Voiceless Children

CompanyN/A
PhotographerWilliam Zhou
Prize2nd Place in Editorial / Other_ED
Entry Description

Decades of war and internal conflict have left the Kingdom of Cambodia as one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, almost 30% of Cambodians suffer from extreme poverty due to lack of education opportunities, political corruption, and limited employment. The country’s economic standing most heavily affects the children of Cambodia, as they become victims of malnutrition, education exclusion, and child labor. Voiceless Children is a photo series that was created to tell the stories of young Cambodian children deprived of expression. The pictures were taken in the province Siem Reap, the gateway to the ruins of the Angkor Wat temple complex - often referred to as the eighth world wonder. These children live in the heart of Cambodia’s tourism industry and spend their childhoods providing services and selling whatever they can offer to tourists who expend the average Cambodian family’s annual salary in a matter of weeks of their visit. Labor is an everyday reality for 45% of the country’s children age 5 to 14. In an impoverished country such as Cambodia, tourism is seen as a fast track (and perhaps only way) to provide for their families. Our driver in Cambodia spoke proudly of his little brother, who was graduating high school and beginning his “career” as a tuk-tuk driver for tourists. “Just like me,” he said. Apparently, the next step after tuk-tuks is buying a car and becoming a private chauffeur. Despite the kindness of its people, Cambodia is a weak country - unsure of its identity. I saw this in the way its ancient histories were heavily borrowed from other civilizations, and the envy of our driver as we talked about our lives in America. I wanted to portray the everyday stories and expressions of the children that I photographed as honestly as I could. However, even with their suffering, many of the local children are able to find simple joys in their everyday routines. Many Cambodian children grin ear to ear asking tourists for candy and squeal in excitement if they are rewarded. While many of the children I saw were cheerful, despite their impoverished background, I could not help but see gloominess and melancholy as well. It was especially heartbreaking when I saw a girl, around the age of eight, selling photographs of famous Cambodian tourist locations - one USD for five photos - on the day of Christmas. She muttered in English and sometimes even broken Chinese as she dismally walked around a temple entrance with a basket of pictures. Stories like these are one of many in Cambodia, as millions of local children have little to no hope for an escape from their poverty. My pictures are a response to impoverished children around the world who are not given access to expression. I wish to give those who are voiceless a chance to be heard.

Story

Decades of war and internal conflict have left the Kingdom of Cambodia as one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, almost 30% of Cambodians suffer from extreme poverty due to lack of education opportunities, political corruption, and limited employment. The country’s economic standing most heavily affects the children of Cambodia, as they become victims of malnutrition, education exclusion, and child labor. Voiceless Children is a photo series that was created to tell the stories of young Cambodian children deprived of expression. The pictures were taken in the province Siem Reap, the gateway to the ruins of the Angkor Wat temple complex - often referred to as the eighth world wonder. These children live in the heart of Cambodia’s tourism industry and spend their childhoods providing services and selling whatever they can offer to tourists who expend the average Cambodian family’s annual salary in a matter of weeks of their visit. Labor is an everyday reality for 45% of the country’s children age 5 to 14. In an impoverished country such as Cambodia, tourism is seen as a fast track (and perhaps only way) to provide for their families. Our driver in Cambodia spoke proudly of his little brother, who was graduating high school and beginning his “career” as a tuk-tuk driver for tourists. “Just like me,” he said. Apparently, the next step after tuk-tuks is buying a car and becoming a private chauffeur. Despite the kindness of its people, Cambodia is a weak country - unsure of its identity. I saw this in the way its ancient histories were heavily borrowed from other civilizations, and the envy of our driver as we talked about our lives in America. I wanted to portray the everyday stories and expressions of the children that I photographed as honestly as I could. However, even with their suffering, many of the local children are able to find simple joys in their everyday routines. Many Cambodian children grin ear to ear asking tourists for candy and squeal in excitement if they are rewarded. While many of the children I saw were cheerful, despite their impoverished background, I could not help but see gloominess and melancholy as well. It was especially heartbreaking when I saw a girl, around the age of eight, selling photographs of famous Cambodian tourist locations - one USD for five photos - on the day of Christmas. She muttered in English and sometimes even broken Chinese as she dismally walked around a temple entrance with a basket of pictures. Stories like these are one of many in Cambodia, as millions of local children have little to no hope for an escape from their poverty. My pictures are a response to impoverished children around the world who are not given access to expression. I wish to give those who are voiceless a chance to be heard.

About Photographer

I am currently a high school student living in Seattle, Washington. Ever since I was little, I have always yearned for a way to express myself artistically. I had a difficult time finding a way to convey my creative side, but that all changed during my sophomore year. After visiting my grandparents in China amid the New Year in my second year of high school, my sister and I both received a hong bao (red envelope) of $5,000 - it is a Chinese tradition for elders to give children red envelopes during Chinese New Year. I agonized over how I would spend my money but I ultimately decided to get my first DSLR camera, and ended up falling in love with capturing the feelings and aesthetics of the world through images. My passion for photography has changed the way I view the world. I see photography as a language that anyone can understand and I focus my work on expressing the feelings and stories of people and the beauty of the natural world.