Overview: Lebanon & Syrian Refugees, 2014
I spent four weeks in late 2014 working throughout Lebanon, gathering and articulating perspectives from children with diverse backgrounds. Art based interviews were conducted with Syrian refugees sheltering within sight of the eastern border, Iraqi refugees who were born in exile from their homeland, and Lebanese boys just outside of Tripoli, many of whom had been exposed and even participated in heavy sectarian fighting.
For the first time, I was able to recruit an art therapist specifically for the project. Although originally from Beirut, Myra Saad had recently returned from Boston after earning her M.A. in Expressive Therapies at Lesley University, under the guidance of War-Toys consultant Dr. Julia Byers. Myra’s training and previous experience working with at-risk and war-traumatized children proved to be invaluable. Despite the gravity of the subject matter (and sometimes harsh weather outside), the interview sessions with the girls and boys were positive, empowering, and energetic. They left the sessions waving and smiling.
Myra and I first traveled east to work with the Kayany Foundation and some remarkable schools they’ve specially built for refugees living in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Situated there on land rented from local farmers are a series of quasi-legal tent encampments housing Syrian families who had recently fled the ongoing war. The children, from both middle and lower class families, came from Homs, Aleppo, and smaller communities throughout Syria. Many of them had seen extreme, personal hardship and witnessed horrific acts of violence. A few even had bullet scars and other signs of physical trauma. The things they experienced came through in the drawings, often very directly.
Due to the security situation in Syria and particular danger to western media, I wasn't able to photograph at actual the places shown in the children's drawings. Instead, I worked inside and immediately surrounding the refugee camps, often with a crowd of young, eager onlookers.
Myra and I next turned our attention to Lebanese children affected by ongoing sectarian violence. Even before earning her Masters, Myra worked with boys at the Nader Association for Delinquent Enfant Rehabilitation outside of Tripoli. The center gives at-risk and marginalized boys a chance at normalcy, often their last chance. Many come from the streets and highly abusive environments. Some have witnessed and even participated in the ongoing fighting between Sunni and Alawite Muslim residents of the nearby city of Tripoli. It was only through Myra's training and talent that the boys felt comfortable enough to reveal some of their experiences and thoughts. A burning heart was repeated in many of the boys' drawings, symbolizing their passion for things like sect, family, and country – the things they felt were worth fighting for.
Despite being geographically small, Lebanon is at the crossroads of so many conflicts that it's going to take multiple trips to represent the perspectives of Iraqi, Syrian, Kurdish, Palestinian, and Lebanese children. I look forward to an opportunity to continue the work there.
My deepest gratitude goes to all of the amazing children that participated, Myra Saad, Sarah Baba, Firas Suqi, Nora Jumblatt, the Kayany Foundation and its staff, the Nader Association for Delinquent Enfant Rehabilitation and its staff, War Child Lebanon and its staff, the Center for American Studies and Research – American University of Beirut, Robert Myers, Arne Dietrich, Amel Community Center for Refugees (Hareit Hreik) and its staff, Barbara Griffin, Tracey Eid, Robert Myers, Arne Dietrich, Sofi Jagbrant, Samo Saleh, Farj Alakrb, Paul Vester, Judith Rubin, Julia Byers, and everyone residing within the camps for welcoming our presence. My continued thanks to everyone who has supported the project in one way or another!