His eyelashes singed and skin blackened, Philimon, 14, is homeless and works in Ghana, West Africa at a site for burning electronic waste.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Renée Byer has spent years photographing a world we don’t often want to see - the faces of those living in extreme poverty. Those photographs and the stories they capture are part of a new traveling interactive photo exhibit, “Living on a Dollar a Day.”
“I want people to go and look at those images and immerse themselves as if that was their reality,” Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Renée Byer told CBS News’ Tony Dokoupil.
Globally, the poorest of the poor total more than 800 million. “One of the myths about poverty is that people who are poor are lazy,” Byer said. “And I have to say that in all of my travels through four continents, that that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Pictured: Sonu Bahot, 36, emerges from a sewer in New Delhi, India. By birth, Byer writes, he and his colleagues are members of the Valmiki community, the bottom wrung of the social hierarchy in India dating back thousands of years, a subcategory of “untouchable” Dalits. Because of discrimination and lack of opportunities, they work one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the subcontinent, if not the world.
Byer took time off from her newspaper job at the Sacramento Bee, to travel to 10 countries, taking 15,000 photographs.
Among them was this image of boys working at an electronic waste site in Accra, Ghana, picking through the residue of discarded computers for copper wiring or any other valuable metals.
Ayisha, 10, rests on her small bucket of metals that she scavenged at a burn site for e-waste in Accra, Ghana. She will weigh and recycle the metals for money. Along with other children, she works at breaking down and extracting the precious metals from old computers with their bare hands and magnets. With no environmental regulations, no one wears a mask or protective clothing at the site.
Ayisha lives in Old Fatima (a suburb of Accra) with a group of children who have no parents and no education.
Known as “Little Cowboys,” these child herders in Ghana, West Africa - Tibetob Gmafu, 5, left, Bidimei Gmafu, 5, center, Dawuni Bisun, 7, upper right, and Ninankor Gmafu, 6, below - seek cover from the rain as they keep a watchful eye on their cows.
Taking a few moments to wrestle as they horseplay are Dawuni Bisun, 7, and his brother Tibetob Gmafu, 5, as Ninankor Gmafu, 6, watches over the herd in the background in the Volta Region of Ghana.
At the end of the day, Dawuni Bisun, 7, uses all his weight as he works to tie up the cows for the night with a rope their father weaved for them, in the Volta region of Ghana.
“I would prefer to go to school. If you are a student you can learn much about things and expand your brain,” said Dawuni.
He said he dreams of being a President like Nelson Mandela.
Marjyama, 27, the mother of 2-year-old twin girls, has been homeless, living under a “Do Not Urinate Here” sign she made in the city of Accra, Ghana, in West Africa. She came to the city seeking work but now hopes to return to her farming village and once again be near family.
Many girls leave their families hoping to find opportunity for a better life in the city, but become exploited, pregnant and unable to return home or care for their children.
Rudra, 5, and his sister Suhani, 3, search for tea to drink at the Charan slum settlement in Dharamsala, India, where they live with their family. Two of their siblings recently died of malnutrition.
“The most important thing for me was to preserve their dignity in these pictures,” Byer said. And how does she do that? “Show how hard-working they were, to let their life unfold in front of me, and to document that life.”
Sharda Devi, 30, returns home to collect water for her family of six after working all day as a manual laborer at a construction site making 150 Indian Rupees (the equivalent of $2.23). Behind Sharda is the Charan slum settlement in Dharamsala, India, where she lives in a tent-like structure with no electricity, running water or bathroom. She will cook dinner over a small fire. One of her children suffers from epilepsy and the family can’t afford much more as they struggle to pay for his medicine.
Like many of the world’s poor, Arjun and his family of five live under the cover of a plastic tarp in the Charan slum settlement outside of Dharamsala, India. They earn their money by begging and collecting recyclables.
Three of five boys from the family of Dona Devi, 35, and her husband Kamal Singh, 50, play on a bed that occupies their entire living space in the Kusum Pahari slum in South Delhi, India. From left are Ajit Kumar, 5, Dilip Kumar, 9, background and Kuldeep Kumar, 10, foreground.
There has been a government order to abolish the slum but the people that have been living there for almost 25 years have nowhere to go.
Children are more likely to appeal to the sympathy of those inclined to give to beggars, so those who beg use children for this purpose. Worse, sometimes, as in this case, a child is starved and carried about by the child’s parent while she begs on the streets, or rented out to another beggar to be used as an object of sympathy. Sometimes these extra funds are used to feed other children. Thus, in practice, one child is sacrificed for the sake of others.
Two-year-old Sangeeta, starved while her sister sleeps in comfort, has since been helped by the Tong-Len Charitable Trust’s mobile medical clinic at the Charan slum settlement, in Dharamsala, India. But according to the World Bank, 19,000 children under the age of five die a day from preventable causes.
At the Charan slum settlement, children enjoy a morning shower, something never afforded to them before, from a solar-powered shower facility, a gift from the Tong-Len Charitable Trust.
Arranged marriages are quite common in certain areas of the world. Here, a 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh, sitting next to her soon-to-be husband, was sold off by her family in the hopes that it would bring her a better life. For young girls like her, often it does not.
Rozena, 26, waits at the back door of the brothel for clients that wish to remain anonymous. With more than half its population living below the poverty line, Bangladesh remains one of the poorest countries in the world. As in other countries, poverty, low social status, and lack of education or employment opportunities have forced women to become sex workers.
Docked on the shores of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, these families carry on all of their daily activities on small boats. At dusk, You Hai Yati, 4, washes herself in these waters. It is the same water that she and her family drink and use to cook every day.
She is the youngest daughter of Y You, 50 and Soh Nop, 40. They have seven children. None of them has ever gone to school, as their parents could not afford it. They could not read or write at all, and only one of them has had a job besides fishing along with their parents. They own no land or house - just one boat and a two-year old fishing net that they keep repairing.
Jestina Koko, 25, with her daughter Satta Quaye, 5, in Monrovia, Liberia. Crippled since the age of three, Jestina depends on her arms to lift and drag herself. She survives by doing laundry for others, selling cookies on the street, and begging. Both of them suffer from malaria.
She wishes for a wheelchair, a private room to live in, and for her daughter to go to school. They sleep in the hallway of a home that has no electricity, toilet or running water. They own nothing.
Barbara Alfred, 15, lives in an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. She was raped by two of her uncles and left with a fistula that makes her unable to control her urine. She has been isolated from others at the orphanage and has been forced to sleep on only metal springs.
Four-year-old Ana-Maria Tudor stands in the light of her doorway in Bucharest, Romania, hoping for a miracle as her family faces eviction from the only home they have ever had. Her father recently had a gall bladder surgery that resulted in an infection and left him unable to work. The one room they live in has no bathroom or running water.
Virgil Leanta, 60, lives in fear of eviction with his wife Stela Paun, 60, in a house that they don’t own in Slatina, Romania. Her husband has no government identification so he can’t get any financial help. Stela suffers from diabetes and gets free medicine from the hospital every month. She receives financial help from the government in the amount of 120 Romanian Lei, equivalent to $28. They survive eating snails they catch in the pond behind the house and eggs from their three chickens. With no electricity, they use candles to illuminate the inside of the house. The recent loss of their horse they used to pull their cart has been an added hardship.
Anastasia, 4, hugs her favorite pet as her brother Ion, 15, attends to his chores around the house. She accompanies her mother in the fields to work for money and food. There is not enough money to send her to kindergarten in the rural village of Fintinita, Moldova.
Following the death of his father, Alvaro Kalancha Quispe, 9, helps his family survive by herding. He opens the gate to the stone pen that holds the family’s alpacas and llamas each morning so they can graze throughout the hillsides during the day. He then heads off to school, but must round them up again in the evening in the Akamani mountain range of Bolivia in an area called Caluyo, about an hour from the city of Qutapampa.
In this part of the world, the highlands of Bolivia, approximately 13,000 feet above sea level, residents live in homes with no insulation, no electricity, and no beds. Their water comes from streams that run off the snow-covered mountains.
Manuela Illari, 45, center, is helped by her two daughters, Berta Huanca Illari, 1, and Nora Huanca Illari, 11, while working in the potato fields in exchange for food to feed her family and animals in Santiago de Okola, Bolivia. Nora goes to school in the morning and then comes to work in the fields until sunset, watching her little sister and sharing the farming duties with her mother.
Nora Huanca Illari, 11, tosses potatoes to her mother, Manuela Illari, 45, as they farm land in a field outside of Santiago de Okola, Bolivia.
Pooradej Kaenatip, 18, is one of a group of homeless children sleeping on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, many of who are addicted to sniffing glue in order to suppress their appetite and in some ways psychologically escape their circumstances. They survive on the streets by nearly any means necessary, but are more often victimized by others.
On a hillside overlooking the city of Huaycan, Peru, sit three boys who await their mother’s return home. Their mother, a victim of domestic violence, sings on the street and in buses to try to make a living and provide for them, yet not even the 10 x 10-foot makeshift shelter they live in is theirs.
The number of people living this way is actually dropping; it’s down more than half since 1990, thanks to foreign aid and new investments in health and education. And many who have extended help were inspired by Byer’s photographs. Of course, there are still millions out there who aren’t as lucky, which Byer hopes to change … one photo at a time.
For more info:
Exhibit: “Living on a Dollar a Day” now at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky.
“Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor” by Thomas A. Nazario, with photographs by Renée C. Byer (W.W. Norton)
Follow Renée Byer on Twitter and Facebook
How you can help (The Forgotten International)