Eye-opener to life of child labour

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Tom Deveson gets a unique look at the world of four working children, from Bolivia to India, through the candid camera shots they took of their families and friends

Paola is 11 years old, lives in Bolivia and goes to school in the afternoon. That probably sounds fun to many of her contemporaries here, feeling oppressed - like their teachers - by Sats, targets and league tables. But Paola has weightier responsibilities than striving for a level 4. Her mornings are spent working with her grandmother, and the money she makes in their shop is an essential part of the family's income.

You can discover much more about Paola at Eye to Eye, a project which aims to show "child labour carries a human face". More importantly, you find out about Paola from Paola herself.

Eye to Eye is run by Save the Children in Spain and the UK and is funded by the European Union. It plans to develop even better teaching resources through a number of collaborations between teachers and specialists, drawing on the expertise of young people whose understanding of the issues of child labour comes from direct personal involvement.

Working children and adolescents in urban India and Bolivia and rural Pakistan have recorded some of their experiences as market sellers, carpet weavers and domestic servants in words and photographs. These are available on the project's website, just launched as an online teaching resource. It is now hoped teachers will find ways of using this testimony in European classrooms.

There are many reasons for feeling grim on reading through the carefully compiled background information. It is estimated that more than 200million children worldwide are involved in some form of exploitative or harmful work. The main cause is poverty; the consequences range from curtailed education and separation from family to serious illnesses and a life barely distinguishable from slavery. Girls are likely to start work at a younger age than boys, be paid less and work in unregulated sectors.

Yet Eye to Eye offers people hope and encouragement, applying methods that Save the Children has pioneered in refugee camps. Young participants are offered advice through a series of workshops and are given the use of a camera with the freedom to capture whatever photographs they wish.

Their choices reflect their view of how their lives are shaped and what is important to them. They write their own captions and complement these with other kinds of communication: drawings, letters, reflections about family, friends, home and work and future aspirations.

There is no uniformity in what we see and read; variations in climate and culture produce vividly different results. Bulti, 16, lives in northern India and until recently worked as a domestic servant to a neighbour. She introduces us to her family - her aunt crossing a pond with a milk-can, her brother with a neighbour's cows, her uncle at work in a paddy field.

She also shows us aspects of her neighbourhood, with scenes of boys swimming and playing, a man selling vegetables from a cart and lovely shots of the land after the rains have come.

The most striking pictures are those celebrating friendship; another girl in a vibrant yellow sari seems to embody youthfulness and shy optimism.

Jodho, 12, lives in a desert region in Pakistan and works part-time weaving carpets. His pictures also feature his family. There's a winning image of his little brother "with innocent eyes" and neighbours with their camels, donkeys and goats. When Jodho speaks proudly of winning a pencil in his school competition, you can see his delight reflected in the grins of his friends.

Scenes from Bolivia are equally eloquent, whether they come from teenage Ivan, who, like Paola, works half the day in a store, presenting his mother as "strong, brave and also fragile like a glass" or Paola paying respect to "an indigenous man because I liked the way he was standing".

The website will continue to grow. Dozens more children have taken hundreds of photographs, soon to be organised in theme or country albums. All the children have been involved with Save the Children partners in projects and campaigns to improve their opportunities and those of young people like themselves.

Their courage and enterprise need to become news in schools here. Teachers in the UK can register on the Eye to Eye website to tell the story of Bulti, Jodho, Ivan and Paola to their classes

* Eye to Eye with Child Labour is an online resource for students of 11 to 16.

Save the Children, free www.savethechildren.org.ukeyetoeyeenglishindex.html

Information about becoming an Eye to Eye teacher can be found at www.savethechildren.org.ukeyetoeyeenglishgetinvolvedteacher.htm

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