Through a different lens: Visually impaired Syrian youth gains a new perspective

Mafraq, 15 January 2018 - A Syrian refugee boy is using photography to document the triumphs and challenges of his life in a host community in Jordan. Learning how to take photos has encouraged him to see things in a new way.

A refugee boyHasan participated recently in a three-week photography workshop that provided him with artistic and technical training. Hasan*, 15, started taking photos of his life as a refugee in Mafraq six months ago. Mafraq is a frontier city in northern Jordan, close to the Syrian border.

In 2012, Hasan and his family came to Mafraq after fleeing their home in Homs, Syria’s third largest city and key battlefield in the civil war that has been ravaging the country since 2011. Hasan’s family are among the 5.1 million Syrians who have fled their country as refugees.

The boy, who lost his right eye during an explosion back home, participated recently in a three-week photography workshop that provided him with artistic and technical training. He then embraced the opportunity to share his stories and those of his community with photos.

“Before the workshop, I had no special place. One day I went exploring and took lots of photos and on the computer screen, I saw things I would normally have missed. Now I have a special place.”

Within the Syrian refugee community in Jordan, children and youth face a lack of education and recreational activities. In addition to that, youth with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to exclusion due to the scarcity of support services and social stigma.

Despite his injuries, Hasan is now determined to take his rightful place as an active participant in his community. Photography workshops not only helped him to see things differently but they also provided him with an alternative learning space and a safe environment to feel accepted and meet new people.

“I really liked learning photography and picked it up quickly. For instance, I enjoyed learning how to hold the camera properly,” Hassan says. “I don’t feel so comfortable in school. Because of my eye, I feel people don’t accept me. Through the workshops, I gained a skill, a certificate and friends.”A yellow flower“I love photographing things from nature… But I don’t need to be in a specific place to find beauty. I could walk downstairs right now and find something beautiful to photograph.”

His family fully supports his decision to become a photographer and recognizes his potential as a youth leader. His father, who was also once a photographer and artist in Syria, laments the loss of his job during the conflict but is optimistic that photography will give Hasan confidence, a bright future and the opportunity to travel.

“Like all young people, Hasan has many abilities,” observes his father. “I want him to have the opportunity to learn because he is bright. I’d love him to be a photographer so he can see things he has never seen before.”

Flicking through the photos he has taken since the workshop ended, Hasan comments: “I love photographing things from nature… Flowers, the moon, the sea. I haven’t seen the sea in five years. But I don’t need to be in a specific place to find beauty. I could walk downstairs right now and find something beautiful to photograph.”

The photography workshops run by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) engaged some 56 vulnerable Syrian and Jordanian children and youth in Mafraq. Through the photo-voice technique, which involves photography classes and individual and group counseling sessions, the participants develop their voices and contribute to building healthy and peaceful communities.

As part of this project, an exhibition was held in Mafraq to showcase the photos and stories of the young participants. A second and larger exhibition will take place in Amman, Jordan’s capital city, in February 2018.

• See more of Hasan’s photos.

* The teenager’s name has been changed to protect his identity.