When photographer James Mollison was asked to come up with an idea for UNICEF’s anniversary, he found himself uninspired by the stereotypical emotive portrait, he told NPR. He wanted to photograph children around the world and their bedrooms because he thinks that where children sleep at night tells people a lot about a child’s life circumstances and the child’s society as a whole.
Mollison himself knows something about this. His early years were spent in Kenya with teddy bears, then a few years later he remembers mostly mice, and later Duran Duran posters and Army paraphernalia.
UNICEF didn’t like his idea, so he decided to do it on his own. He found the children to photograph for his project when he was traveling for other assignments. He found support for Where Children Sleep with Italy’s Save the Children.
Where Children Sleep was released in 2010, but has recently earned attention because the images were a part of a projection series at the Look3 photo festival in Charlottesville, Virginia.
My opinion? Looking over these photos would be a good activity for the whole family. American parents can be thankful for the circumstances into which they were born and the opportunities that have allowed them to provide for their children, and children can gain an awareness of how blessed they are and how thankful they should be for their parents and for American society.
What you’ll see in these photos is that even the poorest American children live better than many children elsewhere in the world. But can this easily shift? Yes, it can. All we need to do is abolish the minimum wage, child labor laws, other employment laws, and government regulations — changes many in this country would like to see.
All of these images are copyrighted by James Mollison.
Kaya, 4 — Tokyo, Japan
Kaya lives with her parents in a small apartment. Her bedroom is lined with clothes and dolls. Her mother makes her dresses and Kaya has 30 dresses and coats, 30 pairs of shoes, and several wigs. She wears a school uniform to school and wants to be a cartoonist when she grows up.
Nantio, 15, Kenya
Nantio and her four siblings are members of the Rendille tribe in northern Kenya. Their home is a tent-like dome that is made from cattle hide and plastic. A fire is in the middle of the home and the family sleeps around it. Nantio will undergo female circumcision before marriage.
Lamine, 12, Senegal
Lamine,lives in Senegal. He begins work on his school farm every morning at six and in the afternoon they study the Koran. He shares a room with several other boys and enjoys playing football.
Joey, 11, Kentucky USA
Joey, 11, lives in Kentucky, USA, with his parents and sister. They hunt for food, not sport.
Tzvika, 9, Israel
Tzvika, 9, lives in Israel in the West Bank in a gated community of Orthodox Jews. TV and newspapers are banned. Tzvika shares his room with one sister and two brothers. He enjoys playing religious games on a computer.
Thais, 11 — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Thais shares a room with her sister on the third floor of a block of flats in Rio de Janeiro. She lives in the infamous City of God neighborhood. She would like to be a model when she grows up.
Anonymous — Rome, Italy
This child sleeps with his family in a field on a mattress on the outskirts of Rome.They came to Italy from Romania by begging to pay for their tickets. They can’t work legally because they have no papers. His parents clean car windshields at traffic lights. None of them have ever been to school.
Jasmine, 4 — Kentucky, USA
Jasmine likes to be called “Jazzy.” She is a pageant competitor and wants to be a rock star when she grows up. She has entered more than 100 beauty pageants and spends her time rehearsing and practicing stage routines daily with a trainer. Her room is decorated with crowns and sashes.
Risa, 15, Kyoto, Japan
Risa is a maiko — someone who has passed the test to train as a geisha. She lives with 13 women in a Kyoto tea house and spends her days practicing tea making, elocution, singing, and dancing. She has two days off per month.
Indira, 7 –Kathmandu, Nepal
Indira lives with her family in one room that has one bed and one mattress. She and her two siblings sleep on the mattress on the floor. She works six hours per day at the local granite quarry with 150 other children and has worked there since she was three years old. She walks to school, which is 30 minutes away. She would like to be a dancer when she grows up.
Alyssa — Appalachia, Kentucky, USA
Alyssa is an only child and lives with her parents in Appalachia, one of the poorest parts of the U.S. They heat their home with a wood stove stove that is falling apart.
Dong, 9 — Yunnan, China
Dong shares a room with his parents and his sisters. They own enough land to provide rice and sugar cane. Dong’s school is a 20 minute walk away. He likes to write and sing. He wants to grow up to be a policeman so that he can “catch thieves.”
Anonymous, 9 — Liberia, Western Africa
Because he is a retired child soldier, this boy has to remain anonymous. He attends a school for ex-child-soldiers. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up and he and his three brothers are orphans.
Alex, 9 — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Alex spends his days begging on the streets and makes his living stealing from old people or people sitting in cars waiting at street lights. He doesn’t go to school. He is addicted to sniffing glue and his bed is usually an empty bench or abandoned sofa. He visits his family occasionally for food.
Roathy, 8 — Phnom Pnh, Cambodia
Roathy’s home sits on a huge garbage dump and his mattress is made from old tires. 5,000 people live there and the children arise at six every morning to scavenge for cans and plastic bottles to sell to a recycling company. They usually have one meal per day – breakfast. They shower once daily at a local charity center.
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Tiffany Willis is a fifth-generation Texan and the founder and editor-in-chief of Liberal America. An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, she has spent most of her career actively working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. She’s passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics she discusses, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her via LinkedIn. She also has a grossly neglected personal blog and a literary quotes blog that is a labor of love. Find her somewhere and join the discussion.