Being Born in a Refugee Camp
- Gold in Editorial-Conflict / Bronze in Editorial-Photo Essay / Silver in People-Children / 1st place winner in Editorial category MIFA’s 2018
- Tokyo International Photo Awards (2017), Silver Medal, Editorial, General News
This project seeks to give voice and presence, through images, to people who are often spectral identities who live without answers to their questions. Their realities are not ephemeral, but only detached from our lives.
The project is a journey into the interior of the refugees’ space and life. It is an attempt to build an account without affection. These camps contain different stories that were born in different contexts and intersect in the common areas of these camps: markets, primary school and streets. These stories in their plurality create a certain connection, a new sense.
Refugee Camps are home today of more than 67 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. A population two times the size of the population of Northern Europe (without England) and despite this remains almost forgotten.
I want to present images that are the time of the people and also the people in their time. An invisible world. Refugees are defined for what they are not: inhabitants without citizenship; men and women without face and home; children without their own space and privacy.
This is a testimony without performance of refugee camp areas and people. It is a visual archive of uses and customs, of ways of being and living. The strength of the social and cultural aspects of the subjects portrayed recreates new visual forms that end up reinterpreting our sense of place. Images that challenge us and invite to support those efforts of change and survival.
The photo images aim to reunite us with these common people, using a simple visual grammar that reveals the value of the everyday hidden life.
Refugees inhabit the centre of strange spaces. Something that belongs to them becomes nothing and themselves that are somebody become nobody. They often live in unsafe and risky places that paradoxically are safer than their homes. They arise more suspicions than certainties and more doubts than trust. The places where they live remind them constantly that they are strangers there. Invisible borders are continuously erected where they are and where they go. Still, with patience, they try to open a future in these walls and find their way in the labyrinths of the refugee camps.
The images presented here were taken to Somali refugees in Dadaab, camp in Kenya, one of the largest in the word with a population of 250,000, the size of a city like Nice in France, or Bari in Italy.
These pictures find difficult to recreate vanished homelands, defaulting memories and ocean waves that do not return. Yet, as deprived of words, as these pictures are, they still talk. They murmur sounds of hope like the shells from the sea where these Somalis used to live. The images tell us with compelling force about the efforts from nobody to become again somebody. We need to bring the ear closer to listen what they say.
STUDENTS WITHOUT SCHOOL
Sheets, cartons and desks
Empty classrooms, days without books, classrooms without roofs and without walls. Even in these basic conditions simple pedagogical stories gradually change many lives:
Bilán, a Somali girl, lost her sight in the refugee camp and goes to learn Braille every day in a school
called ‘Horyal’ which means ‘show the way’.
Conceição brings a bottle of milk as a chair and João a plastic box in a public school on the remote
outskirts of Luanda, Angola.
Hossein, a child from Djibouti, listens to English classes from outside the classroom, hoping to collect
the 10 cents that each course costs.
Several urban refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, share the available desks and some of them listen to the
classes on the floor.
In streets without sidewalks, violent heats, fumes from wood stoves, birds that dispute branches and food, children live realities that are not ephemeral, in schools ‘loaded of emptiness’, subsisting and learning with actions, days and moments tirelessly repeated that end up creating a constant that we do not see.
One more day of learning
The walls in the school echo the words, laughter and scolding of an anonymous teacher, who after hours returns home walking, "teaching away from the lights and sounds of the tumultuous city," as Alan Paton, the writer and poet, wrote armed with pens and words revealing against South African Apartheid.
The teacher Dominic is speaking loudly, as if he was reciting a poem. He stops to punctuate a verse when crossing a puddle on a street without sidewalk. He thinks that nobody is following or listening to him, but the aluminum sheets on the roof of the school still echo his teaching and his belief. He has forgotten the Kenyan Swahili adage ‘where there are experts apprentices never lack’. Throughout his life he has educated so many students.
He believes in the repetition of words, which he likes to divide into syllables, assuming they are better assimilated by the students. Although the twilight has arrived, there is a strong light in his eyes, and as he approaches home, mentally repeat several times, ‘turn around and face your destiny that is in that doorway’. He seems to hear a student asking him, is that a metaphor teacher?
The night captures his calm voice that repeats twice ‘meta-phor’, which echoes far away on the other side of the earth.