Poor kids let to tell Vietnam rural stories thru photos

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The exhibition debuted in a small rural village in Thanh Hoa Province outside Hanoi.
Thousands of locals laughed at the sight of themselves and their neighborhoods, captured through the lenses of their little children.
The exhibition, from March 30 to April 1, was the first part of My Day photo community project, which was initiated and single-handedly managed by Thanh Hoa native Vu Thi Bich Hong, an anthropology graduate of Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
The project aims to tell the true stories of rural Vietnam, to help its children develop their potential, and feel important as the ones telling stories.
One photo by Vu Trung Kien, 14, of a buffalo girl tells the story of a mentally ill, socially abandoned friend.
“Lan is not like most other children in terms of facial expression and mind. That’s why everyone shuns her, considering her eccentric,” the description read.
“Also because of her mental problem, she’s not sent to school and she’s very lonely. Maybe that’s how the buffalo became her best friend.”
My Day is Hong’s first solo project though the freelance photographer has joined environmental projects like taking photos of Cat Tien national park to call for its protection.
She joined the camera team of ForestClim, the European environmental project addressing deforestation and climate change, in 2012. The project took her to Germany, the UK, France, Spain and South Korea.
“Having been abroad and having seen great things, I always want to do something for my hometown. But I’m a photographer so that's all I know,” the 28-year-old told Tuoi Tre.
Hong first proposed her idea to local authorities who contacted schools. The news drew more than 70 child volunteers from 9 to 15 years of age.
Hong gave them eight cameras, most of them second-hand devices donated by her friends, and talked them through technique.
She went out with the children on their first shooting day and assessed their photos that evening.
Then the children were left on their own, producing nearly 10,000 photos during the last three months of 2013.
She selected and printed out her favorites and organized an exhibition herself. She said sometimes she only had two-hours of sleep a night.
The project was principally funded with her money, as “I could not call for sponsorship before I had any results.”
Some community groups in Hanoi provided money to buy books and sweets as rewards for the participating children, as well as a few small cameras so they could continue shooting.
She told radio network Voice of Vietnam that the rural children got to use a camera for the first time, so each photo proved genuine; each photo told a story.
“Maybe your photo is not the best, but your emotion is unique, your story is unique,” Hong said.
After the exhibition in her hometown Xuan Son Commune, Tho Xuan District, Hong plans to exhibit the photos in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
ForestClim will help present the photos in Germany and France by the end of May.
“To rural children, taking a photo and having it exhibited abroad is a miracle. I believe that photography can bring about such dreams.”
Proceeds for any purchases at the exhibitions will be given to fund education in Thanh Hoa.
Hong said she plans to expand the project to other rural areas, particularly in places like mountainous and ethnic minority communities.
Hanoi’s Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) has been running a similar project since 2012 with a wide cross-section of disadvantaged and marginalized people. It joined Oxfam to give cameras to primary and secondary school students from ethnic minority groups this year.
“I want them to have a chance to enjoy photography,” Hong said.
“Maybe their emotions are even deeper and more sophisticated than people equipped with artistic and cultural knowledge since there are no borders for human emotions.”
 
VIETNAM RURAL LIFE DISPLAYED IN HANOI, HCMC
A woman carries her grandchild through the exhibition in Xuan Son Commune of Thanh Hoa province, to see photos taken by local children of life in the commune. Photo by Bich Hong

Selected photos captured by poor children of a rural commune in Thanh Hoa Province outside Hanoi will be available to audiences in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city until June.
They are available at Nguoi Sai Gon (Saigonese) café at 71/4 Mac Thi Buoi Street, Ho Chi Minh City from April 17 to May 5, after being presented at Container café at its Trung Son residential area from April 8-15.
In Hanoi, Mac café at 2/597 Nguyen Trai Street, will display the photos until April 25, Ambient Café at 89A Ly Nam De Street from April 26 to May 14, and Quang café at 498 Nguyen Trai Street from May 15 to June 6.

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