Through My Eyes: Refugee youth get creative and connect with Greeks through photographyMany of the refugee children and youth who have arrived in Greece have endured traumatic experiences in their perilous journeys and require separate consideration. To enable them to express themselves and restore a sense of normality, the Danish Refugee Council introduced refugee youth to the art of photography in Schisto and Skaramagas hosting sites.
Three cycles of photography sessions and countless hours of experimentation led to Through My Eyes photography exhibition in mid-January, inviting Athenians to discover what life is like for refugee children and youth.
This has been a journey for the refugee participants who were uneasy at first, but gradually learned how to use their mobile phones and cameras creatively. They set out to show present refugee sites and their surroundings through the lens of young people, colored with the dreams and challenges in front of them.
Through this process, the children learned about framing, different prospects in photography shooting, they experimented with portrait and scene photography, they were introduced to video shooting and finally learned how to set up their own exhibition. During their efforts, themes central to their lives such as family, friends, cultures, and aspirations also became apparent.
It all started last winter when DRC organized the first cycle of photography sessions early in 2018, in cooperation with Karpos and with the support of the European Commission, Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO).
When the second cycle begun, it was obvious that the children between 11 and 18 years old were eager to continue learning, this time delving into the secrets of portraits following Mrs Maria Leonida and Marilena Grispou instructions. In mixed classes and with the older ones already forming a good team from the first circle, they started preparing a “family professional photo shooting” at Schisto site.
Many families from Schisto joined the one-day event and sat for family portraits which were later handed to them. These portraits are important for the families who often stay on sites for long without any tangible trace of their time there.
Massoumee, a 15-year-old participant from Afghanistan, describes her feelings. “This day was the most exciting. The fact that my own family was there to take photos was very interesting for me. I had a very good feeling (during that moment). I had a lot of interest in photography and although a lot of my friends didn’t, I went to all the classes and learned how to use the camera and how to take photographs. I am sure that I will use these in the future,” she says.
Photograph taken by a refugee girl from Skaramaga hosting site
For 18-year-old Mohammad, from Afghanistan, the sessions were also a great chance to meet other children. “This was my first experience working with others in the camp. It was very positive because we got to know each other better, see each other and had a very good time altogether,” he says.
DRC Cultural Mediator, Samira Massoumi, points out to other aspects of this project. “This was one of my favorite activities because the children stayed on track, they followed an ongoing process and gradually created a small photography club. This is usually difficult to achieve in refugee site settings,” she says.
The 3rd cycle of photography sessions at Schisto focused on photography collage and coincided with the first photography experiments of the children in Skaramagas sites under the instructions of Mrs Georgia Salambasi. Meanwhile, all instructors prepared the children for the organization of a joined exhibition. At Kipseli Municipal Market in the center of Athens, the children presented their work, took portraits of locals which they handed to them as a token of friendship and joined special effects workshops.
“During the last cycle, we also worked on the preparation of the exhibition paying attention to social and communication skills. The children rehearsed how they would interact and explain their work to locals through role play games,” says Maria Leonida. “It was great to see them take ownership of the event. They knew they were the protagonists, they felt worthy and embraced the whole process,” she adds.
DRC protection teams continuously seek to engage refugee youth in diverse activities at present, in cooperation with IOM Greece and with support from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union, in nine refugee sites across Greece.