Photos @Hammond_Robin. I spent a lot of 2018 angry. The New Year’s resolution I’m trying on this 1st of January is 'to have compassion.’ I say this as I share images that have made me mad. These photographs are from northern Togo where people with mental health issues have been chained up and tied to trees at a prayer camp. They had been brought by relatives for healing through prayer. Many had been there, locked up, for months.
I’ve photographed the chaining of people with mental health conditions before. It has often made me angry. But I remind myself of the 12 year old boy I photographed in a refugee camp in Somalia in 2011. In a tattered tent, he was tied to a stick that had been hammered into the sandy earth. He’d been tethered this way since he was three years old. I met his mother. I was angry. But she taught me that with understanding (instead of anger), I might find compassion. She had five children, she told me, and no support. She had a stark choice - she could take her son off the rope and care for him 24 hours a day - but then her other four children would starve. Or she could tie him up - and feed them all. What does a parent do under these circumstances?
In Togo, the families that allowed their relatives to be chained were not cruel - they were hoping their loved one would be healed. And while they waited for that healing, their brother, son, sister, mother needed to be kept in the camp. Perhaps, here, chaining is not an abuse. Perhaps, in places where options are few, this apparently barbaric act, is actually an act of love. I wish chaining would stop. But until mental health becomes the global priority it should be, desperate families will do whatever it is they feel they need to do - even if it seems cruel.
Maybe we should all a bit more angry that mental health is so neglected around the world, and that families have to resort to this kind of ‘care.’ #InMyWorld is designed to ensure people living with mental health issues are seen, heard and valued. One small way you can help with that is by following @onedayinmyworld. Thank you, and Happy New Year.