Thursday, March 21, 2013

Young Student, Rooftop, Oxford Square, New Delhi, India, Fall of 2007

Through a mutual contact I met this young girl and many like her attending classes on a rooftop. A generous family had taken it upon themselves to provide classes to the children of the working neighborhood nearby. The parents of these children washed the clothes of the surrounding neighborhoods, this was their place within the social framework.

From the rooftop their houses could be seen, a collection of humble structures alongside the river. Normally these children would be working alongside their older brothers and sisters rather than attending classes. With the opening of this school they have been provided a chance for an education, an opportunity to perhaps in a few years join a formal government school.

My arrival was greeted like that of an ambassador. All of the children were standing in formation, and acknowledged my presence quite formally. They paid close attention while the patron of the school spoke about my work and that of the other visitors. We were then asked to say a few words about ourselves, and about our work.

I asked whether my English would be understood. He was kind enough to humor my question, and asked me to speak nevertheless. My sense was that it was more important for the children to hear my voice than to understand the meaning of my words. To this day when I listen to a song in another language, it reminds me of his advice on that day.

After a formal presentation by all, we were allowed to relax a bit and then photograph the children. Within the city the skies were often hazy, and on this day it was certainly the case. The surface of the rooftop was light in color, and meticulous. We found a spot in the middle of the space and sat the children down one by one for their portraits. Sitting them down allowed me to photograph them from above and to let the light strike their faces more evenly.

Most wore a sweater bearing the name of the school, and the girls wore a head scarf in addition. The ages of the children roughly ranged from five to fourteen, and there were as many girls as boys. They were provided meals on their study breaks, and the materials necessary for their education. The children went about their obligations with a sincere respect for the family, and a humility that was deeply touching.

'Appreciative' would fail miserably in describing their sentiments.

On this day I felt the power of one man, of one family, and understood the capacity for change inherent in the individual. Here was one family who had taken it upon themselves to give back to the community. They had on their own arranged for the teachers, for the materials, and most importantly for a conversation with the local community. They had received the blessings of the parents and extended the hand of education to children otherwise missing such a gesture from their own Society.

I have a deep respect for this family, and hope one day to return and witness a school thriving.
Halim Ina Photography