I don’t really know where to begin. I can only hope that over the last two weeks I have left as positive an impact on these children, as they have left on me. The truth is, it just wasn’t long enough. In such a short period of time, I realized volunteering with kids is something I could envision myself doing for the rest of my life. I think they taught me as much, if not more than I taught them. Working with incredibly underprivileged children has truly humbled me. Seeing their gaping, missing-tooth smiles light up over hula hoops, bubbles, or the magic of a Polaroid, reignites my gratitude for all that I have.
Being a professional photographer in NYC, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible couples and families, who have inspired my career. But sharing photography with these kids—took inspiration to a whole new level. The children were beyond grateful just to see themselves on my camera screen. Nothing is as enriching as the look of sheer amazement on their faces whilst watching themselves pop out of a Polaroid instantly. I’m confident the children will cherish their Polaroids as much as I do.
One of the children, Cecile, had a particularly strong impact on me. Cecile is a shy ten-year-old girl, missing her left arm. She routinely kept her distance from the group, appearing standoffish and introverted. A staff member told me that she has a bad rep with the volunteers, never talks to them. I, of course, took this as a personal challenge. She would watch but never interact when the children played with the cameras. At the end of my second week I walked up to her, motioned my offering, and handed her my camera. She shook her head “no” and gave me a dirty look but I offered again and showed her how to take a photo. She finally nodded and I put the strap around her neck. It took her a minute to figure out how to hold the camera up without two hands. But when she did, I saw a smile crawl across her face from cheek to cheek. In no time she was directing the other kids to pose in different spots she liked. She was laughing and interacting with a newfound confidence, which almost brought me to tears. How lucky I am to have the luxury of two working hands, a privilege I will never again forget to appreciate.
During my second week volunteering, I got really close to a little boy named John. He always wanted me to hold him and one day while I was doing some yoga, he started copying me. Within no time I was teaching him aerial yoga. We formed a beautiful, unspoken connection and flow. He was so tired afterward, he fell asleep in my lap with a half-eaten cookie in hand. I slept pretty well that night too.
The final project I did with the kids was a little ‘about me’ book. On the front we glued a Polaroid photo of them with their named written below. On the inside, they wrote their birthday, where they live, favorite color, favorite activity, what they want to be when they grow up, and their hero. They learned how to write some new words and got to decorate and personalize each page. On top of that, each kid got a photo of themselves to take home as a keepsake.
I’ve taken a lot away from this experience. I truly hope I can inspire at least one person to get out and volunteer. There are so many children in this world that need help. These kids need not only medical necessities and supplies but also more volunteers to coordinate activities and help inspire the children, so the core staff can focus on vital tasks.
Donors will be getting their thank you mail after the holidays. Stay tuned for more photos when I return. Thank you for all your love and support. Hope you have a safe and beautiful holiday!