With Christmas looming, I made sure to take a moment of reflection on my year of work. I've had the chance to take part in some dream briefs, to travel extensively for my photography and to work with clients both old and new who I could only have imagined I would get the chance to work alongside when I first started photography. But when I sat down to sum up the year, one set of photographs always stood out to me, and it's impact has been so much that I felt it important to write a piece dedicated to it alone.
I was lucky enough to fly to Bangalore, India for a big job, and took an internal flight afterwards to visit Varanasi for a few days. One of the other guests in our homestay was a German lady called Gudrun. Her visit to Varanasi was to work with a local NGO who she is heavily involved with and does so much great work for. It's called Kutumb Salem (Kutumb meaning 'family') where a doctor called Dr Ashish and his wife Puja have begun, from the ground up, to support the poorest in their hometown of Varanasi. In 2003 they started by helping three abandoned children from the local train station, where Dr Ashish would pass the slum everyday to work. From there they bought a piece of land in a local village, turning barren ground into a walled oasis of accommodation, herb gardens, a playground and eco-water system. Entirely self-funded, it now houses 48 children full-time with beds, tables, books, carers and meals; the dedication and transformation is staggering. I felt extremely privileged to be invited to visit the orphanage to take photographs that can help them promote their good work, and it was a truly special experience. The children all come from backgrounds of abandonment, abuse and poverty on the streets, but were then so proud and excited to show me their new home, with basic food, wire frame beds and limited water. I can only imagine why it must have been such a stark contrast to the turbulent beginnings of their lives. These 48 children, all without parents and having been strongly abused, are now safe in this sanctuary surrounded by love and their own 'Kutumb'. There's certainly sadness, but a great amount of happiness, and they're so proud of having their own bed and a safe haven to grow up in.
I'll be returning to Kutumb Salem next year and will put the full story together in early 2018, but in the meantime take the time to visit www.kutumbfamily.org and www.kutumb-salem.de where you can make donations to keep this place going, and also to read more about the NGO.