Overview: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, 2016
I returned to Lebanon in February 2016, a little over a year since my first trip there, to continue focusing on the Syrian crisis and the perspectives of some of its youngest victims. I partnered once again with brilliant Art Therapist Myra Saad and the Kayany Foundation. In the time I was away, Kayany opened three additional schools for Syrian refugees, including one built with a grant from The Malala Fund, and Myra’s art therapy studio Artichoke expanded and relocated into Beirut’s main economic and diplomatic hub known as Hamra.
Myra and I spent three weeks traveling back and forth from Beirut to refugee camps situated on Lebanon's eastern border with Syria. The travelog posts below chronicle (in reverse order) the art-based interviews that remain at the core of WAR-TOYS as well as a something new that we decided to try. The Kayany Foundation provided an opportunity for Myra and I to build a multi-day workshop for two groups of Syrian refugee children from their schools.
The workshop was an experiment and deviation from the established WAR-TOYS process, meant to engage the boys and girls in more collaborative, hands on activities. Because of risks to the children - both psychological and safety - they typically do not accompany me when I photograph found toys on location. The photo seen above with the young child looking through the viewfinder is a rare exception and result of shooting something with a positive theme within the refugee camp. Anything with violence would naturally be upsetting and irresponsible to share with local children in this way.
The workshop was a way to better involve the children and refocus them on abstract concepts over actual, witnessed events. Myra created a program that culminated in the children collaboratively designing and building two city dioramas - "one "bad" and one "good" - using recycled materials and art supplies. While the workshop sessions did lead to a few specific WAR-TOYS photos as well as photos documenting the dioramas, the primary goal was to provide activities that promoted resilience and challenged the children to envision a peaceful future.
In-between (and often before-and-after) workshop sessions, I photographed toy setups in and around the refugee camps, mostly in areas just a short walk from Kayany's schools. Better knowing the children as individuals through the workshop, I felt all the more responsible for accurately conveying their perspectives. In the resulting work, I recreated the children's accounts of actual events – barrel bomb attacks and entire neighborhoods destroyed – as well as more abstract elements related to the trauma they experienced – ghosts of dead parents and fears of the war following them to Lebanon.
I'm indebted to the children for sharing their perspectives and giving me the opportunity to witness the results of their time with Art Therapist Myra Saad. As always, Myra gets my extreme gratitude not just for organizing and running these sessions, but also for helping with the production of the photographs. With absolute professionalism, she endured wind, cold, rain, and some very long, challenging days.
My deepest thanks goes to the Kayany Foundation and its entire staff as well as Nora Jumblatt, Aida Shawwaf, Firas Suqi, Bandar Shawwaf, May Mamarbachi, Raya Mamarbachi, Sarah Baba, Arne Dietrich, Ranine Swaid, Manal Bechara, Barbara Griffin, 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!