Thali Displacement Camp ~ Aura Freedom (Part I)

Prior to coming to Nepal, I had the opportunity to connect with Marissa Kokkoros, founder of Aura Freedom International. My desire to contribute to and collaborate with Aura Freedom was strong from the moment I became aware of the organization. Their mission is to empower, support and educate women and girls worldwide through grassroots programs and sustainable projects with like-minded organizations. Since the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, their efforts have gone into implementing a roving Female Friendly Space (FFS) that travels to various displacement camps where women can go to report incidents of violence, seek services, be referred to medical or trauma counseling, attend awareness workshops and experience empowerment and safety.

On September 17th, I traveled with a small team from Aura Freedom and one of their partners, Apeiron, to photograph the FFS in one of the displacement camps in Thali, Kathmandu. 

Stepping out of the sun into the stone building in which several tarps and tenting were set up as temporary housing within the camp, my eyes took a few moments to adjust to the darkness within. As I tread forward on the dirt floor, my body was engulfed in a stagnant heat far beyond that of the sun outside. Within minutes I was soaked through from the humidity within the stone walls. The heaviness of the air almost unbearable, I wondered how those in the camp were able to sleep through the night in such conditions. 

As I was granted time to wander within the maze of tarps, clothes hanging on the ropes lining the corridors and doorways to semi private rooms with families’ belongings piled in heaps and disarray among every corner, my heart grew heavy. As children peered at me around corners of the tarps, smiling at me, curious and vulnerable before my camera lens, my heart grew heavier still.

It didn't feel quite real to be an observer in such a place, to be someone passing through ~ I felt a palpable awareness that I may never understand or relate to what the people under this roof were going through. 

Suddenly, a boy of two or three years old wandered to me as I crouched with my camera in contemplation. His small hands went to my knees as he crouched close towards my lap, and there we sat and stared into one another's eyes, time standing still as I poured sweat, smiling at him as though trying to convince him and myself that this was all ok. Breathing slow, my camera went down.

He reached over and held my hand ~ held it and did not let go.

My heart swelled, my eyes filled, overwhelmed with love for this boy as I held his hand tightly, smiling and staring into his gaze, unwavering, and wanting to take him into my arms and give him everything. A home, a way out of the camp, a secure place to sleep with his family’s belongings not piled up in the corner of a room that felt more like an oven than anything else. 

I wonder what his understanding is of this place, or if he will remember it down the road. I wonder where he will end up, or how long the camp resources will last. I wonder how long he will be here within these walls. I wonder if he will be 'ok' ~ whatever this means.

These are the questions I continue to ask myself tonight as I hit publish on this post.