The orphaned children of Burma by Julian Ray

Today's guest post is by Julian Ray:

As a long-time documentary and travel photographer I have seen many travel trends come and go. The "hot" places to be, Katmandu, Machu Picchu, Ko Phi-Phi, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Ubud, on and on. It seems that the place where I live and work right now is now one of those hot destinations.

Burma (Myanmar) is erupting with travelers from every corner of the world. With the increase of tourism many INGOs (International Non Governmental Organization) also increase their activities by leveraging the heightened awareness of this county. With the increase in INGO involvement comes the need for more effective media, of all kinds.

So it is that recently I was asked to document the lives of some of the orphaned children living in Burma. My client, an INGO whose main focus is the under-resourced children of the world, wanted to have some impactive images for use in educational and outreach materials to help raise awareness of the plight of unwanted children in Burma.

I love assignments like these. The power of such images can be very effective at catalyzing meaningful change. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, even though I knew the emotional cost of spending so much time with these children would be massive. The way I work, I like to spend as much time as possible, weeks or sometimes even months, getting to know my subjects. Learning their stories can be very intense yet is always fundamentally rewarding.

Though there are no good numbers, best guesses are that as many as 1.9 million children under the age of 17 are orphaned in Burma. There are many causes of this tragic reality; economic hardship, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, conflict, natural disasters, but the results are, sadly, usually the same.

In Burma there really is no governmental system in place to deal with unwanted children so it falls mostly to the many Buddhist monasteries to be the "social safety net" for them. With varying degrees of success the monastic system does a good job of providing a safe and caring place for these children. The monasteries provide food, shelter, basic education, some healthcare, as well as spiritual guidance.

Though not all novices, as the children are called, will be lifelong monks or nuns, most do stay and make the monastery their life. For this assignment the images needed to be deeply personal and I chose to focus on the girls as most of the media usually focuses on the boys' lives.

Here are a few images of some of the girl novices I had the privilege to get to know and photograph.

For information on how you can help please visit:,, or

Some images of some of the boy novices can be seen on my blog:

Much more of my work can be seen on my website:

Please feel free to explore my work and comment on it on my website

Thank you for taking a look at some of my work.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • The resident Guest

    And here we are salivating over the latest DSLR whilst children are neglected, abused, and forgotten.

    • AM I Am

      This is what photography should be all about, convey a powerful message with images, which this post clearly achieves.
      Does it matter what DxO scores the camera and lens that were used have, the noise in the shadows, and all those topics that many tend to flood these forums with?

  • Jon Ingram

    Powerful images. Excellent work on every level

  • Kynikos

    Exceptionally strong images. You’re doing a great service by sharing them.

    Please tell me the child in the top photo is not in an actual cage.

    • neversink

      It looks like a window or gate that the child is looking through. Hopefully! Perhaps Julian can enlighten us.

    • She is looking into the kitchen where the daily meal is being prepared. Each day they eat once around 11am and as you can probably guess there is MUCH anticipation for the meal.
      Thank you for you kind words and support.

  • mikeswitz

    Wonderful images. Thank you, Julian. And thank you NR. This is why so many of us got into photography in the first place. A picture is worth…..

  • neversink

    My favorite guest post so far on NR…. Exquisite photography that tells a compelling story…..

  • Michiel953

    I can only echo what’s been said before. Truly captivating and wonderful images.

  • kotozafy

    Some of these portraits should have at least the same impact as one famous afgan girl shot back in the 70s…

  • Richard Krawec

    Wow…….i couldn’t imagine being able to photograph children in that compasity and keep my composure without balling my eyes out .

  • Psvilela

    Powerful, this represents the true meaning a photo worth for 1000 words.

  • I’d like to offer my humble thanks to everyone for your kind words. I am so glad you enjoyed some of my work. Also a big thank you to the Admin team at NR for taking a bit of a risk and posting my work.
    You ROCK!

    • MrFoolYou

      Great job Julian. I really enjoy your meaningful work. This is a kind of photography we are looking to see more. Keep it up.

  • binotto

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful photoessay Julian.

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