‘Take pictures of your “safe space”,’ I said. ‘The place where you feel most happy and comfortable and secure.’
We were three months into a photography project and this was the final homework for the Syrian and Lebanese children living in Beirut. The kids rushed out excitedly, keen to get started.
A week later, when I sat with each child to talk about what they’d photographed and why, it was as if all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.
The aim of the project was for children who have lived through fear, displacement and exclusion to use photography as a means of talking about their lives, and to build confidence in themselves and others.
When I saw that so many of the safe space pictures were of exactly the same things the kids had been snapping all along, I realised that from the start they’d been using photography as a way to focus on the things in life that made them feel good.
The things they wanted to hold dear.
The things they wanted to share with others.
One girl, 14-year-old Stephanie, had taken pictures of old photographs of Syria.
Looking at one photo of the view from her old house, she said: ‘I like this picture, because every house that you see - and even the ones that you don't - I know everyone who lives there by name.’
While she may not be able to visit Syria right now, remembering it comforts her. It’s like the photography has enabled her to step into the picture.
One of the boys, Ali, who is Lebanese, had taken pictures every week of the flat roof of his house and the surrounding view.
It was only when we sat and talked about the roof in terms of the safe space that I came to understand why he had done this over and over again.
The streets aren’t safe, there are few playgrounds, and both home and the Mouvement Social centre are full of people.
As a shy 16-year-old boy from a large family in a poor and insecure area of Beirut, the roof was one of the only spaces where he could be alone and relaxed.
Confidence on display
In the three months we spent together, the children developed photography skills they’re very proud of. They talked about the past and the present in a safe and supportive environment, with a trained counsellor on hand if necessary.
The group became close. They discussed every issue you can think of, from the different treatment of boys and girls to education, freedom, the pressures and problems facing Lebanon – and, of course, Syria.
And they loved seeing the pictures go up online for all to see.
In the final workshop we sat in a circle and looked back on the project together. Everyone was sad that it was coming to an end.
But now we’re excited about the next thing – putting on an exhibition of their stories and pictures in Beirut.
It’s another chance for the children to show the world their talent and resilience - and remind themselves of it in the process.
You can read a longer version of this article, including more about the different pictures the children took for their final assignment, on our Beirut Diaries pages.
How you can help
If you'd like to help us reach more children and vulnerable people who've been affected by the conflict in Syria, you can donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal today.