Can the bedroom of a child really explain how much they suffer?
A facebook friend of mine posted this link. The page shows photos of bedrooms all around the world. On face value these photographs are crisp, vivid, and powerful. What caught my attention was the reaction from my friend about these pictures. “…My heart reaches out to those children. It’s infuriating that some people have so much and those children are left with barely anything.”
I beg to differ that viewers can conclude that children are suffering because they have nothing compared to themselves (Americans). In Ghana I’ve seen bedrooms of both adults and kids (often times they share the same room) that resemble the photos of children in Nepal, Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. Even my old counterpart, who is college educated, lives in a shack which the inside looks exactly like the rooms of the little boys and girls featured in James Mollison’s photos.
A couple a days ago I posted a photoset of pictures including one inside the room which my landlord and his two sons sleep. It’s minimal. The boys sleep on a foam mattress with a little sheet barely spreading across it. The foam mattress lies on the bare concrete floor. In comparison, my room is adjacent to his and I have decorated it in such away to make myself feel the comforts of American materialism. Based on the physical differences of our rooms does Kwame and his children have less things than I do, of course! However, does Kwame and his sons need more things? Do they want more things? And if they do want and need more things what are those things? These are not questions anyone can answer by simply looking at a picture of people from another culture assuming they want and need the exact same things we do.
The point of Mollison’s Where Children Sleep project is to capture the life of children from their bedrooms and make us think about how our bedrooms have defined us and others. It’s possible a bare room could represent a person from a culture with values different from materialistic cultures. It’s also possible a room messy, small, and dark could reflect people that spend more time outside.
If someone had shared photographs of American children sleeping in a dark room on a concrete floor, with a dirty mattress, clutter everywhere, and not a toy in sight, taken within the US I would say that child is probably suffering, in poverty, unhappy, oppressed, in need because that is not the common living standard for a happy, healthy and prosperous life in America.
On the other spectrum, well being isn’t defined in money or number of things one has. For example in Ghana being happy may be defined by how much fufu you ate in one day, how much you’re loved by your family and the community, or whether you can go to school.
That being said, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge and reflect our own culture onto another unless we have the real story behind the scene. What may look like abject poverty and suffering to me may be joy and freedom to another.