Behind the Lens: Stories from the Road by Vitamin Angels’ Videographer

By Charles Chen

Charles Chen, our lead videographer shares some of his experiences from the nearly 25 trips with us to 15 countries since 2013.


I was 19 years old.

I had just started working as a filmmaker. Most of my assignments were travel based where I would be sent to different places around the world to make a wide variety of films.

Like many 19 year olds, I was angsty and clueless.

All I knew was I had some filmmaking skills and was young and able. While everything seemed perfect, something felt missing and I didn’t know what it was.

I kept thinking, there has to be more to it than this.

It wasn’t until I was invited to go to the Andes in Peru to make a documentary for Vitamin Angels, that I realized I had it all wrong. It had nothing to do with filmmaking. It had everything to do with who I’m making the films for.


 

This is Sonia. She lives in a roadside slum with her family in Kolkata, India.

She is the only recipient of Vitamin Angels’ vitamin A and deworming in her family. Her oldest brother Raj, who is blind in one eye due to vitamin A deficiency, makes Sonia the center of his life because he believes that Sonia has the biggest chance of having a life outside of the slum, because she’s the healthiest out of them all.

To Raj, Sonia was perfect.


 

This is another slum in Kolkata, located at one of city’s dump sites. 

Initially, all I saw was a mountain of garbage. After spending some time there, I learned that the kids would fly homemade kites on the top of the massive garbage pile and find recyclables for their parents to sort through and resell.

It’s not a dump site. It’s a playground for the children and a source of income for the parents that live there.


Isabela brought her children to a Vitamin Angels’ distribution near Antigua, Guatemala. She brought her daughter and her son (not pictured) for a dose of vitamin A.

It was a busy day and she was at the very end of the line. After 4 hours of waiting, it finally got to her turn to get her children dosed.

Unfortunately, Isabela's boy got startled, started crying, and refused to get dosed.

After numerous attempts and trying all the tricks they had up their sleeves, the health workers and Isabela had concluded that they were not able to dose the child safely and had to pack up for the day.

Despite the disappointment, the mother smiled, thanked everyone, held her boy’s hand, and walked away with her daughter on her back, and her boy next to her.

After witnessing the whole thing, I was choked up for the first time in years.

It wasn’t because the boy didn’t get the dose of vitamin A that costs half of a quarter. It was seeing her wait half a day, do everything she could, and still have the strength to be a perfectly composed and loving mother by the end of it.


These two are residents of a batey/settlement in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Their parents are migrants that moved to a sugar cane farm settlement in Dominican Republic in order to provide for them.

While these two girls were having a blast being photographers, their mothers were 15 feet away sharing their thoughts and stories with the rest of the Vitamin Angels’ team.

The most memorable moment from that day was when Emily from Vitamin Angels asked the mothers what they’d say if they could share their thoughts with the rest of the world. One of the mothers replied, “When you are a woman, anything is possible.”

It was a beautiful day under blue skies and hot sun - everyone had a full heart.


 


The 19-year-old me would’ve never been able to comprehend what it takes to lead a life where I could wake up everyday excited and go to bed fulfilled.  It has nothing to do with what job I have and has everything to do with who I work for.

I work for kids like Sonia, whose health means infinite hope to her family. Families that live in slums, who see a mountain of waste as a playground and income.  Mothers like Isabela, who doesn’t let anything get to her from being a loving mother. Migrants who have their heads held high despite all the challenges that are out of their control.

I don’t know if I will be a filmmaker forever. What I do know is, as long as I can work for people like the ones I’ve met through Vitamin Angels, I’m happy.


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