Davry, 18, Phnom Penh.
“I love teaching kids. I want to listen to them, help them and motivate them!”
Davry has a remarkable outlook on life for an 18 year old and growing up in a slum area in Phnom Penh has lead to her ultimate goal of helping the poor. Although she's had her fair share of challenges, what shines through is Davry’s underlying determination.
“I would look at other kids and wonder why they had a mother and I didn’t.”
Davry grew up in a small farming village in northern Cambodia. Her parents separated when she was 4 years old, effectively abandoning her, but thankfully a great-aunt in Phnom Penh took her in. The years that followed were very tough for Davry: “I had no one to turn to, as my aunty was busy working. I didn't know where my mother was and my father moved to Thailand for work. On top of this, I had to sell food in order to earn the 25 cents I needed to pay for school.”
“My NGO has made me stronger.”
Davry’s life changed when she started going to classes at a local NGO. Here she began to feel more empowered through lessons in leadership, teamwork, debating and English to name a few. This then inspired Davry, along with a few others, to start their own organisation called ‘Smile Group’. Their aim was to help the local community by providing school materials for children, as well as educating them in hygiene, waste management, recycling and other various social issues.
“I want to become a doctor and provide free healthcare for the poor.”
Davry’s long term plans have meant she now places a lot of importance on her own education. She hit a hurdle at the end of last year however, as she didn’t acquire the grades needed to get into university. This has meant repeating her final year of high school and for now, putting the Smile Group on hold. During my last conversation with Davry, she mentioned that one of her teachers had refused to let her sit an exam due to low attendance for a Saturday class, even though she explained that she has to work on weekends to pay for school. Her teacher was unrelenting however and Davry refuses to pay a bribe which is common practice in Cambodia.
“I don’t want to find my mother until I’m successful. I want to show her that I don’t need her.”
At 18, Davry continues to live under her aunt’s roof along with 4 of her cousins. Although Davry’s father still works in Thailand, she caught up with him a year ago and met his new wife and son. She wishes she could receive his help and understanding, but believes it’s not possible to share these feelings with him. As for her Mother, she thinks she’s probably got another family somewhere …
Sok Tach, Kandal Market, Phnom Penh.
“My deceased father’s spirit helps me read the future.”
Sok Tach used to be poor, but now makes a decent living as a fortune teller. She believes that her father chose to come back in spirit and help, in order to give her a better life.
“I see myself as a teacher.”
Sok Tach explained that she has many customers who return saying her predictions came true. She sees so many people, that she often gets a sore throat from speaking. “I love my job though.”
Srey Neng, 27, Kandal Market, Phnom Penh.
“I like my job - it put me through university.”
Srey Neng has worked in her parents’ butchery for the last 7 years. During this time, she has also managed to complete an accounting degree, as well as learning Vietnamese to converse with Vietnamese customers.
“I would like to work in accounting, but at the moment my parents need me to help out in the shop.”
Ker, 62, Mekong River, Phnom Penh.
“My boat is my home … I have no choice. I want to live on land but I have no money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
Ker has lived on a boat all of his life. His family have 5 boats in total and they make a living fishing and trading at the local Kandal Market.
“It’s hard living on a boat, especially when it’s raining. We have to move around because the police tell us we can’t stay here. We don’t know why, but we have to move on nonetheless. Before we had no electricity, but we saved up to buy solar panels so we can use lights at night.”
Srey Neng, Sambok Chab Slums, Phnom Penh.
"I moved here from Takéo Province after my house burnt down."
Srey Neng described the living conditions in Sambok Chab as she prepared Khmer noodles with her 6 year-old daughter: "There's no running water. We have to buy it in 50 litre drums that cost 10 cents. The rubbish you see on the ground is from the people who live here - no one comes to collect it."
Kasy, 11, Phnom Penh Railway Slums.
“It takes me 30 minutes to ride to English lessons.”
Kasy had just finished class and was enjoying something he loves - ice-cream! When I asked him if he felt the same way about English, he said he likes it but he’s not very good at it. Kasy makes the hour-long journey each day to receive extra lessons in an effort to improve.
Pov, 67, Railway Slums, Phnom Penh.
"I've lived here since 1979."
Pov dries cooked-rice on the railway tracks outside her home, which she then sells for 20 cents a kilo. She lives with her family, but said her husband passed away 5 years ago. She is still coming to grips with his loss as she was moved to tears when mentioning him.
Rakesh, 38, Delhi, India.
Rakesh cleans drains and sewers in central Delhi, a job he has been doing for many years. He described his work with a wry smile, as though he didn't have a worry in the world.
Rakesh’s wages are just over $100 a month for a job that’s not only unbelievably tough, but also very dangerous. Rakesh wears no shoes, gloves, mask or any other safety equipment, as he shovels waste matter into a bucket with his bare hands. He sometimes descends up to 6 metres and deals with sharp objects and highly toxic gases.
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences found that 80% of sewer workers die before the age of 60. This is a shocking statistic - a statistic that means a hell of a lot more to me though, after meeting Rakesh. Family however, takes priority over Rakesh’s own well-being. I’m not sure he will be able to change his own future, but I’m very hopeful his two sons’ lives will be different, as is Rakesh's wish.
Pappan, Delhi, India.
I photographed Pappan on my first visit to Delhi in 2014. What I knew about her I could only surmise, as we frustratingly didn’t share a common language. In spite of this I could see and feel her genuineness, kindness, strength and pride.
A year later I returned to Delhi and once again found Pappan. When I gave her a print of her photo, I was met with surprise, followed by a warm-hearted smile. This time I had an interpreter with me and Pappan insisted we sit together and share some conversation and cola.
Pappan recounted moving to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh thirty years ago, but considers Delhi her home now. She lost her husband many years ago but said she doesn't feel alone as she has three daughters (18, 20 & 23) who she cares for very much. I didn’t want to push Pappan any further on the subject, but I sensed she missed her husband dearly. When I asked about the possibility of marrying again she said she will only have “one love”. Pappan shifted the attention back to her daughters, saying she was in the process of finding suitable husbands for them and was doing her best. She couldn’t conceal her pride as she explained all three girls had graduated from school, with one working as a rail inspector, another in a beauty salon and the youngest still living at home helping with the chores.
When I asked more about her own life, Pappan told me she was illiterate and has never travelled. Despite all of her hardships though, she's proud that she's always found a way. “In life there are good and bad things, you just have to take it all as it comes”. Pappan still seemed uncertain about the future however, as it's getting harder and harder to make a living selling fruit and vegetables from her cart. In the early years she would make five hundred rupees a day (just under $8), but now there is far more competition, which means some days she makes less than half of that.
When it was time to leave, I felt sad to say goodbye to Pappan. We knew very little about each other’s lives but that didn't seem to matter - sometimes words aren't so important ...
Raju, 45, Delhi, India.
“My wrist and arm get so sore, the only way I can sleep is if I hold my arm above my head.”
I met Raju on my first visit to Delhi in 2014 and surprisingly he remembered me a year later. Nothing seemed to have changed. His shop hadn’t moved and he was still using his incredibly heavy coal-filled iron, just like he’d done for the last 25 years. He told me his shop has been here the longest but now there is much more competition than before.
"I have good children.”
When I bumped into Raju on my return visit, he had one of his grandchildren in his arms and was looking very happy and relaxed. I then realised that his reserved and stern demeanour quickly vanishes once you get to know him. Raju told me he had 3 grandchildren and 3 children and appeared most proud when he explained that his kids all worked in IT.
“There was an Australian here shooting money everywhere … it was crazy!!!”
When I told him I was from Australia his eyes lit up. He told me that one time a rich Australian came here and shot money out of a gun. People were scampering in all directions trying to cash in. It sounded to me like a scene from a movie and seemed a far cry from the 7 cents Raju is paid for each item he irons.
On a side note, Raju is the brother-in-law of Pappan. Both were adorable people and I’m very grateful for the time we spent together.
Ankur, 26, Delhi, India.
I was surprised to see a sophisticated looking young man sipping coffee in a gritty, working class area of central Delhi.
Ankur is a traditional Indian dancer, performing around a dozen shows and festivals a month. I told him I’d never met a professional dancer in India before and he reassured me that it was a very well respected profession. Ankur explained that he first saw traditional dancers when he was a child and from then on, dreamt of being one when he grew up.
When I asked about the motorbike and the photo on it, Ankur told me it was a picture of his brother, as the bike belonged to him. Ankur’s dream now is to buy a bike just like his brother’s.
Santosh, 30, Varanasi, India.
Varanasi is well known for the holy Ganges river and the Ghats where the deceased are cremated, but the alleys and street-shops next to the waters are often equally as interesting and lively. It was on one of these streets that I met Santosh. He insisted I share a chai with him and seemed to appreciated the company and conversation.
“I have no money to renovate my shop.”
Santosh’s shop was like a window into his world. The simplicity of his existence and the meagre funds accessible to him were clearly evident and weighed heavily on his mind. Santosh inherited the shop from his parents. “It used to have more things”, but it seemed business had fallen away. As I spoke to Santosh, a local boy stopped by to buy some sweets. Santosh also sold Paan, which is made from Betel leaves and chewed like tobacco, but otherwise his shop was almost bare.
“My Father was a healer.”
Santosh’s father’s passing four years earlier visibly affected him. He spoke in glowing terms of Babaji Raemnut Vishkarma, saying many people would come to him for healing and his absence now was a great loss.
“Marriage is not possible for a thirty year old with no money.”
Family is especially important in India, but sadly when it comes to relationships, much importance is placed on a person’s social status and financial means. In Santosh’s case, he wanted nothing more than to be married, but felt this was almost impossible given his financial situation.
As I said goodbye to Santosh I was left with a feeling of helplessness. I’m sure if Santosh had one wish in the world it would be for companionship. For every generalisation about a people, there are always exceptions however. I hope Santosh can find one such exception with whom he can share his life.
Muhammad Bhai, 70, Mumbai, India.
“I prefer to get my news from the paper, I don’t like modern technology.”
Muhammad Bhai seemed like a Dharavi fixture, as he relaxed with his paper. His favourite pastime is reading world news and he’s grateful that his vision still permits him to do so.
As he sat outside his house, I noted Muhammad Bhai appeared to be very content: “I like it here. I’ve lived here all my life. I know everyone and it’s like a village. The only thing that has changed is it’s got busier”.
Archana, 6 & Anjali, 6, Mumbai, India.
Many shanties align the narrow docks in the ship wrecking yards in central Mumbai. It was outside one of these homes that I stumbled upon two kids writing the English alphabet for homework, Anjali and Archana. I was firstly surprised that they were at school learning English. I had a preconception that not all children in India had the opportunity to study, but the more I saw throughout the country, the more I realised this assumption was wrong. My second reason for being surprised was that they were both so happy and eager to learn English. I look back at myself as a six year old and recall my distinct lack of motivation to work after school hours. It is heartening to see India as a whole, placing so much importance on education.
Both Anjali and Archana said they would like to be teachers when they grow up. I would love to know what their futures hold ...
Saykat Khan, 70, Mumbai, India.
“In my spare time I play cards with my friends.”
When I asked Saykat if he wins he bowed his head shyly and tried to hide his smile. His friends standing near all laughed, saying “he always wins”.
“There was much poverty in U.P., here there is more money.”
Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Saykat has spent the last 20 years in Mumbai selling vegetables from his cart. He is happy with his life now and has many friends here. Saykat’s salary has to support not just himself, but also his wife and his son (28) who is unemployed. “It’s difficult but we have food”.
Kasturi, 74, Delhi, India.
I was instantly drawn to Kasturi. Both her face and eyes told so much, yet it was her words that affected me the most, as she acknowledged that now, only death awaits her …
Kasturi is a mother to three girls and two boys, although one of her sons passed away thirty years ago. She still looks after her remaining son who is deaf and dumb. "It's very tough, but what else can I do?". Kasturi explained that she is aided by local boys who are like family to her. When I asked her about her own two Grandchildren, she said she could not say or do anything, but simply hopes they turn out to be good people.
Kasturi mentioned that many tourists ask to take her photo as she sells fruit and veg on the street corner and she’s always obliging as it makes them happy. When I asked her about own happiness and inspiration though, she said she is too old. "I've seen everything and there is just death now. God has given me life and I have lived it. I’ve only done good. I’ve never sworn or abused anyone”.
Amar Singh, 40, Delhi, India.
“This job is tough.”
Amar Singh goes door-to-door selling chick peas. He moved to Delhi 20 years ago as there was no work in Uttar Pradesh.
Muhammad Kale, 40, Delhi, India.
"I also play drums at weddings.”
Muhammad Kale has spent all his life in Paharganj and knows everyone in the area. He sells children’s toys for 2 rupees each as he relaxes back on his scooter: “It’s good living here”.
Dolma, 65, McLeod Ganj, India.
"I know everyone in McLeod Ganj, even the tourists."
Dolma has lived in India most of her life. As a small child, she trekked across the Himalayas with her parents in search of a new home. She remembers the journey being extremely difficult but she's happy here now, even though she does miss Tibet.
Every time I saw Dolma she was smiling and always willing to share tea and snacks with passers by.
Amin, McLeod Ganj, India.
"I originally made carpets."
Amin taught himself to make jewellery by simply observing. He now runs his own store as well as teaching others his craft.
"I miss home, but I like it here also."
Each year, Amin travels to McLeod Ganj from Kashmir to set up shop on a busy tourist street. He leaves behind his home and family in the mountains for months on end. Amin has two children and around a dozen grandchildren (he thinks). When I asked him what hopes he has for his grandchildren, he asked me what I thought was good. I said that a lot of people say the most important thing is that they turn out to be good people. He agreed.
On a side note Amin's English was amazing. He is self taught and possesses an incredible vocabulary. Amin seems to be very talented at the things he sets his mind to.
Fareed, 55, Delhi, India.
Near the Jama Masjid mosque is a street where ordinary people of Delhi are able to buy meals for the less fortunate. It’s humbling to see people from many walks of life offering such a simple, yet important gift. Its also very confronting however, to see the large number of people who are hungry and facing dire circumstances.
Most people queueing for food shy away from the camera and understandably so, however Fareed wanted to share something of his life. And that something entailed living on the street with no friends, family, or income and just two basic meals a day donated by complete strangers. Fareed told me he couldn’t find any work as he was unskilled and said he had relatives but he didn’t know where.
Jaspal, 55, Mumbai, India.
I’ve never seen such an intense stare back through my camera lens. At first I thought Jaspal really didn’t want his photo to be taken, but I think I misunderstood. The more photos I took, the more it seemed Jaspal wanted me to see what he did for a living.
Jaspal fired solid pieces of metal in a coal oven, ready to be pressed and shaped into sledge-hammer heads. He would wait until the metal was red-hot, before using tongs to pass the pieces onto the next person in the chain. The heat from the oven was extreme and the iron dust that filled air clung to Jaspal’s skin and clothes. In spite of this, neither Jaspal or his co-workers wore any safety equipment.
Majeed, 24 Mumbai, India.
I met Majeed at a street-stall outside a cemetery in Mumbai. The first thing I noticed about him and excuse the irony, was he was full of life. He didn't seem to be at all bored with his job and enjoyed simply watching time pass.
His friend joked that Majeed was still a virgin, which they both laughed about. Majeed explained that he was to be married shortly after Ramadan and that he was extremely happy and excited - "She is beautiful”.
Majeed also said it was hard at home having no mother to look after his father, brother and himself. His bride be would soon take on this role. Majeed was amused when I ask him about children - naturally he would like to have them and has no preference for sons or daughters. "Children aren't like money, you can't give and take. God will decide".
Makalal, 72, Mumbai, India.
Makalal sits outside her home making chains of flowers to hang on graves, which she sells for 40 rupees (60 cents). It takes her two hours to make each one.
"Without this work I don't know what I would do."
Makalal said she has spent many years sitting alone doing the same work, but acknowledges she is at least able to do something.
Makalal has only one son, who has six children of his own. She wishes simply that all her grand children receive educations.
Muhammad Yasir, 14, Delhi, India.
Muhammad Yasir wasn’t at all fazed by a westerner pointing a large camera in his direction and I admired that.
A ninth grader who begrudgingly learns English, Muhammad Yasir said he spends his free time hanging out at the local mosque. As for life after school, he will take care of his father’s business making vehicle shock absorbers