Ten students from the Centre for children’s happiness take images of phnom Penh and its surroundings
The Smile Photography Project focuses on documentary photography. The Project seeks to democratize the image-making dynamic by enabling those that have traditionally been the subject of such works to become the works creator.
The students therefore have the opportunity to have control over how they and their surroundings are perceived by the rest of the world while simultaneously learning a new skill which can enhance their lives. Ten children (ranging from 12 to 17 years old) from the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) and its sister orphanage CDCC took part in the Smile Project.
CCH was started in October 2002 by Mr Mech Sokha. The three centres that now form the CCH network and provide a home and education to over 140 children. The children are either orphans or belong to parents who cannot take care of them due to illness or disability. Most of the children at CCH previously worked as garbage pickers at the Steung Mean Chey landfill in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Steung Mean Chey Municipal landfill is located in southern Phnom Penh. It is in a part of the city with low-income neighbourhoods and slums. The dump itself covers about 6 hectares (approximately 2.5 acres). It is surrounded by private property on which rubbish pickers build makeshift huts and are charged extortionate rents by landowners. Roughly 2,000 people, about 600 of which are children, live and work there.
Some of the children working on the landfill have parents or relatives who also work on the dump and look after them. Most of them do not go to school, at least not on a regular basis. Virtually none of them will complete a primary school education. The school fees are too high and their families need them to collect rubbish to contribute to the family income. Adults earn, on average, 4000 to 6000 Riels (US$1.00 to $1.50) a day; children earn on average about half that amount. A whole family working together can actually earn more money than they could in the rural village from which they originally came.
Sokha’s vision for the Centres is to provide a safe, stable and loving home for the children, as well as to teach them to be good, productive citizens and to give them an education and vocational or university training so that they can become independent.
“The most that I remember [about photography] is to go close to the person that we want to take and [think about going] go up and down and don’t use the zoom because zoom is not good and don’t use flash and [do not take photos] [into the] sun shining” - Sambath
Having received training and instruction in photography, the ten young photographers have spent their free time out and about in Phnom Penh, at a wide range of locations across the city, visually recording their impressions of daily life in their home town.
“I enjoy photography because we go out in a group and can work together” – Ratha
The areas were chosen in conjunction with the students who amongst other places chose to visit Tuol Sleng and Kandal province. The students also had the opportunity to return to the landfill. Almost 11,000 pictures were taken by the children!
This site displays the photographs that were chosen for an exhibition that has been running at Gasolina in Phnom Penh. Their other best work is at http://www.smile-cambodia.blogspot.com/
For many of them the SMILE project provided their first encounter with some of Phnom Penh’s most familiar sites – the Central Market, the riverside, Wat Phnom, the Olympic Stadium – as well as an opportunity to explore corners of the city that are further off the beaten track.
“I hope my photos will show the people about beautiful places in Phnom Penh” - Piset