Last night I went with some friends to view the award-winning documentary Born Into Brothels. If you haven’t seen this heartbreaking and inspiring film, I highly recommend it.
The story is about a group of children who were born in Calcutta’s red light district, a maze of chaos, brothels, and despair. New York photographer Zana Briski lived in the red light district to chronicle the lives of the prostitutes, and during that journey discovered the children who were born into, and destined to be trapped by, that culture.
Briski said she wasn’t a social worker or in India to become a champion for kids, yet she found herself drawn to these children. She gave several of them cameras and began to teach them photography and changed the lives of many of these children forever.
Born Into Brothels is a testament that art and education can transform the lives of children destined to repeat the cycle of life they have been born into.
I could go on about this film to infinity, but I’d run out of room. I could on so many tangents, and I still might, but I’m going to focus on something someone said to me today. She said she saw this film and felt helpless. At first, I did, too. I was overwhelmed by the images I was seeing and was on the verge of tears during the entire film. My heart was breaking for these children. The streets were lined with them, and some of the prostitutes were children themselves.
I was outraged that because of their parents crimes, these children were denied quality education. Their lives were mapped out in front of them and there were no exits. Next to no choices. No hope. Briski was overwhelmed by what she saw, but instead of remaining overwhelmed and doing nothing, she focused in on a handful of children and made a difference in their lives.
As I sat there in the dark watching some of the parents willingly keep their kids in the hell they were born into and block their progress at every turn, I began to say to myself, “just save one. Just save one.” Then I realized that was what Briski was trying to do. If she could just change one life, give one of those kids a future, her journey would have been successful.
Sometimes we look at the darkness and despair of the world and become overwhelmed. Paralyzed. We begin to think there’s nothing we can do…no difference can be made… so we do nothing. I shudder to think of what would have become of these kids if Briski had allowed herself to become overwhelmed and walked away from the problem.
Just save one. Because Briski chose to make a difference on an individual level, many of these children are in good schools and plan on continuing on to university. Sadly two or three profiled in the documentary remain in the red light district, likely trapped in the same cycle they were born into, but it wasn’t from Briski’s lack of effort.
When the movie ended and they revealed a few had chosen the path of education and a way out, I was relieved, especially for Avijit Halder, the boy who was chosen to go to Amsterdam to represent India at a photography workshop. I don’t know why, but I connected with him the most. I guess it’s because he had great potential that his grandmother believed in, and potential that Briski also saw. I could identify with his struggle. He discovers he has a talent, someone (Briski) believes in him, he begins to believe life outside the red light district is possible, and then, tragedy strikes (his mother is burned in her kitchen by her pimp and she dies). In his despair, he gives up. I’ve done that myself.
Fortunately, like Avijit, I had people in my life that loved me enough not to let me stay in my miserable life (and I know, compared to him, I’ve had it easy). Ultimately, he had to choose to embrace his opportunties and his potential, and I’ve had to make that choice myself. Today, I found out that Avijit is 19 and studying in the United States. He is still utilizing his talents and opportunties, all because one person decided that she couldn’t leave these kids behind without at least trying to help them realize their potential and give them hope.
I don’t know what I will do next, or even how to come up with a plan, but as I sit here with tears streaming down my cheeks I know I have to do something, even if I only manage to just save one child somewhere, even in my back yard. Yes, the world’s problems are unfathomable and enormous, but it’s time to focus. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. If I allow myself to become overwhelmed by the weight of the despair I feel when I think of a child’s only choice in life is to be “in the line” as they say in Calcutta, or kids who don’t have enough to eat or clean water to drink, that doesn’t help anybody.
I don’t know if Briski knows God on a personal basis, but she was God with skin on to those kids. She did what she knew how to do. A photographer, she gave some children cameras and in the process, gave them hope and a new perspective on life.
Just save one… and maybe one will become two…and two…three…