Last month I was privileged enough to accompany an NGO called Fondo Unido (or United Way) to a variety of institutions they assist in Mexico City. I have supported them in my free time as a volunteer, and this occasion gave me a valuable insight not only into their projects and activities, but also where the materials and monetary resource which is acquired through donations and corporate awareness programmes, is appropriately distributed.
The activities they support are diverse, as are the necessities of the persons and institutions who are supported by Fondo Unido.
It was a fun yet exhausting project at the same time. In this article, I share with you some of the photos I took and experiences I had whilst visiting a number of their subsidized institutions.
Diverse Institutional Support
Over a period of 3 days I visited institutions that provide resource and activities for the elderly, who may not have a fixed abode. Schools that perhaps that don´t receive enough funding to facilitate their requirements, or parents who perhaps are unable to entirely financially support the education of their children, and orphanages that provide a shelter and hope for children that need it.
As with any NGO, it allows you to appreciate what you have and understand the circumstances and cause being supported.
A majority of the institutions I visited were nurseries, or primary schools, which meant I spent a lot of my time crawling around on hand and knee, or laying on the floor to get a good composition to photograph children. Its fun, its messy and very tiring!
A Language Dilemma
Being a foreigner and non-native Spanish speaker and working with children is always entertaining, partially because they are bemused with a foreigners presence, and secondly because of the language. Just by asking their names generally provokes a timid giggle, well...timid for all of 5 minutes, and then they all decided they want to practice their English with me.
For me it worked well...one child would approach me asking "How do you say Santiago in English?", I would reply, 30 seconds another would approach me "How do you say Estrella in English?", I would reply, another 30 seconds later another would approach me "How do you say Jose en English?", I would reply....this would continue with kids running back and forth to me until pretty much every kid in the class knew his name in English. Which was fine, as I would photograph them running around with infinite energy, doing what kids do best.
That was, until a couple of them forgot their names in English, so as soon as one struck up the courage to ask me their name again in English, so did the others and back to square one we went.
Posed or Natural?
I worked on a few poses photographing the children in the classrooms, but one has to be extremely quick with the camera as smiles become sour and false. So I had a tendency to keep switching between quick poses and more natural photographs and fun stuff!
The first kindergarten and school we visited on day 2 was already very well prepared, and had kindly arranged for all the children to participate in games during class. "Fantastic!", I thought, as it was ideal photographic material for Fondo Unido, as many of the games, toys etc have been donated by their sponsors.
There was probably 30 minutes in each class on that particular day, before each specific age group left, and another one entered. So, the opportunity to photo-document their activities was ample.
In the early afternoon of day 2, myself and 2 colleagues from Fondo Unido visited an institution called Hogares Providencia, an orphanage located in the center of Mexico City that accomodates children from a few months old to perhaps 6 or 7 years, although the majority of children were at least half that age.
I´ve worked in several NGOs in Latin America and in various communities of extreme poverty, but this was probably one of the most thought provoking and emotionally challenging places. Why? Simply put, these were young children who had a considerable amount of toys to play with, albeit simple toys, but the thing they were most lacking was affection. With all due respect to the good staff that look after them, they are simply unable to provide affection to every child there as if it were there own.
I went about photographing the children, crawling around on the floor, one approached me and showed me the drawing of a tiger he had colored in, whilst another young girl aged about 4 years approached me from behind and just hugged me, without saying a word. As I stood up, she hugged my leg briefly and then looked up at me and raised her arms, indicating she wanted me to pick her up. With my camera in one hand, I picked her up with the other and sat her on my arm whilst she hugged me, and there she stayed silently for about 5 minutes until she fell asleep.
I put her in her pram and continued to move around photographing the other children in the orphanage. During the next 1 hour or so, I think no less than 3 more children raised their arms when I approached them, suggesting they also wanted that I hold them. To be honest, It was difficult to deal with, and I could carry on explaining, but words would be all but just.
Myself and my two colleagues from Fondo Unido left the orphanage in the early afternoon, having been there for a short period, all of us solemn in thought, yet unified in our conceptions of the sad reality conveyed during our brief visit to this orphanage.
As we left, the director of the institute handed us several brochures about the institution, its history, the education provided and its sponsors. It almost endorsed our thoughts, as to the lack of resource available to the orphange, in terms of personnel and other simple essentials.
It was a very tiring and hot 3 days spent with Fondo Unido, and very worthwhile, and I am very grateful to have worked with them and have the opportunity to convey the activities they do with various institutions not only in Mexico, but globally. I shall continue to work with them as a volunteer on other projects, in Mexico.
Additionally, I am planning to visit Honduras later this year to work with another NGO and I am currently looking for sponsorship; corporate, individual or otherwise to finance the trip where I shall be working as a volunteer once more. If you would like more information and to discuss this further, then please contact me.
All Photographs are Copyright Gareth Davies / Fondo Unido Mexico and may not be used without prior written consent. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own and do not represent those of any other person or entity.