Even after extending my stay in Lebanon, I decided that there wasn't enough time to gather and articulate accounts from all of the various refugee and local populations affected by war. 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. For now, I chose to focus the majority of my remaining stay on Syrian children living in refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley.
Working previously with the Kayany Foundation and its staff was such a positive experience that I was eager to continue the collaboration. I've spent most of the past week working out of their facilities near the Lebanese-Syrian border with Art Therapist Myra Saad. They graciously opened their doors once again and facilitated additional art based interviews with children living in the adjacent camps.
Despite cold and rain, the children with whom we worked were warm and receptive. Credit again goes to Myra for making the interview process so positive and affirming to the boys and girls that participated. The resulting artwork revealed more personal accounts of hardship, many difficult to see.
The drawing below, made by a little girl, shows a house being destroyed by a tank and airplane. Next to it are her brother and younger sister who was killed, symbolized by the crying eye on her chest. At the bottom of the page is the "bird of Syria" laying dead.
Below is a drawing made by a boy, showing him leaving a world that is filled with tanks and soldiers and flying to Qatar. He wished he could have stayed there instead of coming to the refugee camp in Lebanon.
I spent three days photographing in and around the refugee camps, doing my best to articulate the children's experiences with locally found toys. With many children too young for school (and bored out of their little minds), it was more than a little challenging to stage photographs around their tents. Myra and I ended up with a large audience everywhere we went.
This was in the remains of an unused UNICEF tent, slowly being consumed by harsh weather and local goats.
In between shots, we'd retreat back to the gates of Kayany's school and wait a little for the children to dissipate. I made an impromptu Conga line on the way that quickly fell apart when a camera was pointed at the boys and girls. Hamming it up for the lens trumps all.
It didn't take long to realize that shooting within the confines of the camp was too disruptive and slow going, so Myra and I moved a short distance away to a patch of land filled with debris and farmland in-between two tent encampments. There were spots just hidden enough to keep the youngest children unaware of what we were doing. We recreated some of the more graphic accounts there.
A pile of broken bricks and other debris, an appropriate stand-in for destroyed neighborhoods.
I'm speaking and presenting a preview of the resulting work later today at the American University of Beirut. Looking through the photos, I'm extremely proud of the results and eager to share them with the children. The timing is such that it may be up to Myra to do so on my behalf, but I look forward to hearing the reactions of the boys and girls who shared so much from their lives.
Huge thanks again to Myra Saad, the Kayany Foundation and its staff, the children that participated, and everyone residing within the camps for welcoming our presence and production.