In 2014, Reuben Teo and his wife Fann Saw travelled to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a holiday. With its ancient temples, scenic lakes and vibrant pace, the ancient location was inspiring to Teo, who is a keen photographer.
While waiting to capture the sunset one evening, the couple and their Cambodian friend, Kimleng Sang, started chatting with some children from a nearby village who were curious about the foreigners in their midst.
“I picked up my camera and started taking photographs of them. After every shot, they would run to me, climbing on each other, eager to see their images on the screen. I have never seen such excitement over a photograph.
“Kimleng explained that most people in villages don’t own photographs of themselves. Seeing themselves on the screen is the closest they will come to having a photo of themselves.
“He also related the story of an old nun he’d encountered while photographing the temples at Angkor. The elderly lady asked if he could take her photo because she really wanted to own a photograph of herself before she died. That story haunted us,” Teo, 31, shares.
The joy and excitement on the faces of the Cambodian children kept playing in their minds long after they returned home.
“We have thousands of photographs of ourselves and most of the time, we don’t even give them a second glance. But the photos meant so much to those children. Photographs are a luxury for them,” shares 28-year-old Fann.
The two decided to return to Siem Reap to offer their skills to the community. They initiated My First Selfie, a project to give each child a free framed portrait of themselves.
They raised funds among their family, friends and good Samaritans and managed to give 600 children from three rural villages framed photos of themselves.
They also bought water filters for 28 families and books and stationary for some 600 children from two village schools.
“The look on their faces when we handed out their framed photos was priceless. They scrambled to get their photos and when they did, they just stared at it with wide grins. Some hugged the photos tight to their chest and ran to show their family and neighbours. It was humbling to see something so small bring so much joy,” says Fann.
This year, Teo returned to Siem Reap in October to take more photographs, this time of the elderly and their families. He was joined by a friend from Perth, Shuen Kuan, who also wanted to play a part in the inititative.
“Unfortunately, the lifespan for rural Cambodians is very short and there weren’t a lot of elderly people to take photos of. We went to about six villages,” shares Teo.
They also bought 222 water filters and helped install six water pumps for the villages.
“Water supply is a problem for rural Cambodians and most villages rely on rainwater or walk miles to the nearest river or lake for supply. We hope that these pumps will make their lives a little bit easier and with the filters, they can have clean water,” says Teo.