Many Syrian refugees, fleeing the war in their home country, are living in Kawergosk Camp near the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In December 2013, 20 of them, aged 10 to 15, joined a photography workshop initiated by the photo-reporter Reza to learn to bear witness to their daily lives. The workshop was the nonprofit Reza Visual Academy’s initial “Exile Voices” project, which offers photography know-how to young refugees.
Armed with cameras furnished by Reza, they studied how to look at things while discovering the dramatic impact that images can have. They also learned how to use photography to tell a story about their lives, their dreams and their sorrows.
One of their assignments was to capture images of nature in the camp as a way to raise awareness about the importance of preserving nature, even in such a tough environment.
The weather conditions in this region of the world are difficult in both summer and winter, ranging from severe droughts to mud everywhere. The refugees there still try to grow plants, in makeshift pots made from recycled bottles and cans or in improvised gardens planted between the tents.
The young refugees’ photographs display a range of insights into nature and present some of the rare bits of greenery that can be found in the camp, from an old man looking after his garden to a young boy watering plants near the temporary housing provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The images bear powerful witness to the fact that, even in such a place, life keeps growing — in the plants and in the children — and with that life grows hope.
Reza expanded the “Exile Voices” project in Iraqi Kurdistan, launching a second training workshop in Kabarto Camp near the city of Dohuk in 2015 and a third one in Arbat Camp near the city of Slemani in 2016.
The young photographers are still receiving training today and their work continues to improve. Their undeniable talent and technical progress shed light on a complex reality — one that most of us are not even aware of.
This article is also available in French.