Sunday, September 27, 2009

Al-Arqam Academy, Northern India, 2007


They attend school in a most remote village. The government school is a distance from their homes and their families' incomes make attending a traditional school difficult.

We arrive during their classes and hand out images from the previous year. We tell them about our desire to make more portraits today and the excitement builds even though they are still in class. In the meantime, while we wait, we decide to walk through the neighboring village in search of more faces, more stories.

We invite as many to be photographed alongside the girls from the school. However, in addition to a few shy girls that come along bravely, a few boys also come along and begin to cause trouble. It becomes evident that the photography will be most difficult with their harassment and we find a place on top of the school that will allow us a sense of peace, away from the heckling.

We set up the equipment and the girls line up for their portraits. There are perhaps about four dozen girls and they stay after school for their picture to be made. We send news of the photography to the nearby village to inform the rest of the parents in order to put them at ease. The girls are just lovely, switching articles of clothing while waiting for their turn.

These are girls that cannot afford traditional schools, some are orphans and live here, some have parents that have given the foundation permission to provide housing for their children. The following year we return only to find the children away on a field trip. Even though this saddens me very much due to the fact that the principal was misinformed about our visit, the changes evident with respect to the school brings me much happiness.

The buildings have been painted beautifully. The interiors have all been renovated, with an impressive computer room, a refined cafeteria and classrooms designed for the comfort of the students. The changes are due to the fact that a new foundation has received ownership of the school. The pride on the principal's face is clear and a sign of progress for the children. We leave him behind with the promise of returning this year.

I very much hope that these girls will be there this year.