In 2012 I worked for Concordia Romania for the first time when I visited my love Lena who volunteered back then. Currently I am planning the fourth trip which is very exciting – can’t wait to finally get back again. I had a look through my archive and what struck me was one repeating element – a touch.
Here is a simple collection of images I have taken over the last 4 years – seems random but the beauty of a a hand touching a face, a foot touching another foot, hugs and support is forming a frame. Something worthy to appreciate. Beautiful moments.
Nap after lunch.
I have always admired Costin’s direct and loving approach.
What a moment in the chapel.
Volunteers are an important part of the Concordia system. From the very beginning they are accepted by the children.
Always a helping, soothing or strong hand.
Most problems could be solved literally with a touch.
One day we visited the old man in Dorotcaia, Romania. Over 90 years and he still lived on his own, no family to look after him. A few times a week people from Concordia visit him, check if everything is all right and also help him with food.
But most importantly they spend time with him. Conversations, old stories, recent developments – everything is being discussed. And a good laugh every now and then. It’s unbelievable how very important a simple conversation can be. Something I personally have always underestimated being surrounded by amazing friends and family.
Tragic circumstances and events led to his lonesomeness but he still didn’t give up. He kept fighting, every day. The whole house and yard were spotless. Simple but very clean. It might sound a bit silly and cliché when a German mentions that but he was very proud of the fact.
A Concordia worker and a volunteer from Rumania visit him regularly and spend as much time as they can afford in their busy daily routines.
This is probably the most genius washbasin I have seen. In his house he didn’t have a water connection or a shower but there is always a way. A bucket with a lid and a valve, a wooden support and a little box for the soap – ready to go.
Surrounded by his memories he lives in a small house with two rooms. The portrait on the back wall shows himself quite a few years ago. Next to it his wedding photograph.
On the street we also visited the infamous area next to the central train station in Bucharest. It used to be the centre for all the homeless and drug addicts. A little hole in the earth in an adjacent park used to be the entrance to the underworld – the sewers of the city where thousands lived.
When I visited the canal was closed down, the entrance still visible but not accessible. Right next to the station a derelict building. A large group of heavily addicted people still lived there. It had a roof but no walls. It was summer and very hot. Carpets and blankets protected the community from the outside stares. But no one really cared. They were in the middle of everything but invisible.
The inside was hot, steamy and dark. Just a few slits let some daylight in. The worst imagination became reality. The rumours of kids taking drugs at a very early age, sniffing glue. That’s a sight one never forgets. To be robbed of probably the most valuable time in your life – your childhood. Young bodies with old eyes. Not even desperation, just bland indifference towards the outside world. No desire, no joy just pure nothingness. And still there were kids. With a life ahead of them.
The local community boss let me into his private chamber. He had his own little separated area and was very proud of it. Being very protective he kept always very close to me. Not in a mean way, not offending or threatening… just making sure everything was all right with his people.
The project in Bucharest for Concordia continued. After we had visited the abandoned house we moved on and visited two families. Both struggling with daily life, both great fighters. The women had to cope with the situation as the men were either in prison or not really helpful. Despite the poverty both families we visited had one thing in common – dignity.
The shared room was nicely decorated and very tidy. The mother of four struggled to come by day by day but still managed to look after her children. One can only hope that her strength will eventually help them to become independent of any help, to manage their own life and hopefully raise their families in better conditions.
The second family lived in similar circumstances with even less possessions. But yet again the will to survive, the will to keep things under control and the believe in a better future wasn’t yet broken. This all is Europe, literally on our doorstep. I have witnessed myself how much of a difference the caring Concordia street workers made. It’s not purely the financial help impoverished people need. It’s more the human touch, a conversation and the respect that every human being deserves. My deepest respect towards all the employees and volunteers who dedicate their time.
Author: Benjamin Kaufmann, Photographer, Charity, Blog
In a very good neighbourhood in Bucharest there is one special house. Being derelict it is the home to only a few heroine addicts. Together with a street worker of the charity Concordia we visited the guys. I was warned to watch out for needles and broken glass to avoid injury and also contagion. Unfortunately they all suffer from severe diseases.
After a long conversation, talking about their problems of daily life, after bringing them food and water and after we sat together they allowed me to take a few images. These two were so sweet with each other and incredibly beautiful people.
The massive garden was one big skip.
Entering the house was indeed an adventure and heartbreaking at the same time. Dropped out of society and their drug addiction forces them to live in non-human conditions. I was at the same time deeply moved by the way Concordia helped them. Mostly by giving them dignity and no pity.
In the beginning it felt extremely weird to visit as I felt we were intruding into their private space. But they offered drinks and were very welcoming which even intensified the experience.
Author: Benjamin Kaufmann, Photographer, Charity, Blog
On my trip to China we had to travel long distances throughout the hinterland of the Yunnan province. Hours and hours over bumpy roads were rewarded with stunning landscapes. Luckily we encountered many mysterious situations in the early morning when the sun made the fog disappear. Here are some impressions – silent and beautiful.
All these images were shot on a Mamyia 7 camera and film – it’s been a while since I haven’t actually shot on film. Still miss the feeling of coming home from a long trip and the excitement picking up the rolls from the lap. The first moments going through the shots with a magnifier….
It’s lunch time in one of the KangYun Foundation schools in rural China. All children are gathering in front of this tiny kitchen where the food is prepared and everyone is hungry. But before lunch is actually served the chef reads out what’s on the menu and asks them for discipline.
Finally everyone gets to queue up, impatiently waiting for their bowl.
Go! Equipped with a meal ticket they almost storm the kitchen – still in a very controlled manner. Closely watched by their teachers and the local staff.
In 2006 I volunteered the first time for a charity, the Kang Yun Foundation in rural China. An international shipping company supported the organisation to build schools in the unaccessible hinterland of the Yunnan province.
Reading about the stock market crash, the financial and military power and the general influence of China made me remember what I experienced. The organisation literally built schools from scratch and brought education to remote places. In some places I was told to be the first western visitor ever.
Comparing this to the ever fast growing economy, to the images of polished cities like Shanghai or Beijing and the news on the impact Chinese economy has on the rest of the world it feels completely surreal and alien when I look at some of these images.
Shanghai at night time when I arrived. I left to the province of Yunnan early next morning.
A classroom in the Fangyan Primary School.
Smaller children normally share one of those bunk beds.
Concordia took me to some of the most deprived areas around Sofia to show me the appalling conditions the Roma have to live in. At first glance it’s indeed not very intriguing but after a while one realises that not everything we consider good or bad might be the case for someone else. I saw such a strong and beautiful community. Certainly the government should do a lot more to improve their status and accept their way of living. But for me personally it was a fantastic experience. Again, the positive, the emotional and also the fun draw my attention and not so much the circumstances.
When these guys came along with their horse cart I was expecting a lot but certainly not one of the funniest pictures I have ever taken. It happened so quick and in hindsight I am still wondering who’s got the better teeth?
I am really proud that I was able to shoot a picture that actually did have an influence. This picture inspired one of my clients in Romania. Struck by the young athlete he started comparing the lives of the children looked after by Concordia and his own 12 year old son who is one of the most successful swimmers in Europe at the moment. Currently plans are being discussed to invite the children to take part in free swim training. Also there are plans to support the various houses with electricity – the core business of the client is solar energy. Fingers crossed that both projects will go ahead.