Sat, 21 Feb 2004

'A Child's Eye': Children portray their hopes, fears

Bambang Bider, The Jakarta Post, Pontianak, West Kalimantan

"Thank you for making our children laugh again with this beautiful coming together," said Buchari Arachman.

Buchari is the municipality head of Pontianak. He was addressing a ceremony to mark the launch of A Child's Eye: Indonesia Through the Eye of a Child, a book of photographs.

Campaigns for peace and reconciliation have been intensive in West Kalimantan, a province often torn by ethnic conflict involving the Dayak, Malay and Madurese ethnic groups.

The violence and cruelty during the conflicts were often hard to describe because they went beyond the limits of humanity. Regardless of their ethnicity, children in the area have become victims of disharmony.

In a bid to help the children come to terms with their experiences the Jakarta-based Child's Eye Foundation has provided a workshop for the children to explore their dark past and hopefully bring out a more promising future.

The workshop also documents their lives in photo. Some of their work reflects their hopes and worries about the future.

The foundation's art director, Jonathan Perugia, said, "This program is to help the children explore and recount their own stories through photography, writing and discussion. We also hope to raise their self-esteem and help to foster solidarity and friendly relations between children who come from differing environments, particularly those from conflict-ridden areas."

"I am a self-made photographer, I have benefited considerably from my search for creative identity. That's why I really want to share what I experienced in my search," the British photographer said.

Sixty-two Sambas children from different ethnic groups -- Chinese, Dayak, Malay and Madurese -- and those from refugee camps, participated in two workshops held respectively in Pontianak and Singkawang.

Three exhibitions have been organized to display the output from these workshops. The first was held at Pontianak Museum to observe the International Year of the Convention on Children's Rights. The second and the third were held respectively in Singkawang and Jakarta. Over 5,000 people, including hundreds of school children, attended the exhibitions.

"In this respect, we have a picture of the strength of our creativity. We can also motivate, respect and support one another. The exhibitions also help foster mutual trust among us. The participants were encouraged to realize that their opinions were worth listening to," said Perugia.

The children and teenagers, aged from 10 to 18, who took part in the workshops, produced photographs imbued with life, spirit, joy and merriment, as well as touching scenes. Some have even suggested that these photographs need to be criticized and censored. The reality in these photographs sometimes causes a feeling of discomfort in the beholder.

The naivete reflected in the photographs tells a story about the children's lives and illustrates the problems they face. In short, these pictures are a very powerful social document.

A Child's Eye believes that mental awareness and the self- respect of each individual are the first things that must be developed to ensure that social justice can eventually be at tained.

In each workshop the children are involved in games designed to provide them with practical knowledge about photography. When they return home after their training, they can take pictures of anything that interests them with their plastic cameras.

Every week they get together and submit their work. In this meeting they learn more about photography from professional photographers.

"We also discuss and study their rights and other matters of importance to children. They are free to express themselves naturally and innocently, without any orchestration or coercion," Perugia said.

In terms of creativity and art, these photographs excel in quality. However, when art alone does not suffice, we must all play an active role in supporting national and international pledges to fight poverty and find new ways to resolve conflicts and ensure that the rights of children all over the world are respected.