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.

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

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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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