Friends International has launched a photo contest for professionals and amateurs alike to submit images of what they think is the ‘best of Siem Reap.’
The winners will be unveiled on November 27 at Marum restaurant during a launch for a new exhibition featuring photos taken for Friends’ 2008 Think! campaign, addressing the thorny subject of tourists giving money to street children.
The exhibition will continue until January 31, and the winners will also have their photographs displayed alongside those of the provocative French photographer, Pascal Colrat, whose work in this exhibition explores the street children conundrum.
There are also prizes including dinner for two at Marum, as well as gift cards.
Participants may submit one photo each, to be judged online by the public who can like them on the Marum Facebook page. The images must be unique, appropriate for all audiences, and not have won a photo competition before. Participants need to be 18 or over, and have a valid email address.
There is a powerful irony in the juxtaposition of images celebrating the best of Siem Reap, a town to which a flourishing tourism sector has brought many benefits, beside those seeking to highlight one of that sector’s most egregious effects, the impact upon children.
The continuing attraction of street work, which keeps children out of school and exposes them to risks such as drugs, sexual abuse, trafficking and simple neglect, is assured by the ingenuous kindness of tourists who buy the trinkets, books, milk, and other objects the children are selling.
Seeking to address this issue for the Think! campaign, Colrat created arresting photos that are immediately comprehensible to a range of nationalities.
“I used simple images and objects associated with the world of childhood, like dolls and baby chairs,” he said. “I wanted to have the maximum effect on tourists so that they wouldn’t forget that giving a euro to a child is to keep them where they are, and exposed to numerous risks.”
The campaign has been effective, said Ampor Sam-Oeun, program director for Kaliyan Mith, a project set up by Friends in 2005 to work with Siem Reap’s street children, children and youth in detention, and young migrants.
“Absolutely it has had an impact,” she said. “There were a lot of controversial conversations, and people wondering what it was all about. And people who were not aware at all about orphanages and these kinds of things have been learning.”
Perhaps one measure of the campaign’s success is that the number of Siem Reap street children, which Friends estimates at about 200, has at least not grown in line with the number of tourists.
“We don’t see the number of street children in Siem Reap increasing, but it’s not going down either,” said Sam Oeun.
The nature of the children affected and the problems they face also seem to be changing.
“We see a lot more migrant youth now, who are travelling alone. It is something about which we are still finding out more,” said Sam-Oeun.
A key element in addressing the risks children face is Friend’s Childsafe Network, a collection of hotels, guesthouses, travel agencies, tuk tuk drivers, community members, and others who have been trained to recognise risk and respond. The Network now counts roughly 2000 members in Siem Reap alone.
The other element is confronting the issues unknowingly created by people who are simply trying to help, through campaigns like Think!, and the even more confrontational ‘Children are not tourists attractions’ campaign.
The exhibition will run for two months.