It had been days of travel, heat, humidity, cramped spaces, and heartbreaking stories. Visits to rescue shelters where young boys and girls sought out recovery, learning the practice of life outside of bonded slavery. Though they were living in relative freedom, their childhoods had suffered near-irreparable damage. Once a child experiences abuse and suffering to the extent which these had known, there is little that can be done to erase those memories. And their mannerisms reflected that. They would certainly smile and laugh and tease one another, but their eye contact with adults was inhibited. In moments where they were away from the action, their baseline expressions were downcast. The scars they carried on their faces, their arms, their legs ... they all served as reminders of what they had left, all reflective of deeper scars on their souls. They had no idea what to make of the camera, a lens, and then my eyes focused on their faces. My expression meeting theirs, engaging them in play. An adult they did not know training positive attention on them. They were lost to process the kindness, the lack of expectation of work. The lack of hurt. The absence of what had become familiar to them; hurt at the hands of those supposed to be caring for them.
© 2009 Dana Marie Shepherd
So to arrive in an isolated village of north east India and see these faces was shocking. Beautifully shocking. The travel, the heat, the humidity, the cramped spaces ... all the same. But these were children whose youth had not been stolen from them. Children who had been offered school instead of hours trapped in a factory working 16 hours a day. Their faces glowed with the hope and confidence that comes from education and from never having known exploitation. They met my gaze freely and held onto my hands and arms the way they do with each other there while peppering me with questions and dissolving into giggles as I asked my own. They were excited about life and friends and the future. And they were a beautiful thing to see.
By Dana Marie Shepherd