Opening tonight at the FCC, Dance to the Light is photographer Tracey Shelton’s latest show and looks at the beauty of dance through children’s eyes
While travelling overseas I became disillusioned with the way many ngos wasted money."
TRACEY Shelton’s Dance to the Light photo exhibition, which depicts the lives of orphans at the Sunrise Children’s Village, debuts tonight at the FCC.
“The idea we had was to take the traditional dances the children perform and take them into the traditional areas where the dances evolved,” says Shetlon. “The title of the exhibition and the images themselves evoke a sense of hope, new directions, and new beginnings for the children.”
Proceeds from the exhibition will go toward Sunrise’s funding.
Shelton came to Cambodia as a volunteer at Sunrise in 1998, saying she was inspired by an interview she saw on TV in Australia with Sunrise president Geraldine Cox.
“Why did I volunteer? I was young and stupid and I thought I could change the world,” Shelton says with a laugh. “While travelling overseas I became disillusioned with the way many NGOs wasted money.”
Sunrise, however, was different. “I liked Geraldine’s principles and her ideas behind running the orphanage,” says Shelton. “I got in touch with Geraldine, and she says I was the only volunteer she hired not through an agency.”
Shelton moved between Cambodia and Australia until 2005, when she settled in Phnom Penh permanently, working as a photographer for the Phnom Penh Post for four years.
The orphanage, which has a branch in Siem Reap and an upcoming one in Sihanoukville, houses 120 children in Kandal province.
“We don’t turn anyone away for any reason,” said Cox, pointing out that many of the orphans are HIV-positive.
The orphanage’s dance school aims to help the children’s development while promoting Khmer heritage.
“The principle behind the dance school at the orphanage is that the classes are not compulsory. Kids can choose to be involved for as long as they want,” Shelton said.
The classes also help to boost the children’s confidence.
“There are a couple of acid attack victims at the school. One is so outgoing, but the other, Thy, was painfully shy, and would wear her hair down across her face,” says Shelton. The girl opened up, though, after performing with her dance group at the Sydney Opera House last October.
“Having so much support and having so many people coming to see them – now she has her hair tied back and she is doing fantastically well.”
The orphanage also provides state-approved training in computer skills, English, sewing, carpentry and agriculture.
Seyha Ban, a former orphan at Sunrise who now studies business in Sydney, says the orphanage was immensely helpful for his development.
“Sunrise gave us everything; education, food, and shelter,” says Seyha Ban. “I believe that the poor children and the orphans, once they come to Sunrise, they will definitely get a better future.”