Saturday, April 30, 2011

Student, Al-Arqam Academy, Zakat Foundation of India, November, 2008

There are days when nothing seems to work and then there are days when everything just comes together. For the above image to happen, the students need to be in school, their families allowing them to attend classes rather than work in the fields.

For the above image to be possible, the headmaster's permission is necessary, our car must make it for the three hour drive without a flat tire or an exhausted radiator. Getting lost on the way might cost us the precious hour necessary to arrange the photography.

Before she steps forward, others must do the same. She must look around her and see her friends also willing. Always one needs to step forward and then the rest will follow. Their families expect them at home yet they give me two hours after school to make portraits.

When we arrive on this sunny day, the girls are still in class. We are introduced to them by each teacher and my mind is hoping secretly that they will remain after class to be photographed. Without exception, all of them stay. The sun is shining and we have perhaps one hour before it begins to fade. There are almost thirty girls awaiting portraits, giving me less than two minutes per person.

The work however passes without much concern because these girls work with each other, arrange themselves by age and are ready when their time comes. Each makes the most of her presence in front of the lens, wastes little time. Just an hour or so ago in the classrooms, these expressions would have seemed impossible. Yet in front of the headmaster and some of the teachers, they shine like the very star that strikes their faces so gently with light.

This session and her education is made possible with the assistance of Zakat Foundation of India. One year later, during my third visit to the school, another foundation had purchased the school and had made some incredible changes to the facility. A playground had been installed, a road and driveway have made access much easier and the building has been painted in glorious colors and patterns.

The classrooms have been remodeled and outfitted with new desks and libraries; the foundation has delivered new science and computer rooms. Bread is no longer made on an open fire but rather in a beautiful, new kitchen. One can see the pride on the cook's face as well as on the faces of the rest of the staff.

Sadly though on this day, our arranged visit seems to coincide with a trip by the children in the other direction. The headmaster informs me that the children have gone to New Delhi for a school outing, just the city from which we came. It seems that my plans have been made without his knowledge and we leave the pictures from last year with the headmaster along with a sincere apology to share with the children.

It has been three years since my last visit to this school. However, the headmaster's number is in my phone list and will be used when the time comes in the near future for a return. These children deserve more than a single visit; they deserve to be treated with respect and to have their portraits made once again with laughter ringing in the background.

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