Shifting Perspectives: In the Refugee Camps of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley

In the refugee camps of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Syrian children go behind the camera.

This article appears in Volume 33: Collective.

When I was 18, I was given a camera. Without a doubt, it was the day I was given my voice.

In the years since, I have used my skills to share the stories of others, primarily communities affected by conflict. But I'm aware that is done through the prism of my vision. As our world becomes increasingly blinkered, I want to give people the same gift that I received: the chance to tell their own story.

I have spent a decade documenting and getting to know Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and have seen many stories go unheard. Unable to visit because of Covid travel restrictions, I acquired 40 Ilford film single-use cameras and had them distributed to a group of Syrian children in eastern Lebanon's Beqaa Valley.

There are approximately 1.7 million refugees living in Lebanon, making up a quarter of the country's population. Most have fled from the war in neighbouring Syria and are living in informal camps. Families struggle to survive in makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheets, cardboard, corrugated metal and other discarded materials, but they have made them "home".

Yet as movement is curtailed, these shelters have become prisons. Some have no windows, most have no air conditioning, no running water or lavatories. In these crowded camps, safety measures such as hand-washing, social distancing and self-isolation are near impossible.

The children of the Beqaa Valley don't have smartphones or cameras; this is a rare opportunity to see the world from their point of view. The brief was simple: "Each camera has 24 frames, use them to photograph your family, your friends, your walk to school, the things you love, your ideas and dreams."

The photos here are just the beginning of this project. My plan is to distribute cameras to children in other countries, other communities; I want to stitch together a patchwork of stories as yet unheard.

One of the things I love most about photography is that if you put 20 photographers in a room, they will produce 20 different photographs. None will be right or wrong; they simply tell us what that photographer sees. The greater the diversity behind the camera, the wider the vision for us all. To truly celebrate community, the community must create the story.

The Lowdown

This is a collaboration between Legacy of War Foundation and The Worldwide Tribe, supported by Ilford Photo, with thanks to Beyond Association. | |

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