I love my job. I’m not a huge fan of paperwork, though, so I’ve made sure that there isn’t much form-filling required of me.
But the consent forms we use when we take photos of children are pretty crucial. It would be wrong to use photos of children without their carers knowing about it or allowing us to display them, so I’m strict about making sure I get the right permissions every time.
And I’d like to think that it saved someone’s life, one time.
I was in Lebanon visiting Syrian refugees last month and we were driving along an open country road in Beqaa Valley when our driver said we should stop and visit some people. I couldn’t actually see any people so I didn’t know what he meant, especially when he pulled up beside an abandoned half-built building. I could only see one wall, with no roof and no panes in the windows. It was just a façade, really.
But we stopped and walked around the side and there, in the shelter of the wall, were lots of families. They were living there, taking whatever shelter they could by using half-built rooms and huddling together to keep warm during a snowy winter. They had no electricity or running water. They didn’t even have a proper roof over their heads.
And then I saw that there was another building behind that one, with a flat roof, and on the roof was a beautiful little boy. He must have been about two years old.
My photographer colleague started taking pictures of him, so I did the decent thing and tried to find his parents so we could get the consent form signed.
I clambered up on to the roof with the interpreter, and we chatted to the boy’s parents. I say ‘chatted’. I can’t speak Arabic, so the interpreter chatted and sorted out the form while I just smiled at the mum and grandma who were shelling peas and playing with the little boy.
Suddenly, I realised the mum was trying to tell me something. She took me into a cold, dark, bare room on the roof and pointed to the corner.
I couldn’t see because it was so dark and there was no lighting, but the mum went ahead of me into the corner, picked up a bundle and put it into my arms.
It was a baby.
A two-day-old baby girl. So new, she hadn’t been named yet.
With the interpreter’s help, I asked the mum if she was OK, how the birth had been and how the baby was doing.
The mum told me she hadn’t had any medical help, no proper hygiene, and had only been attended by her own mother. She didn’t have any supplies for the baby.
I just held the baby in my arms for ages, delighted at the excitement and joy we feel when a new life comes into the world, and so excited that I had met this new little person.
We stayed a while and got to know the family a bit, and then the next day we made sure someone went back to take supplies and help the family to get in touch with a doctor.
If we hadn’t stopped by that apparently empty shell of a building; if we hadn’t chatted and played with the children; if I hadn’t been strict about filling in forms and clambered onto that roof, we would never have met that beautiful baby.
But we did, and now they are getting some help.
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