Arantxa Cedillo: Cambodian Children at Risk
Arantxa Cedillo is one of those unique documentary photographers who has the ability to reinterpret difficult situations into work that is artistic, poignant and meaningful. Her sensitivity to her subjects and her ability to tell stories in unique ways make her a gifted seer. I am featuring her project, Cambodian Children at Risk, where she manages to obscure the identity of her subjects, yet create compelling diptych portraits.
Arantxa was born in Madrid and studied the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Program at the International Center of Photography. Her work has received several international awards such as the Ian Parry Award (2005, UK), the Kiyosato’s Young Portfolio Acquisitions (2005, 2006, Japan), the Magenta Foundation’s Emerging Photographers Award (2008, 2011, Canada), the Alexandra Boulat Scholarship TPW (2008, Italy), and numerous others. Arantxa has been widely published with clients such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Time Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, New York Magazine, the Sunday Times Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, GEO, Colors, Le Monde, Marie Claire, El Pais Semanal, Io Dona, The Australian and DU among others. Her work has been widely published in galleries around the world including the Canon Japan Gallery (Tokyo), Getty Images Gallery (London), International Center of Photography (New York), New Orleans Photo Alliance (New Orleans), Center for Photography at Woodstock (Woodstock), Toronto Image Works Gallery (Toronto), Mogliano Veneto (Treviso) and the Royal University of Fine Arts (Phnom Penh). She is currently based in Kathmandhu, Nepal, and her work is represented by Getty Images Global Assignment.
Cambodian Children at Risk it is a project produced, within the IOM “Human Rights Protection for Trafficking Victims through Legal Support” Project and funded by the Italian Cooperation.The primary concern was to present children at risk without showing their faces or any other feature that could lead to their identification, which was a very significant and creative challenge. It was done working with households and local communities in Cambodia to show the lives and livelihoods of children at risk. This project was produced in collaboration with Damnok Toek, Krousar Thmey and Mith Samlanh, and with the support of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
Malis’s family were very poor, with no rice, no land to grow food, no tools for farming. When she was in Grade 2, she dropped out of school and the whole family went to Vietnam to beg. When Malis was about ten, she decided to go back with her aunt to earn money for her parents by washing dishes. At the border, the police let her through, even though she had no papers, because she was very small.
Her friends introduced her to a family where she washed dishes and mopped floors for a month, but then they asked her to go back to her family in Cambodia. Malis went home, but later returned to Vietnam with a broker from her village to work as a beggar. Shortly after she arrived, Malis got lost in Ho Chi Minh City for a year.
A “black lady’ (who had darker skin than Malis) took her to a household in southern Vietnam, which used to be Cambodian territory. She did housework for a Khmer-speaking family, earning 20,000 Vietnamese Dong (US1) a day. Although the family did not mistreat her, Malis was afraid that they would keep her forever. The broker did not help her to go home. In fact, when her parents went to court in Cambodia to try to trace her, the broker ran away from the village.
When she was three years old, her mother gave her to another family to take care of her. When she was eight, she was passed on to a second family, and when she was 11, to a third. It is believed that all the families beat her. One day when she was washing the dishes, the mother beat her, so she ran away. She slept outside and people recognized her, so she ran away again. An NGO found her and contacted the third family, but when the mother arrived Champa ran away again. She went to a pagoda and was cared for by the nuns for a few weeks, but girls are not allowed to live in pagodas, so the monks were not comfortable with having her. The NGO contacted Damnok Toek, who took her to the Day Care Centre.
His father died after falling from a palm tree. When he was eight, his mother and sister forced him and his two brothers to go to Phnom Penh. There he earned about 6,000 riel (US 1.50) a day begging, while his brothers earned 10,000 Riel (US 2.50) washing dishes. They all slept together on the street.
Chan started working in front of the Royal Palace, but gangsters beat him up and took his money. One night, they put tissues between his toes and lit them. He got scared, and started walking around all night to stay awake. The gangsters forced him to sniff glue and use yama. He began to want to use it because it made it possible for him to work at night, and made him feel happy. A foreigner took him and one of his friends to a hotel, but the police arrived before anything happened. He decided to stop using yama.
Chan fell sick, and his sister-in-law, who sold toys in front of the Royal Palace, took him to Mith Samlanh. Eventually, his sister-in-law asked if he could live there. Now he studies part-time at Mith Samlanh and part-time at public school, where he is in Grade 4.
He came to Phnom Penh with his grandmother when he was ten because his father beat him. He collecting recyclables and helped his grandmother to sell flowers in front of the Royal Palace, where they lived on the street.
An American man met him while he was taking a bath outside the Palace. The man took him for walks, bought him food and new clothes, took him to study English, and abused him. About eight months later, the man was arrested and Kdeb was asked to testify against him. The man was sent to prison and ordered to pay compensation, but it is unclear if this was ever paid.
His grandmother rented a place near the market, and Kdeb lived there with her. But the situation was not safe because the police “cleaned the streets”, so Mith Samlanh moved him to the centre, where he lived for about six months. He now lives with his grandmother again and continues studying at Mith Samlanh.
Kdeb likes football, especially Christian Ronaldo, and likes drawing nature pictures, such as landscapes and flowers. He says, “I would like to study more, but I don’t know what. In future, I would like to be a policeman.”