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.