ROWEN + SARAH

I was given an opportunity to work with a migrant family in one of the notorious red light districts in Hong Kong. At the time, I was doing social work and I'd volunteered to tutor their kids for free.

I met Rowen and Sarah for the first time in April 2016. When I first arrived at their home, the police was banging on the door downstairs.

You see, they lived right above brothels. That got me started on documenting them daily.

My simple, focused intention was to photograph them in hopes that they can remember who they were, and where they began during their formative years of childhood. I had grown attached to them emotionally, and I was concerned about them growing up living in those difficult conditions.

Their parents hail from Nepal and set out towards a life in Hong Kong. Father works during the day while Mother works the night. Due to the limited family income, they can really only afford to rent a place in a red light district. The parents had been applying for public housing for over four years by that time, and they still have yet to receive any confirmation.

They work hard. They work so hard - all for a safer place for their children. I hope through these pictures, that the children may one day look back and know where they've come from. 


All photographs 2016–2017 (ONGOING) © Olivia Lala. All rights reserved.

Sarah tries to scare me, but I am actually scared by the situation she lives in.
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When the sun set, this area starts to get busy.

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Everyday Sarah, (age of 4) walks this stairs.

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This is one of the posters Rowen and Sarah see everyday downstairs their home.

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Rowen & Sarah fight and the books get throw out, they are the only children live in the building 

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Rowen says he sees rainbow on the window, he thinks it is beautiful. It is actually the neon lights from outside.

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Many tourists like to visit the area where they live. 

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Sarah is 4 year old, but she already forced to read and write Chinese by mother. It is not easy.

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"I am crazy" Rowen said. But Rowen is not.
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Sarah gets contented easily, she was happily showing me her new sunglasses.

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Summer time, it gets tough because they can't afford to go outside. So, they fight often to play with mother's cell phone.
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"In summer, I take care of them during the day because they don't have school, night time I go clean dishes in a hotel to make more money. I sleep 2 to 3 hours only." - Rowen & Sarah's Mother
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Mother told me sometimes she just sit in the corner in the room and cry. She feels really helpless, due to her very limited education and children don't listen to her. 

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They went to Ocean Park together as a family trip for Christmas.
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"When it gets dark at night they are not allow to go outside because there are many drug addicts outside our door." Mother said.
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Grandmother has passed away, got hospitalised, and all living far away. And the only way to see them are on the phone because they can't afford to fly and see grandmother before she passed away.

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Rowen had a piece of the chocolate I handed him, bitter feeling came after the sweet. Rowen was quiet and he looked into my eyes. Said to me, "I want to be a Policeman so I can protect my family." That moment I will never forget.

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"Lily is haunted!" Rowen said.

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Mother really hope that kids can do well in school, just like any other Chinese parents.
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"I don't know how to teach them, they don't listen to me!" Mother said 

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The family really hope they can live in somewhere is more safe for the children.

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As a tutor, I notice Sarah's Chinese language skill is good, because she started to speak and practice Chinese language since she was K1. The teacher suggests to the mother to enroll her to a specific primary school. Because there are more ethnic minority there, and the Chinese language they teach in school is not compatible with the standard.

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Mother is trying to apply to a "very good" primary school in Hong Kong. But when the mother arrived at this school, the school staff addressed the mother as "maid", and refused to give each of them a ticket to get in. The teacher responded "there are no non Chinese student here." and refused them.

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