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High school students photograph the elderly

Update: September, 01/2017 - 10:01
A tofu pudding seller featured in the exhibition. The high school student, Lê Mạnh Linh and his friends found a new, profound way to connect with the elderly.
Viet Nam News

Hồng Vân

With the hope of narrowing the gap between the elderly and the young, high school student Lê Mạnh Linh and his friends have found a new, profound way of connecting older people.

The young students, who shared the same vision, collaborated on an exhibition titled Vỏ Bạc (Silver Lining), which showcases more than a hundred images featuring fifty senior citizens. Ten of the subjects are from Diên Hồng Nursing Home and the rest are senior citizens that students met randomly on the street or had known before.

The exhibition opened for the public at 45 Tràng Tiền Street last weekend, receiving more than 400 visitors.

The idea came to Linh when he paid a visit to the centre for elderly and disadvantaged people, bringing along donated items like clothes, cushions and mats. Linh expected to see smiling faces when he handed out the items, but was dismayed that the reception wasn’t what he was expecting.

“I was quite surprised realising that the elderly people at the centre were very indifferent and almost emotionless when we brought the donated items,” said Linh.

The young students, despite the heat of August, came to Diên Hồng Nursing Home and wandered the street of Hà Nội talking to senior citizens. — Photos courtesy of Young4Old

When Linh spent some time talking with them, they began to open up.

“They said to me that the initiative of giving donated items to people here is somehow ‘shallow’. What people in the centre, especially the elderly, are hungry for is the opportunity to talk and share with others, not material things,” said Linh.

With experience in community work, Linh gathered another dozen students from Hà Nội high schools to launch the Young 4 Old, a non-profit project aimed to strengthen the bond between the elderly and the youth, offering young people an opportunity to develop a deeper and broader idea of life as an older person, as well as help improve the health and diet of the elderly involved.

The 15 high school students, divided into four working teams of Executive, Finance, Communication and Media, spent one and a half months preparing for the first programme of the Young 4 Old project - an exhibition featuring the life of the elderly.

The young students, despite the heat of August, came to Diên Hồng Nursing Home and wandered the streets of Hà Nội to talk to, interview, share with and photograph the elderly.

“It is very sad that people in the nursing home do not have many chances to talk with the young. Sometimes they miss the voice of children so much that they have to turn on the television to hear the voices they miss. When we came to do our project, they were very happy, they could talk to us for hours,” said Linh.

“Through conversations with the elderly, we understand that deep inside are simple little joys, the stories they want to share and passions from their own childhoods. Young 4 Old wants to bring the audience a picture full of colour about the inner feelings of the elderly.

The Vỏ Bạc (Silver Lining) exhibition, organised by the Young 4 Old organisation, showcases more than a hundred images featuring the faces and lives of the elderly. — VNS Photo Hồng Vân

“We want to convey the message about the need for sharing, understanding and compassion as well as the connection between generations in today’s society,” said Linh.

Silver Lining depicts the white hair of the elderly. Silver (white) is the colour of time passing by, the colour of the experience and the colour of their whole life devoted to families or careers. It is the treasured ray of colour that we want to highlight in our exhibition.

“There were several memorable moments and also difficulties we shared, like going to the Department of Culture and Sports to ask for permission, or showing a granny in Diên Hồng nursing centre how to take a selfie. But the most important and memorable ones were when we listened to the stories of the elderly, those that we may meet almost everyday but never had the chance to listen to,” said Linh.

“Through their stories, we learned a lot more about history, life, and people as well as manners and behaviour,” he added.

The exhibition features photographs, grouped in three spaces – Hoài niệm (Nostalgic for the past), Tâm tư (Inner Feeling), Ước mơ (Wish), which are equivalent to the three stages: past, present and future of the characters featured.

In the Hoài niệm space, stories of the previous generation are told – a veteran treasuring the moment when he had the honour of meeting President Hồ Chí Minh, an old woman nostalgic of the past when she worked as a diplomat, travelling to different parts of the world, or those who experienced the brutality of wartime and societal changes.

With the Tâm tư space, audiences can feel the pride of a retiree who has continued his passion for painting, making art from his childhood amidst the ravage of war to the time he retired.

In Ước mơ space, audience can feel the affection that the elderly reserve for their family – wishing children will perform well at school, their parents earning good money and good health for all.

“The hustle and bustle of life seems to make the gap between me and previous generations wider. Meanwhile, my grandparents live in the countryside so we just see each other a few times a year. The images and stories here help to give an insight about the life of the elderly and somehow reminds me of my childhood with my grandparents,” 24-year-old Phạm Thu Thủy, from Hà Nội, said.

The pictures have all been made by students, who have a strong passion for photography and haven’t attended any formal classes on photography. Images range from portraits to close-ups, giving audiences the full story through visual language.

“By October 1, the national day for the elderly, we plan to organise an event where grandparents and their kids can paint and take part in different activities together and hold talks on health and nutrition for the elderly,” Linh said. — VNS

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