Looking closely at the picture, I wonder how she received the scars on her neck, the cuts on her arms. Living a life without education is one thing, having to deal with the sex trade on a daily basis is yet another disturbing reality. Her community produces one crop, girls destined for the big cities to work in brothels and, when home, to do the same for the surrounding villages. Nirvana Bodhisattva and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation are doing their best to change this reality, and to perhaps bring this young girl the remnants of childhood that have passed her by thus far.
Years ago the foundation approached ten of these villages and asked permission to bring education to their children. Since these children are seen as outcasts within the society, attending school is quite difficult, even impossible at times. Many of the girls are of course groomed for the sex trade and must at some point end their education regardless. The foundation, rather than concentrating only on the girls, included the boys as well. The solution must involve both genders, and perhaps beginning with the boys will instill in them the ideas necessary to bring change in the hopeful future.
My work in the villages was surprisingly accepted, a sign of the respect Nirvana and his team have earned from the communities. In our second and third years many of the older women allowed us to make their portraits, an opportunity seldom offered to outsiders. The men also opened up to us a bit, and one specific man really warmed up to the work, coming with us to other villages to help us with the photography.
The stark reality is that these are villages drenched in the sex trade. Walking around the village one has to step aside often when the artifacts of sex are found on the ground. The young girls sit alongside the road under grass roofs with a mirror to help them look their best for passing customers. Many of the villages are located on truck routes so as to maximize their visibility. One glimmer of hope while we were present was that none of the customers would visit during our time, perhaps a bit camera shy I suppose.
I hope that Nirvanavan Foundation continues their good works in these villages. Their tenacity is remarkable, and admired deeply. Perhaps later this year I will visit the foundation and see once again these beautiful children, hopefully still playing children's games rather than those of the adults.
Halim Ina Photography