June 26, 2011
Luckily things didn’t get too out of hand because I had to leave pretty soon, but kids were starting to climb on top of me and I started having flashbacks to getting attacked while giving out pens in a village in India. Doing things like giving out Polaroid pictures, pens, coloring books, or pencils is a wonderful thing to do, but has to be done very carefully because it can cause fighting amongst children and foster an attitude of begging where children beg foreigners for these things. Instead if you visit a third world country and want to bring presents I suggest bringing them to an orphanage or a school and giving them to the director and letting him or her distribute it to the children. It may not be the same wonderful immediate gratification you get from handing a child a ball or a pencil and getting a smile, but it is truly the more charitable thing to do because they will be given out in an organized fashion, which keeps children from fighting over the gifts and then the kids are thankful to the school and their teachers instead of a foreigner.
Polaroids are a little different then school supplies and balls and can be a wonderful thing to give to someone when you’re photographing them. However, it has to be done in a respectful way and because polaroids cost about $1 a piece I recommend doing it when not many people are around or you’ll end up with a lot of people lined up for a picture and not enough film to go around. The new film takes a little longer to develop (about 30 seconds) and I had some very funny moments of children staring at the blank white polaroid and then at me wondering what I was doing. As soon as the picture started to appear they were so excited and would smile and giggle, but every new photo I gave they looked at me unsure if it would appear. I tried explaining it, but in my broken French I think I said, “the picture us like magic, there is nothing than poof it becomes a picture.” I think they still think I am crazy.
I had a wonderful experience photographing a family when I visited a water pump in the northern part of Rwanda. There was a small house on the road to the water pump and a couple of brothers came up to me and wanted their photo taken. I took a few and showed it to them on my camera and then after making sure not too many other people were around I took a Polaroid of them and they got so excited they ran back to their house to show their mom. I then met their whole family- the two original brothers plus their baby brother, their mom, grandma and father all living in this very small square one-room house on the side of the road. I ended up giving them about 7 photos of their family and the older boy who spoke English told me it was the first photo they ever had of themselves. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend other photographers to bring polaroids with them when they travel, but be careful to determine if the situation is right before using it.