The first part of my recent overseas journey holding the Cameras for Asia workshops (see the Facebook page here for recent updates) took me back to Myanmar for my fourth visit to the Andrew’s Youth Development Centre (AYDC) on the outskirts of Yangon, the nation’s former capital and largest city.

I’ve been coming here since 2009 and it’s great to see the kids growing up. AYDC has 102 children that are housed, fed, clothed and educated in two large dormitories in the quiet neighbourhood of Minyingone. It’s very much a family for these kids, some of whom were abandoned, orphaned or their families simply can’t look after them. There’s little institutionalisation here which is great, the kids really are cared for and there are committed staff who have been here for years, and even some of the children grow up to help out at the centre. It’s great for me seeing familiar faces year after year as I feel part of the AYDC family as well.

AYDC group photo March 2014

The AYDC “family” taken in March 2014.

I usually work with children aged 10 and above and the groups can be quite large, but because I came a little earlier this year to run an exhibition that fit into a local gallery’s schedule, it meant some of the older kids had exams and weren’t available for classes. This was disappointing but a reality of the programming.

So I just had one class of about 15 children which probably was a blessing in disguise as days were packed sorting out the images in the gallery and preparing for the exhibition (to be covered in another post), then teaching classes in the afternoon when the children came home from school. We had a lot more time on weekends of course so utilised them for excursions as much as possible. The following images are of some of these excursions.

Boat

The group that went to Dalah one day on the ferry behind. We were accompanied by the wonderful helpers Nancy and Na Na.

Kids at the farm

We stopped the van one day by some people growing vegetables. They live in the basic homes behind and also recycled plastic and other products.

AYDC

An action photography session at AYDC. The sandy field is their football oval. The dormitories are in the background.

Rat baby

This little mouse or rat baby provided a lot of entertainment for photography. Some days the best photo sessions were simply held at the centre.

Boys

The boys found a vantage spot above the train tracks to get shots of the market below.

 

Train

The busy railway market with some hawkers planted right on the tracks themselves.

Boat

The boat trip was a highlight for the kids. I wasn’t allowed to go on the boat for “safety reasons” for foreigners which was quite funny as I was the only one in the group that could swim!

Market

The boys on the train tracks while I watched and probably said “be careful” about 100 times.

Ferry

Aung Myint, one of my stars, on the boat to Dalah.  All the children you can see here are from AYDC.

The classes were enormous amounts of fun and it was fantastic to largely have children I’d taught before, some of whom are real characters and have plenty to say even if I don’t speak Myanmar to understand! Somehow we seemed to get by. One of these characters was Joshua, and his brother Poi Thang. Joshua learnt two English phrases in particular from me – “see you tomorrow” and “be careful” and he used them as often as possible. He knew what they meant and was one of those boyish fearless types who’d do lots of fun things like set his camera up with a timer in the middle of the road! I had to admire his enthusiasm.

Joshua and Poi Thang.

Joshua with the camera and brother Poi Thang looking over his shoulder. Both were avid photographers and a lot of fun to teach.

There were also some sad stories at AYDC like Esther, a gorgeous, outspoken young girl of 12 who is always involved in everything going on and has plenty to say. She was abandoned at eight months of age after her parents divorced and remarried. They have never visited her. Today she’s a wonderful, self assured young thing and it’s great to see her grow and develop and flourish at photography.

Esther

The beautiful and vivacious Esther decorating her photo poster.

We had about 25 cameras to work with, give or take ones that weren’t working, had chargers missing and so on while I was there. This meant everyone had access to a camera that worked and I had extra ones if something curly happened – which it did from time to time!

Andrew Rogers of MyKids Australia is now based in Yangon and let me use a rented van and driver which was an incredible provision as this was basically at my beck and call and we could pile the kids in whenever we felt like it to go to a night market, pagoda, railway station or any other location for photographs. I’m usually paying for buses (tickets are cheap) but the poor kids are crammed in and they get car sick very easily so we were spared a lot of discomfort this year thanks to that van (and vomiting!)

One of the other advantages of coming slightly earlier in the year was the light. It was far softer as the days were shorter at the end of winter and this meant we not only didn’t have to contend with the heat of March but also it’s white light. Somehow in future I’m going to have to find a balance between the kids’ schedule and the photographic seasons.

Motorbike

A local man on a motorbike tries to get a look at what the kids are photographing.

Some highlights of our excursions this year included the visit to a local market by a railway station – people literally picked up their vegetable loads to move out the way of oncoming trains, then plonked them back down again. The kids particularly loved a day we visited some local farms with long rows of beautiful flowers growing. They seem to love anything natural and beautiful and as much as I want them to document everyday life, I always make sure they get to photograph what interests them as well and that always means lots of flowers!

Nandar

Nandar, one of the teenage girls who loved the flower fields.

 

Zu Zu

The always happy Zu Zu with her lovely smile.

Posters

This little character will be one of the photography students of the future. She would always come to meet me whenever I arrived at AYDC. Here she was pointing out some of the pictures she liked from our classes. We did a poster for AYDC with photos of anything starting with any of those letters.

Nancy

Nancy aka the camera lady holding the kids’ cameras one day while they went to the toilet. Nancy is my favourite translator and has a wonderful, kind, patient and friendly personality. I don’t know what I’d do without her. The kids absolutely love her and are so happy when she comes along.Photo postersThe kids making up photo posters with their best images. They love doing this at the end of our classes and I just love watching them in action, colouring, decorating, being creative.

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