It can be hard to feel like you have a voice in this world as a child; it can be even harder if you are a young Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. That’s why photojournalist Ramzi Haidar started his non-profit Zakira, which picked out 500 children between the ages of 5 and 8 in various refugee camps around Lebanon, gave them each a disposable camera and taught them the basics of photography. The idea came to Haidar three years earlier [via Yes! Magazine]:
In 2003, Lebanese photojournalist Ramzi Haidar was in Iraq covering the refugee crisis. Passing the time between assignments, Haidar talked and played with children who were curious about his equipment. Seeing what they saw and how they saw it, he became intrigued by the potential of child photographers to document the devastating circumstances in which they found themselves.
There are 400,000 refugees currently living Lebanon. Life isn’t easy there; they can’t get healthcare or an education, they are prevented from owning property and working in most fields, and have serious restrictions on moving in and out of the refugee camps. Suffice it to say, they live in relative obscurity, ignored or looked down upon by their neighbors.
The 500 children documented their lives for three years until their work was eventually displayed at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington D.C. Yes! describes a photo depicting “a young girl peeking through a steel door riddled with bullet holes in Beirut’s Shatila camp” with a slight smile, unaware that she was standing on the site of the Sabra-Shatila massacre of 1982. This, perhaps, is the beauty of the project, the fact that injustices and tragedy can be explored through the eyes of people who have yet to accrue prejudices or grudges. Of course, kids will be kids, meaning there were plenty of fun photos featuring ducks and grinning little boys and girls. All of the pint-sized photographers were given prints of his or her work at the end of the project and many kept in touch with Haidar afterwards.
While sending photojournalists into conflict zones is certainly important (and dangerous), I think Haidar’s experiment can teach us a little bit about new ways of empowering people in difficult situations. Too often we think only of the necessities–food, medicine, etc.–and not enough about how to help people share the complex challenges facing them. Perhaps if more refugees around the world were armed with cameras, we could get a closer glimpse of their lives from their own perspectives instead of those of foreigners.
Photo: Zakira via Yes!