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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Visual voices from Cambodia: Diary II
students in class

In the second part of their diary, Anna Blackman, founder of UK charity PhotoVoice, and freelance photographer Eugenie Dolberg, have recently begun workshops in Phnom Penh.

Working in collaboration with the US-based organisation Global Children and local photographer, Mak Remissa, their aim is to enable young orphans to reach out to both local and international communities through photography.

Situated over the 'Japanese Bridge' to the east of the centre of Phnom Penh, the Kean Klaing orphanage, where the workshops are held, lies down a dusty track along the Tonle Sap River.

The orphanage is home to 115 children and 20 babies. The majority come from the provinces of Cambodia; many have no relatives or parents, or one handicapped or very poor mother or father who is unable to look after them.

Sopheap helps Phary take a self portrait
Sopheap helps Phary take a self portrait
The reasons for their plight of course vary. Some have lost their relatives to HIV/ Aids, a disease which is at epidemic proportions in Cambodia; others to the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.

A number of the young people have been referred to the orphanage after being found, like so many others, wandering the streets of Phnom Penh, selling flower garlands, peanuts or small souvenirs to try and survive.

The young people who have found shelter at the orphanage are but a tiny percentage of the some quarter of a million orphans thought to be in Cambodia.

Today the orphanage survives on a government donation of $0.25 per student per day and $4.5 per student for school attendance. For other support the orphanage relies on the donations of NGOs or on the kindness of individuals such as the local doctor who visits the orphanage each week on a voluntary basis.

There are currently 18 students attending our photography workshops. A couple were born in the orphanage, others have only arrived in the last few months.

They are a bright and determined bunch and have picked up the basic tenets of photographic technique with remarkable ease.

Not a single student had picked up a camera before the first workshop, yet their first rolls of film came back with very few elementary errors such as leaving their fingers in front of the lens or taking photos by mistake.

The students handle the automatic cameras with great care and precision - at first quite shy in taking photos but quickly gaining confidence to be able to take the shot of their choice or to ask someone if they can take their photo.

Workshops to date have focused on portraits and self-portraiture and the group also visited Psar Thmie (New Market) to photograph daily Khmer life.

For many it was their first trip to this central market and taking photos at the same time as absorbing the wealth of sounds, colours and things for sale was a daunting but exciting prospect.

Over the next week the young people will focus on their life at the orphanage and their own ambitions, dreams and realities.

Chenda, nervously looks through a camera for the first time.

Soon we hope a group of 12 students will be ready to move on to handling SLR cameras so that they can set about documenting their lives, views and dreams with an even greater degree of creativity.

Be sure to check the In pictures section of this site for future updates.

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