Smile for a sack of rice

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they know exactly why they are smiling
why I was arriving at 10.30 in the morning
why they had to put on pants

and shoes
eldest sister

her little brother
to the camera light
smile for a sack of rice

mamma sold their blanket
smile for a sack of rice

“i know there is no dignity in it”
i had said
“i will try not to take your dignity”

i had said
“by photographing your suffering”
i had said

yet i am delighted when a duck
crosses into the camera frame
i am disappointed the kids aren’t ready

duck on a dirt floor kitchen
that will get sponsors
i think

so dignified
trying to halt myself
from disappearing into every


ducks on dirt floors get sponsors
will you smile for a sack of rice?
or keep your dignity?

When I first arrived in the Philippines in 2014, I just wanted to help as many people as possible with little thought for the means and consequences. I remember asking the mother of these kids if I could come down and take photos for my blog. When I arrived I was disappointed they had put on their good clothes, thinking that their regular rags would attract more sponsors.

This day was the beginning of an internal struggle between my well-meaning (yet often ego-driven) desire to help. It would be another few years before I fully realised that supporting a person’s dignity and self-actualisation will always surpass facebook-photo-aid.

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One response to “Smile for a sack of rice”

  1. […] because I already knew the answer, calculating in my head another 5 days until I would deliver a half-sack of rice to his […]