A Picture of Poverty

Picture of poverty I recently got back from India where I was with a team of people interviewing children and their families so we can share their stories and photos with you – Compassion sponsors.

At almost every home we visited, the families were so excited to receive us that they put together mini-feasts. At most homes we were given tea with milk and sugar, and many of them cut fresh coconuts for us, served with straws. I’ve never eaten so many coconuts in my life.

Others would serve us fresh cashews, bananas or pasayam, a sweet cardamom soup. Visiting four families a day, I was more than stuffed and a bit overwhelmed by the generosity. One of these families hadn’t even eaten the day before.  

For the interviews, the children typically put on their best clothes, the outfits they got for Christmas from their sponsors.

They were so proud to look their best for us and for their photo shoot. This was a very big day for them. The neighbors would lean over the fences and stop in the streets trying to figure out what three white people with a boom mic, camera and video camera were doing in that place. It was often hard to interview over the hoots and comments of the neighbors.

We would take their portrait photos in their best outfits, and as we tried to get photos of them doing their typical chores around their house, we would ask them to put on what they might usually wear. They would come proudly out in their second-best outfit.

This was occasionally somewhat humorous. For example, one very sweet, very incredible 14-year-old girl was trying to pump water in her beautiful new and bejeweled salwar kameez she’d gotten for Christmas. The fuchsia scarf kept falling off her and into her bucket, which I could relate to, having unsuccessfully tried to keep my own scarf on all week.

You can see how it might be difficult to get pictures of what a typical scene might look like, with 20 neighbors shuffling in the background and the families in their Sunday finest, some even with special makeup for the day. And how it might be hard to get pictures displaying the need of the family. These families are excited to be profiled, and of course want to put their best foot forward. What girl wouldn’t want to put her best outfit on, rather than her scrubby clothes, for a very exciting international photo shoot?

I bring this up because I sometimes hear, “Those children in Compassion photos don’t look very needy.” And it’s true. Many of the sponsored children stand out among their neighbors. For one thing, they’ve been taught to comb their hair and brush their teeth at the child development center. They’re also potentially the only ones on the block who received a nice new outfit for Christmas.

But besides these obvious differences, the dignity of the child and the family comes first for Compassion. Chuck, the incredible photographer I was with on this trip, respects the 14-year-old girl’s desire to look her best. He doesn’t ask her to please replace her bright new outfit with the older one with holes in it. He captures her beauty and dignity as she would want to be seen by the world.

11 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Michelle January 12, 2010

    That little girl in the top picture is absolutely gorgeous! I totally understand why they want to look their best…. (I remember school pictures!?! Bleh. Hated that…) But what an honor it is to have the children strive to look their best no matter their circumstances. 🙂

  2. Mike Stephens March 4, 2009

    I was privileged to hear Wess talk at Woodmen Valley and liked how he would use the term “We are just one trumpet blast away from HEAVEN!!!” and how our Compassion children and many others are going to be in Mansions!!!

  3. Teri February 11, 2009

    Fantastic story! I’ve been blessed to visit 3 of my children (Kenya and Ethiopia) and it is so humbling when there is a welcome meal. I always laugh when I look thru the packets at a Compassion event… the girls are “styling” in their beautiful clothes. The boys… are looking uncomfortable and some are even pulling at their collars… just like boys do in the US! Children are the small everywhere!

  4. Sam Llanes February 11, 2009

    It is so true when you say that children put on their best clothes (which usually are their Christmas gifts) when they are interviewed or when a picture of them is taken. Here at Guatemala happens the same thing at our Student Centers when sponsors come in a Sponsor Tour or when a sponsor visits his/her child: they just want to look the best they can for them! 🙂

  5. Teai Day February 10, 2009

    I would love to see more pictures. My child is only 5 and does not write yet, so the pictures would help me to connect to my child a little more. Thank you so much for the story.

  6. Juli Jarvis February 9, 2009

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. People ask me all the time why the children are dressed so nicely in their photos. I tell them the clothes were probably supplied by Compassion, and that they are normally the only dress clothes the child has. I appreciate so much Compassion’s concern for the dignity of the poor. It is the way it should be. Also — thanks for the link to Chuck Bigger’s site! What a tremendous and sensitive photographer!

  7. Heather February 9, 2009

    Great story!! I really loved this story..I hope that the situation Vicky mentioned can get better and more children can be registered..:( That part was pretty sad.

  8. Vicki Small February 9, 2009

    On one of our visits to a project on my first sponsors tour, I was sitting in a chair next to the center aisle, in the church. The place was wall-to-wall people–children and adults. Every aisle was crammed; firefighters in the U.S. would have had apoplexy!

    One mother standing in the aisle next to me had a baby and another daughter, around 5 or 6 years old. The older child sat on my neighbor’s lap (I held the baby) was wearing a beautiful, ruffly yellow dress, so I was surprised, when her mother asked my neighbor if she would sponsor her daughter. In fact, the girl was not yet registered at the center.

    We learned, later, that many parents had dressed up the child they hoped to get registered and sponsored. Of course, there was nothing we could do, but it demonstrated for us what Compassion project workers see every day–parents knocking on the doors or rattling gates, begging to have their child registered. All hearts break, when the parents are turned away.

  9. Keven February 9, 2009

    When I work a large concert with many child packs I have noticed that children from the same area will have on the same outfit. I assumed not all children were able to afford a new outfit and clothes were shared.

    Still it shows how this is really a big day for them.

  10. Jill Foley February 9, 2009

    This is what I love about Compassion….their respect for the children and their families. You respect them – you don’t exploit them!

    Thank you!

  11. Lindy February 9, 2009

    What a beautiful blog, Amber! Thank you!

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