Serhiy, 19. Protestor from Obuhiv. February 26, 2014. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind, taken from blog.ted.com
Sometimes, I feel like a small helpless part of the world that has no responsibility or capability to affect others. It’s both a scary and lovely feeling because I’m free of the burdens of adulthood. In places around the world, however, not all people my age are as lucky.
I was browsing through some blogs when this interesting TED article came up. The article focuses on photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind who created a series of provocative portraits of the Maidan fighters and mourners during Ukraine’s recent revolution. I have a strong personal connection to the fighting as I have family members and friends who were caught up in the middle of it. However, what arrested me most about the portraits weren’t the clothes or the faces of the subjects, but how young they were. The youngest one, Serhiy, was 19, just one year older than I am, and the oldest, Olena, is a mere 26. And there they stood in the middle of a combat zone.
I forget the capacity that young people have to affect world events and change their circumstances. In Ukraine, the revolution was fought carried out by lots of young kids from all over the country. Students who were studying English in school translated BBC and American news into Ukrainian and Russian so as to provide unbiased news for the masses; my cousin was one of those translators. Boys my age and older were taking up arms against an unjust government. While a horde of young adults overthrew an entire government, I was concerned about passing a biology exam. It was the youth who carried the burden of an entire nation.
In America, there is no compulsory military service. For the most part, a middle class life here is simple. Around the world however, kids have to grow up fast. In Israel, everyone is conscripted into the army once they’re 18. My cousins in Israel, instead of prepping for college, are currently learning how to hold a gun. There’s a wickedness in stealing a kid’s innocence the second they become a legal adult, but many kids grow up with that as a cultural norm. Are they ever really innocent if they all grow up knowing that one day they’ll learn how to kill someone? In other countries, there is no such notion of growing up at all. Go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance. Books such as The Poisonwood Bible illustrate the lack of a childhood kids experience. Girls are married off at age 12, if they even survive that long. Children’s lives in places such as the DRC a struggle for survival that they have to fight for themselves.
I grew up with an unparalleled luxury: the luxury of innocence. I never had to worry about where to find food, or if a bomb would fall on my house. Yet I never stopped to think how lucky I am. I’m lucky simply because of where I was born; I have no other privilege than the privilege of location. Staring at the portraits of people who’d be my peers carrying guns haunted me. Those portraits reminded me that while I may feel helpless and free from responsibility, in another place, my actions would carry consequences heavier than a ton of bricks.