, India.
Suchana enriches the lives of school children who come from disadvantaged tribal villages with very few resources. When I was there in 2009 there were basic teaching elements such as a blackboard and sports equipment comprising simple soccer goals and not much else.
At this time Suchana needed images to help raise money for these kids and I was honoured to use my skills for this charity and privileged to be able to enter this world and capture it. As a photographer you are often met with caution when going to small villages but when the village elders, the local teachers and organisers know that you’re helping out, they embrace you warmly and let you share their world for a few days and it’s then that the images come to life.
In spite of the basic learning tools, the kids were eager to learn and participated in both learning and sports with vigour and enthusiasm.
On my return home I sent Suchana the images I had taken and I also designed a book filled with the images I’d taken of the village kids and their parents. I kept this book at home knowing that one day I’d return.
Early in 2016 I did return to Suchana. What a change! Instead of sitting outside with s simple blackboard the kids now have internet access and are taught to use computers by the local teachers. Six days a week a mini bus drives up to these tribal villages filled with laptops, books and sports gear.
I gave the book of images to Suchana as both thanks and as a memory for them and also, more importantly, so that they’d have something tangible they could use for PR. In the photo below, Kirsty, Suchana’s co-founder, shows the book to the villagers. The kids and parents were amazed. They laughed, pointed at the images in the book and at one another; how they’d changed in that time! Young boys would leave the group, run and grab their friend and get Kirsty to show their friend their photo. It was moving and pleasing to see the book so appreciated.
In the basic village that this woman resides. . .
. . .the kids can now go online thanks to Suchana. The community teachers show them how to use the computers. What a collision of worlds but what vast opportunities.
Suchana also provides mobile library services to the villages. The kids crowd round the library bike bus eagerly waiting to get a book. They take a book, show it to their friend and go and read the book, often in a small group, reading and sharing the one book with good-natured ease.
More surprises were in store and Suchana has built a two-storey building and sports day are better than ever! You can’t just ‘take’ as a photographer. There is nothing more fulfilling than giving back and being able to use my skills to help others is the most rewarding thing one can do as a photographer. Suchana showed me how resilient people can be; how open they are and how eager they are to learn. Their life is hard but their strength and curiosity are boundless. Suchana has opened that door.