In 1989, Wendy Ewald—a photographer who has spent the past 30 years traveling around the world teaching children to take pictures—brought her cameras and equipment to a rural village in Gujarat, India. Under the auspices of the Self-Employed Women's Association, a union of home-based workers, Ewald built a darkroom in the local barber's front yard and began interviewing prospective students.
"There was this tiny kid, Pratap—he was too young for the program, but I let him in because he kept pestering me," Ewald recalls. "He was a Harijan [Untouchable], and when I gave the Harijan kids cameras, they just started shaking. They said they couldn't have cameras because they were the lowest caste. After we overcame that hurdle, the next problem was that they were illiterate. They couldn't read numbers to tell how many pictures they'd taken. I gave them pencils and papers to take home and practice numbers, but the next day they came back very agitated. Their parents had said, 'We can't have pencils and papers'—again because of their caste."
But Pratap was a fast learner: "On a class trip to a bird sanctuary, he discovered he could take Polaroids of the tourists and sell them. One day I passed his house and he was posing his family, saying, 'You stand here, you stand over there.' It was such a giant change from this kid who shook when he first got the camera."
Since Ewald's departure, another student, Chandrakant, has gone to school (a government quota reserves a certain number of places for the Harijan) and learned English. "And now he writes me letters saying he wants to be the next Bill Gates!"
From the April 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!