Silver Linings

With the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, so fell a part of society. Under the pressure of the dictator’s abortion policies in order to increase the country’s population to strengthen the economy, Romania experienced drastic demographic changes. By that time, the majority of the population was already living in poverty, which made it impossible for those people to take care of their many children. Newborn babies were left at the hospitals or put into orphanages. Twenty-five years after the Romanian Revolution, the lack of medical and sexual education still leaves society struggling with a high number of abandoned children and homeless people, leading to issues like unemployment and severe drug abuse.

Silver Linings is a project that follows a group of altogether around 60 people that inhabit Bucharest’s underground central heating systems next to the main train station ‘Gara de Nord’. Together, they have built something resembling a home, creating a community beyond society, when other institutions like family, orphanages or shelters have failed them. Life on the streets can be a very traumatising and isolating experience, where forced prostitution, sexual abuse and other forms of violence go unreported daily. Therefore, almost everyone living in the tunnels is addicted to ‘legal highs’, injected several times a day. As a result of the popularity of these very cheap and initially legal synthetic stimulant drugs, Romania experienced a tragic HIV epidemic in 2009: new infection rates skyrocketed, and life-threatening opportunistic infections like tuberculosis or hepatitis spread rapidly. In recent years, the EU and governmental funds for harm reduction services have been cut drastically, leaving any local NGOs and outreach units without sufficient money for services like e.g. free medical examinations, drug substitution- or needle exchange programmes.

Having come from backgrounds of abandonment in abusive homes and orphanages, these people belong to one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, yet they are subject to daily discrimination, exploitation, violence and constant public harassment. Without any essential documents like birth certificates or ID papers, many people with heavy physical or psychological problems live in grey zones, and therefore do not stand a chance to be included in governmental medical or housing support programmes.
The project derived from an ongoing collaboration with a local NGO, specialising in the unbureaucratic support of marginalised groups such as homeless youth and adults, vulnerable families or people suffering from HIV/AIDS and associated diseases.
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Yasmin Balai

Yasmin Balai (b. 1990 in Erlangen) is a German-Iranian photographer with a First Class Honours degree in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales, Newport.

Her projects are mainly based on her work as a social- and animal rights activist, with a strong interest in the representation of marginalised groups, as well as the complexity of identity and history, both as an individual and as a community within society. Throughout her projects, Yasmin works in close contact with social workers and NGOs who are involved in the communities’ daily lives, to be able to support and learn about her subjects in more depth. Yasmin’s work has been awarded and published by the IAFOR Documentary Photography Award, CNN Photos, Magnum Photos (Winner of ‘Faces of a Vibrant Economy’) and the PDN Exposure Award 2016, as well as exhibited internationally with Grant Thornton, the Ian Parry Award and the Photoville Festival in NYC, amongst others.