The photographer Raia Maria-Laura on her childhood in living groups: “I still struggle with separation anxiety” – Radar

November 20th is the International Day of the Rights of the Child. It’s a day we think about children in vulnerable situations. The photographer Raia Maria-Laura (24) looks back on her own childhood, some of which she spent in community groups. Saying goodbye and starting over marked her teenage years.

From 2007 to 2015 the Italian-Brussels photographer Raia Maria-Laura lived in community groups. Her mother ended up in jail and this was the only way out for her and her young brothers. In this testimony, she shares how they lived those years.

“I was eleven when I first heard about“ housing ”and“ community care. ”Although I wasn’t familiar with those terms, it became a reality for me and my little twins, who were under six. 2007 was the year that changed our whole life. From everything to nothing. Suddenly we were placed, we didn’t even know the reason. My brothers were too young to know what it meant. I was old enough to be understand.

There we were in our first living group in Brussels. It was a crazy time for us. We suddenly had to adapt to everyone. You didn’t come home to sit on the couch and watch TV. You came in, showed your diary, studied, ate with ten other children, and went to sleep. Very strange, but after a while you adjust and get used to the situation.

I don’t remember that community much. I can only remember that it was three months before we were told that our mother was in prison. Very painful. Then I knew I had to be strong and a mother figure to my younger brothers. Despite being criticized and said that I was her sister, not her mother, I took on that role. I didn’t care about the criticism. You were and are everything to me. I had to and would take care of her.

We celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other festive moments in prison

We visited our mother in prison. Every day we waited for a specific call and if we missed it there was no return call. I always lied at school. I always said my mother was in the hospital because I was ashamed. I was also way too young and didn’t want to be bullied. Unfortunately, that happened because I was the unusual one. In the end I learned to live with it.

We celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other festive moments in prison. Sometimes we had more visiting hours and spent more time with her. Saying goodbye was always difficult, but I thought I was my brothers. If I wanted to cry, I would do it alone in my room.

After eight to nine months, my brothers and I separated. They went to a parish in Limburg. I stayed in Brussels for a while because I had to finish my sixth year. I will never forget how painful it was to be separated from my brothers. A few months later I had to say goodbye to the living group in Brussels and also go to Limburg. It is heartbreaking to have to leave a group of people you have connected with.

From Brussels to Zelem. Arriving in Limburg meant that I had to adjust again. It was very different from Brussels. Different rules, different environments, different children and bosses. I was glad to have returned to a fellowship with my brothers. The group consisted of ten to fourteen children and we each had an individual supervisor with whom you could speak. My first boss was Nathalie and I was always very grateful to her. I developed a very good relationship with her, but after a while I had to say goodbye because she was leaving the community. I could fill a book with stories about the community and the guides who did a really fantastic job.

I think it is very important that children have a voice in difficult domestic situations

During the years in the living groups, I have searched myself: Who am I? Why do I have to experience this? This led to a love-hate relationship with the community and counselors. Of course I wanted a normal domestic situation, but that just wasn’t possible for me and my brothers. I found it difficult to talk about my feelings. But I’ve also learned to be more open about how I feel.

In my childhood it was a recurring theme: saying goodbye and having to start over. I learned to accept the concept, but it left me with separation anxiety. I still struggle with that.

When I was fifteen I had to say goodbye again. I was too old for the ward I was in with my brothers at the time and had to move into a group with other teenage girls. Again new people, new rules, new surroundings. For eight years I had to constantly adapt to new situations. I’ve seen so many people come and go. It taught me to deal with change.

When I left the community, I realized that everything happens for a reason. I had a very difficult childhood, but today I use my weakness as a strength. I look back positively because that has shaped me as a person. Here I draw my strength. Of course, I’ve been very angry over the years. I did not understand it. How could we go from it all to nothing? Before we were placed, we had such a beautiful life and suddenly it was taken from us. We only had each other.

I have motivated myself to believe that anything is possible as long as you believe in it and work hard for it

Therefore, today I find it very important to inspire the children who are also in community groups, who do not believe in themselves and think that they cannot achieve anything because they do not have a stable home situation. I want to be an inspiration because I recognize these thoughts. Eventually I started to believe in myself. I have motivated myself to believe that anything is possible as long as you believe in it and work hard for it.

People initially thought I was crazy and said I would end up being my mother. It was painful, but it gave me the strength to move on and fight for my dreams. I want to give these children hope and show them that there is another way. You choose which way to go. It’s all in your head, but you still have to find out. There is still a whole life after the living group and you are so much more than the label of a “living group child”. You can make your dreams come true if you only believe in yourself. That is why I find it very important that children have a voice in difficult domestic situations. After all, her voice is worth just as much as that of other children. ‘

The young photographer has already managed to win over many stars at home and abroad for her lens. After the success on Instagram and a successful exhibition, a coffee table book could not be missing shortly before the holidays.“RAIA presents worldwide” has 100 pages and is available exclusively from December 1, 2020. Part of the proceeds from her book will be donated to the Huize Sint Vincentius youth institution, the community where Raia herself stayed for several years during her youth.

Raia presents: Worldwide © Raia Maria-Laura

From 2007 to 2015 the Italian-Brussels photographer Raia Maria-Laura lived in community groups. Her mother ended up in jail and this was the only way out for her and her young brothers. In this testimony, she shares how they lived those years. “I was eleven when I first heard about“ housing ”and“ community care. ”Although I wasn’t familiar with those terms, it became a reality for me and my little twins, who were under six. 2007 was the year that changed our whole life. From everything to nothing. Suddenly we were placed, we didn’t even know the reason. My brothers were too young to know what it meant. I was old enough to be There we were in our first living group in Brussels. A crazy time for us. We suddenly had to adjust to everyone. You didn’t come home to sit on the couch and watch TV. You came in showing your diary , studied, ate with ten other children and went to sleep. Very strange, but after a while you adjust and get used to the situation. I don’t remember this community very much. I can only remember that we only after three M was told that our mother was in prison. Very painful. Then I knew I had to be strong and a mother figure to my younger brothers. Despite being criticized and said that I was her sister, not her mother, I took on that role. I didn’t care about the criticism. You were and are everything to me. I had to and would take care of her. We visited our mother in prison. Every day we waited for a specific call and if we missed it there was no return call. I always lied at school. I always said my mother was in the hospital because I was ashamed. I was also way too young and didn’t want to be bullied. Unfortunately, that happened because I was the unusual one. In the end I learned to live with it. We celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other festive moments in prison. Sometimes we had more visiting hours and spent more time with her. Saying goodbye was always difficult, but I thought I was my brothers. If I wanted to cry, I would do it alone in my room. After eight to nine months, my brothers and I separated. They went to a parish in Limburg. I stayed in Brussels for a while because I had to finish my sixth year. I will never forget how painful it was to be separated from my brothers. A few months later I had to say goodbye to the living group in Brussels and also go to Limburg. It is heartbreaking to have to leave a group of people you have connected with. From Brussels to Zelem. Arriving in Limburg meant that I had to adjust again. It was very different from Brussels. Different rules, different environments, different children and bosses. I was glad to have returned to a fellowship with my brothers. The group consisted of ten to fourteen children and we each had an individual supervisor with whom you could speak. My first boss was Nathalie and I was always very grateful to her. I developed a very good relationship with her, but after a while I had to say goodbye because she was leaving the community. I could fill a book with stories about the community and the counselors who did a really fantastic job. During the years in the churches I have searched myself: Who am I? Why do I have to experience this? This led to a love-hate relationship with the community and counselors. Of course I wanted a normal domestic situation, but that just wasn’t possible for me and my brothers. I found it difficult to talk about my feelings. But I’ve also learned to be more open about how I feel. In my childhood it was a recurring theme: saying goodbye and having to start over. I learned to accept the concept, but it left me with separation anxiety. I still struggle with that. When I was fifteen I had to say goodbye again. I was too old for the ward I was in with my brothers at the time and had to move into a group with other teenage girls. Again new people, new rules, new surroundings. For eight years I had to constantly adapt to new situations. I’ve seen so many people come and go. It taught me to deal with change. When I left the community, I realized that everything happens for a reason. I had a very difficult childhood, but today I use my weakness as a strength. I look back positively because that has shaped me as a person. Here I draw my strength. Of course, I’ve been very angry over the years. I did not understand it. How could we go from it all to nothing? Before we were placed, we had such a beautiful life and suddenly it was taken from us. We only had each other. Therefore, I find it very important today to inspire the children who are also in community groups, who do not believe in themselves and think that they cannot achieve anything because they do not have a stable home situation. I want to be an inspiration because I recognize these thoughts. Eventually I started to believe in myself. I have motivated myself to believe that anything is possible as long as you believe in it and work hard for it. People initially thought I was crazy and said I would end up being my mother. It was painful, but it gave me the strength to move on and fight for my dreams. I want to give these children hope and show them that there is another way. You choose which way to go. It’s all in your head, but you still have to find out. There is still a whole life after the living group and you are so much more than the label of a “living group child”. You can make your dreams come true if you only believe in yourself. That is why I find it very important that children have a voice in difficult domestic situations. Your voice is worth as much as other children’s. ‘