Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

07 February 2007

Unbearable Truths

Louise and her brothers from the Channel 4 documentary 'Age 12 and looking after the family'Age 12 and looking after the family was the third in a series of films about children with extraordinary lives.

Many found the story of 12-year-old Louise devastating. Louise and her eight-year-old sister are the primary carers of her four brothers with one more sibling on the way. The parents are both blind and having refused government support, rely on their daughter.

The programme drew shocked commentary – on the digiguide forum, the comments have reached 23 pages at last count, and ran along the following lines:
I have never posted a message before about a programme that I have watched, but I felt compelled to do so and voice how ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED I am with what I have just witnessed. The 'parents' are blind - not too blind to pour themselves a pint of beer and light their cigarettes tho... The filth that the children were living in, the way they were sleeping on the floor, when the bedroom got really hot - THAT IS SO DANGEROUS. These people need to have their children taken from them.
Interestingly, there was also a strong reaction from visually impaired people, who felt the programme slighted the ability of blind people to care for their children. Here is one reaction on the Radio 4 programme In Touch for people with visual impairment:
As visually impaired people my wife and I were appalled by the portrayal of the couple with visual impairments. They were perhaps emotionally damaged, they were arguably lazy but to suggest that their dependence on their older children had anything to do with their sight is an absolute travesty, which will probably damage perceptions of the rest of us.
The programme strongly criticised the film-maker Jane Treays for her portrayal of blind parents. Treays appeared on the programme to point out that it was about one particular family, and it was about child carers - not blind parenting.

I had great sympathy for Treays as she tried to defend her programme while expressing respect for the feelings of the offended blind people. Truth has its many sides to many people, and observational documentary can't quite present the "on the other hand" stuff you might find in a current affairs programme.
But can observational documentaries reflect any better the truth of everyday lives? "It's a huge question. What is reality? Are they different when I'm not there? I cope with it by literally making it my view of the situation. I write it, direct it, research it, and I ask very deep questions: 'What does that mean to you? What happened next? What are your dreams?' The films are like moments in time, because they are what happens on a particular day when I'm there."

From Jane Treays: Up close and highly personal (By Jane Thynne, The Independent, 7 February 2007)
What, indeed, is reality?

I asked this of myself while writing Volcano Child. The migration phenomenon in the Philippines is not going to go away, leaving many children in the same situation as Louise in Jane Treays' documentary.

And yet there are many who think open discussion of migration’s social cost is not only an insult to the sacrifice of Filipino migrant workers who prop up the country’s economy to the tune of US$12 billion – more than aid and foreign investment.

Besides, we are sensitive folk, we Filipinos. Recently, I caught the screening in London of two brilliant Filipino films The Debt Collector (Kubrador) and The Blossoming of Maximo Olivares (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros), pictured below. Enthusiastic applause - except from several Filipinos who were worried that the gritty poverty so evident in the films would mar the image of the country.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros

This is one of the reasons why, unlike Jane Treays, I have taken the coward’s route — setting my story in a fictional location that just maybe could be the Philippines.

Nobody likes washing their dirty linen in public.