Jordan Photo Camp - Day 1
We just finished the first day of our Photo Camp in Jordan with National Geographic.
International Medical Corps conducted one of these two years ago with NatGeo for refugee kids from Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who were living in Uganda.
This time, we’re working with Iraqi and Palestinian kids living in Jordan, along with vulnerable Jordanian youth.
There are about a million Palestinian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in Jordan, so the strain of this population influx is profound. And for these kids, who have all witnessed violence, many having lost one or both parents, an art therapy project like this provides a much-needed window into their world – for them and for us.
Having previously done the same project in Africa, I am struck by the contrast between the cultures of kids there and the kids here in Irbid, a populous town in northern Jordan with a distant glimpse of the West Bank. The 20 children we worked with today, ages 12-19, are urbanites. All had experience with cameras; they’ve either used one or own one. So they were relatively quick to grasp the technology. They’re also not as shy and reticent about taking photos as the kids were in Uganda.
Then there are the young girls. As a woman and a semi-professional photographer, it is difficult for me to watch a young girl whose cultural mores make her reluctant to push the physical envelope required from photography – crouching down to get a great angle, sticking the lens close into the face of a male shopkeeper, maneuvering herself aggressively around someone to get the shot. For one girl named Ayat, I hesitate to push, knowing I need to respect the way she’s been raised as a female in Muslim society. And yet, something interesting happened when I, the pushy instructor, left Ayat alone to do her thing. Away from my gazing, judgmental eye, she started maneuvering around others, taking more shots, finding interesting angles. I can’t wait to see the images she captures as the 3-day workshop unfolds.
Tomorrow, we will go out into their home environments again to shoot more photos. Then, we’ll come back to the Child Protection Society center to sit with the children, the photographers and a team of mental health experts and let the children tell us the stories behind the photos they took.
This is always the most powerful part for me: sitting with the kids to review their photos – stunning, heartbreaking, joyous portraits of their lives – and hearing the stories of behind the images.
Over the next 10 days we’ll be working with 60 kids in Irbid and in East Amman at the Queen Rania Center. When the workshops are over, we’ll have sorted through probably around 20,000 images. Each student will help us choose their two favorites for a closing-day exhibit in Amman, with subsequent exhibits around the world. The students also will receive a few prints of their photos and a CD with all of them.
But just as important, one of our partners on the project, VisionWorkshops, has donated cameras for us to keep at the centers so the kids will be able to continue their photography and storytelling after the workshops end.
I often think back to the kids in Uganda who participated in Photo Camp there. Kids like Theo, Joyce, Andre, Mapendo and Ester. I wonder where they are and how they’re doing. One corresponds with me quite often. She is now 18, still struggling to survive in the refugee settlement where she has now lived for many years. She tells me she still takes photos with our cameras and that it’s still important to her that others know her story. We have shown the Photo Camp Uganda exhibit at schools around L.A., and have sent books of photos and letters from the L.A. students to the Uganda students so they can share their lives with each other.
I am very aware that once I leave – whether it’s Uganda or Jordan - these kids’ stories will continue to unfold and they will continue to need an outlet for expressing themselves and sharing their experiences.