At this solo exhibition, a photo essay describes the life of the children at the Smokey Mountain, Manila, Philippines. The photographs are by Thomas Tham who has been following a mission group to the Smokey Mountain in the past few years.
Extracts from Thomas Tham’s Opening Speech:
“I have been thinking what title to use for this exhibition. Eventually, I decided on the theme – Lamentation Of Hope. But am I emphasizing mainly about the sadness, pathetic status and vulnerability of these children. No! Not at all! I am conveying a simple message to the world. These kids have great strength in coping with all kinds of difficulties. To me they are conquerors, young warriors, heroes and achievers.
These children stay in the most depressing place in Philippines… in a landfill 15 minutes from the tourist area of Ermita. It is called New Smokey Mountain of Tondo. I have been to different part of Philippines from North to South but have not encountered anything more depressing.
I have stayed here since almost 3 years ago. Recently I spent almost 3 weeks per month there as the families and residents there would be displaced and relocated to a new site 2 hours away. At the moment there are many concerns at the ground level. Thus more attention is needed. I stayed in New Smokey Mountain to experience the type of life my children are going through.
When I fell ill, there was no doctor. When I badly needed a shower, there was no water. When I needed clean drinking water, there was none. Eventually, I fell ill in February when I contracted Hepatitis A from a contaminated water source. I almost died there. My brother, who is with us tonight, can testify that. He drove me all the way from Singapore back to Penang for treatment. Without the care from the children and their parents, I do not think I could have made it back to Singapore.
Just imagine…these children have been there since birth. They have gone through much worse than I have. But their strong coping mechanism has made them a fighter in this depressing area.
I do not engage these children thinking that they are weak and need my sympathy. No! I am convinced that that they are strong and have great hope and aspirations. I want to realize their dreams. And we can make the difference.
If you look at the Chinese character of the exhibition theme – Lamentation Of Hope, it is written as 希望哀歌. For those who are well versed in the language, you would realize that something is not right about the translation. Literally it means “Hoping for lamentation”. Why are we lamenting the hope?
The character ‘的’seems to be missing. It should be written as 希望的哀歌. But we are the ‘的. We are the one who can make the difference. We are the one who can make their lives better and transformed. So help me to complete the true meaning of this exhibition by filling this gap with your love and aid.
If you ask these children what they wanted to be when they grow up. You would hear answers such as, doctor, engineer, lawyers, fire fighter, etc. They have such admirable dreams and I am proud of them. Since 2008 when I first knew them, they never once begged for money. They prefer to work hard instead.
Some of the children’s sponsors are here with us. Perhaps they can share with you more about the kids.
Lastly, I thank you for your time tonight. I am encouraged by your presence. Thank you.”
Thomas Tham shares how he uses photography for charity.
From my understanding of Thomas, all the children he encountered during his missionary work are like his own – hence he can’t point out to me any particular photo which is special. But he pointed out an image titled “Courage”, showing a young girl with her right eye missing.
“Jeszel was six. She battled with a tumour for a very long time with great courage…eventually lost an eye…but she still smiled and lived strongly. She passed away this year on 11 March…” Thomas said with tinge of sadness.
All photos exhibited will be available for sale. 70% of the proceeds will be donated to the mission work in the Philippines. The rest will be donated to PSS for her mission in engaging and promoting photography to the general public.
Some of you might have seemed this image, used for the online flyers for this exhibition. This image of two brothers went viral, but most websites or social media channels did not credit Thomas or highlight where, when or who are in such conditions and need help.
In my opinion, it is of concern that images are currently distributed online without proper (consent from and) credit to the source and information about the actual story behind it. Especially for works that document the human condition, which can potentially help tell the story and raise awareness. Maybe more help will be given after people understand and eventually solve certain issues that societies turn a blind eye to.
I really look forward to more images by Thomas while he is committed to missionary work.
About Thomas Tham
Thomas started photography as a hobby with the Photographic Society of Singapore in 1989. However it was not until 2008 when he found purpose in using photography to advocate the rights of working children in hazardous environments. It is said that the eyes are the windows of our souls. And in the eyes of these children, the truth is starkly revealed.
As Thomas observed and photographed the children in these countries, he began to develop the theme of social responsibility in his work. Through photography, he wishes to create awareness in the world, especially to those who are in a position to make a difference, of the injustice and exploitation that exist. Child labour may never go away completely, so by telling of their plight time and again, Thomas hopes that the situation will not continue to be deliberately ignored.
Thomas Tham’s Photography FaceBook Page:
Mr. Goh Kim Hui, President of The Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS), was the guest of honour at the launch on 31 May 2013.
Exhibition: 1 – 18 June 2013
At The Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS)
30 Selegie Road
Selegie Art Centre