Two years ago, Judy Gelles was volunteering at an inner city public school and was assigned to a fourth-grade class. The school was as diverse as they come with children from African American, Hispanic and Asian immigrants. After several months of helping the students with their reading skills, she felt the need to connect with them on a deeper level. Mostly, she wanted to find out their stories.
She asked each student the following three questions:
Whom do they live with?
What do they wish for?
What do they worry about?
The project turned out to be an eye-opening experience. “Their stories seemed to capture the gamut of societal issues that we face today; violence, immigration, the demise of the nuclear family, global hunger, and the impact of the media and popular culture,” she tells us. “The gray fortress door of the school became a blank slate for their words. Since the student is not be facing the camera, he or she remains anonymous. The words and images become more universal, rather than specific to that particular student.”
The biggest takeaway? “Family is extremely important to all children,” Gelles said. “They all need parents and relatives who care for them and look out for their future.”
This year, Gelles traveled to China and India to replicate the project. “I hope to travel to more schools in the future,” she says. “It is fascinating to compare the hopes and fears of these children, which reflect the hopes and fears of the adults and the culture they have come from.”