“Her Barbie collection comes from the dumpster”: see inside girls' bedrooms from around the world

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Cast your mind back to your childhood bedroom. You probably chose your favourite colour to cover the walls (neon pink was the regrettable choice of one writer), stuck posters of an array of bands on every available surface and bemoaned the fact that your parents constantly made you tidy up.

But whatever the appearance, our childhood bedrooms all shared one fundamental thing in common: they were always a safe place for us to retreat to after a rubbish day at school or when we had mountains of homework that we wanted to finish in peace.

And this idea of a bedroom being a safe haven is one that is universal across the world, as shown by a series of photographs shot by international children's charity Compassion.

The images, which give a fascinating glimpse into the bedrooms and homes of girls living in places as farflung as the Philippines, Peru and Ecuador, show that girls don't need mountains of expensive toys and decorations to make a room their own.

From 14-year-old Nuda, who shares a dormitory in Thailand with 60 other girls, to nine-year-old Rachel, whose mum rescues Barbies from a  dump in Indonesia for her to play with, the images give a revealing look at the everyday lives of girls around the world.

Jennylin, 17, Philippines

Jennylin’s family live in a cramped home under a pedestrian bridge in Philippines. She lives with her parents and two brothers inside a tiny room, with just enough space for a double-decker bed, one table and two cabinets. 

Her family of five can’t be in their home at the same time and can’t stand up straight whilst inside. There are no windows or back door, so the house is always dark. Except when the siblings light a candle or kerosene lamp: that’s when it’s time to study. They are careful not to use up their kerosene supply and their home is in total darkness when they are not reading or doing their homework.

Jennylin is studying to become an accountant and is in her third year at a state college. She is looking forward to her first payday when she can finally treat her parents to a delicious dinner.

“I trust in God and my family is happy despite our living condition. I consider it a miracle that we can get by every day with little money,” she said.

Secia, 11, Peru

Secia lives in a poor, hilly, community called El Agustino in Peru, where 52% of the women in the city live below the poverty line. Although El Agustino boasts beautiful views of the city, it is plagued by poor infrastructure and sanitation, disease and a variety of social problems.

Houses in the area are mostly made of plywood and mats. Secia's room is small but well-kept, and the walls are made of wood panels and pre-fabricated wood.  To the left of her bed is a pink dresser with stuffed animals and toys displayed on top. Her bed is covered in pink bedding and blankets.  Her window is covered by a sheer hanging curtain, from where she has a vantage point to look out over her whole community. 

Secia was abandoned by her father when she was young and lost her mother a few years ago to tuberculosis. She has been raised by her grandma (above) who works selling purple-corn pudding and jelly in the local market, making £10 per day. 

“I love to live here with my grandma and see the landscape,” Secia said.

"When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, because I want to save lives and help people avoid losing their loved ones. But if they do, I will remind them that everything will be OK.” 

Luz, 9, Dominican Republic

Approximately 55.4 percent of the Dominican Republic’s children under the age of five live in poverty. Ten percent of children between the ages of five and 14 are involved in child labour which can interfere with their schooling and expose them to dangerous situations.

Luz, or “Lulu” as her family call her, was born with one leg shorter than the other and had to wear a prosthetic leg throughout the first few years of her life. To fix this issue, for some time, she had to wear a large metal ring on her leg to help stretch the bone in her right leg.

Lulu reflected on the time she had to stay in bed after her operation by saying, “My friends brought me lollypops, potato chips, presents and they played dolls with me. They ask why I am not attending school so I tell them I had an operation and that I study at home.” 

Despite the beautiful colour of her candy pink bedroom, Lulu can become too hot because the walls are built of wood and the roof is made of tin-sheets. A couple of windows and a wall fan allow the room to be better aired so it can be bearable on sweltering days. She has framed photos on the wall and next to her bed and she likes to keep her favourite toys, including her favourite doll and a large stuffed dog, by her side.

Angelica, 8, Ecuador

Angelica lives in the coastal community of Juan Montalvo, where houses are typically constructed of dirt floors, brick walls and flimsy zinc roofs. 

Angelica’s father recycles objects such as bottles, paper, scrap iron, aluminium and copper and earns around £8 for a day’s work. This isn’t enough to support the family’s needs and Angelica struggles with health problems.

Angelica is the only child in the family. Still, her bedroom is small and crowed with a make-shift bamboo wall separating her room from the rest of the living space.  She makes enough space to do her school work on her bed and loves to draw and colour as well as playing with dolls, her friends and running.

“I’m 8 years old and I’m in the 4th year of basic education, in classroom A. I love to colour and draw and to always obey my tutor.  That’s what I like!” Angelica said.

Angelica’s mum proudly boasts, “She is an obedient child. She helps me by cleaning her own uniform and finishing her homework.”  

She also has high hopes for her daughter's future. 

“I made it to 8th grade and my husband only finished elementary school," she said. "I want Angelica to become a doctor.  As a mother, this is my dream for her.  I want her to accomplish what I wanted but couldn’t.”

Rachel, 9, Bandung in Indonesia

Rachel lives with her three older siblings (above), and most mornings she watches her parents select garbage and weigh it for their garbage collecting business. They accept any recyclable materials and clean, stack and sell it to those who are willing to pay a higher price.

Their house is filled with piles of rubbish with almost no room left for the family. They literally live among their collected garbage.

“I don’t have a specific place to study or do my homework, I climb onto a pile of stacked cardboard boxes and like to read here,” she said (above).

“Her Barbie collection mostly comes from the dumpster (above)," her mother added. "Whenever I find a doll among the incoming garbage, I will set it aside for her, for I know she likes the dolls very much, but it is too expensive to buy a new one.” 

Daniela, 10, Honduras

Daniela loves to draw and skip, and would like to become a doctor one day. Her bedroom is bright and tidy and she keeps her favorite colourful dolls by her bed.

When she was seven years old, she fell ill with severe pain in her legs and feet. After a trip to the local hospital, Daniela’s condition grew worse and she needed to be taken to a larger hospital three hours away. Daniela was finally diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis disease, an immunological system disease, and later underwent several months of chemotherapy for liver cancer. 

"Miraculously during chemo, I did not lose my hair. I was the only girl in the room who didn't,” said Daniela. “After chemotherapy, I used to feel okay and started doing my homework in the hospital bed, so I did not lose my school year. My mother Marisela brought me books to color too, so I did not get bored.”

Since August 2013, after every monthly medical evaluation, Daniela has been declared a stable patient, leaving doctors speechless.

“Medically, doctors thought Daniela was going to die when she was seven years old. Today, doctors declare that Daniela is a miracle,” her caregiver Marisela said.

Loraine, 17, Colombia

Loraine's bedroom consists of bare brick walls and minimal furniture. She has neatly hung some of her favourite belongings, including a selection of handbags, by the side of her bed.

Loraine suffers from spinal bifida, a condition caused by a birth defect where the backbone or spinal cord has not properly formed. She has been struggling with health issues for most of her life and is confined to a wheelchair as her leg was amputated when she was 12 years old due to an infection. But she doesn't let her health issues hold her back: as soon as she graduated from high school, she began studies in the medical field.

Loraine is currently going to school for a technical degree and plans to work at a mayor’s office in a town nearby. 

Nuda, 14, Thailand

Nuda lives in a boarding house in Thailand, where she shares a one-story dormitory with no doors or partitions with 60 other girls. 

“I sleep on a mattress, in a mosquito net, with my two other friends. During summertime, it can be very hot in here. But in winter, it is very cold,” she said.

The long narrow home has wood panelling on one wall with shelves and mosquito netting tied up and wrapped to one side. Piles of boxes, clothes and personal belongings are stacked along the walls.

Karlita, 9, Ecuador

Karlita lives in an urban neighbourhood which lacks basic infrastructure: the streets are not paved and there is no sewer service. There is piped water, but there are no sanitary toilets and only septic tanks have been installed. The houses are built of cane or a combination of cement block and cane.

In order to provide for their families, the men in the area work mostly in the fishing industry. Some of them even travel long distances to work far from their homes in shrimp farms, as construction workers or day labourers. The women find work washing clothes, as maids or farm workers.

Karlita's mother washes clothes for a living and earns about $7 (£5.45) in each house where she provides her services. 

Before she leaves for school each morning Karlita must tidy her room and make her bed. There are three beds in the one room with bare concrete walls, which she shares with her mother and older brother Javier, so there isn’t much privacy.  

Karlita dreams about becoming a veterinarian when she grows up. She loves all animals and she especially loves her pet dog, Blanquita (above).

Nathalie, 7, Haiti

Nathalie lives in Haiti, a country where two out of three people live on less than £2 per day. Just less than half of the population (48.7%) can read and write. One-third of Haitian girls are married by the age of 18.

Nathalie’s mum buys and sells mangoes and root vegetables for a living. Nathalie does some little jobs around the house, cleaning the pots and dishes, and also knows how to do some little laundry jobs like washing her hair ribbons. "She knows how to clean them for school,” explained her father. “In the future, I see her like a great, big lady having everything within her reach; maybe she will become a leader in this country.” 

Although education is highly valued and technically free, the majority of Haitians cannot afford to pay for uniforms, textbooks and supplies, and most primary schools in Haiti are expensive private schools. The school drop-out rate is increasing, particularly among girls.

Speaking about school, Nathalie said, “My favourite meal is oatmeal and I like going to the club and drawing and writing. I’ve learnt how to sing and participate in sports activities and play jump rope.” 

All images were photographed for Compassion UK and shared exclusively with