The Most Important Picture of Syria: Children Explore Life in Refugee Camps Through Pictures and Prose
by Brendan Bannon
In 2014–15 I taught photography and writing to Syrian refugee youth in Lebanon and Jordan.
The children had fled a country undone by war and littered with carnage: Syria. They lived with memories of chaos and loss. Some of their parents had been killed in Syria, while most of the students still had family trapped in various locations across the country. Most had lost friends and classmates.
One girl carried the names of 67 people who had died. They were written on a small tattered scroll that she fit inside a bullet casing she found. She unrolled the scroll occasionally to remember or add another name.
My students lived in refugee camps and among informal settlements in Lebanon and Jordan. They had left conventional lives behind in Syria and struggled to find a sense of belonging and hope in camps surrounded by other exiled people. Mostly, however, they struggled to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter because they lived in donated tents and prefabricated metal containers.
I selected this group of images because they represent powerful ideas about home that people carry with them. Each photograph taken by a child, and the description that follows, depicts the conditions of life in the refugee camps.
The children’s reflections were always filled with self-awareness and often distinguished by surprise and irony. The thing that I remember most is that they were also infused with compassion, tenderly expressed by Hani Al Moulia:
“The fence and people are woven together. Fences are the fabric of our lives.”
The project was made possible with support from exceptional course assistants and translators, often refugees themselves. The workshops were sponsored by the UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).