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Feature Story/ ICMC – Through a different lens: Syrian youth with visual impairment gains new perspective

Feature Story

ICMC-  Through a different lens:  Syrian youth with visual impairment gains new perspective

January 2018

Youth, Person with Disability

A Syrian refugee boy is using photography to document the triumphs and challenges of his life in a host community in Jordan. Learning how to take photos has encouraged him to see things in a new way.

Hasan*, 15, started taking photos of his life as a refugee in Mafraq six months ago. Mafraq is a frontier city in northern Jordan, close to the Syrian border.

In 2012, Hasan and his family came to Mafraq after fleeing their home in Homs, Syria’s third largest city and key battlefield in the civil war that has been ravaging the country since 2011.

The boy, who lost his right eye during an explosion back home, participated recently in a three-week photography workshop that provided him with artistic and technical training. He then embraced the opportunity to share his stories and those of his community with photos.

“Before the workshop, I had no special place. One day I went exploring and took lots of photos and on the computer screen, I saw things I would normally have missed. Now I have a special place.”

Within the Syrian refugee community in Jordan, children and youth face a lack of education and recreational activities. In addition to that, youth with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to exclusion due to the scarcity of support services and social stigma.

Despite his injuries, Hasan is now determined to take his rightful place as an active participant in his community. Photography workshops not only helped him to see things differently but they also provided him with an alternative learning space and a safe environment to feel accepted and meet new people.

“I really liked learning photography and picked it up quickly. For instance, I enjoyed learning how to hold the camera properly,” Hassan says. “I don’t feel so comfortable in school. Because of my eye I feel people don’t accept me. Through the workshops, I gained a skill, a certificate and friends.

His family fully supports his decision to become a photographer and recognizes his potential as a youth leader. His father, who was also once a photographer and artist in Syria, laments the loss of his job during the conflict but is optimistic that photography will give Hasan confidence, a bright future and the opportunity to travel.

“Like all young people, Hasan has many abilities,” observes his father. “I want him to have the opportunity to learn because he is bright. I’d love him to be a photographer so he can see things he has never seen before.

Flicking through the photos he has taken since the workshop ended, Hasan comments: “I love photographing things from nature… Flowers, the moon, the sea. I haven’t seen the sea in five years. But I don’t need to be in a specific place to find beauty. I could walk downstairs right now and find something beautiful to photograph.”

The photography workshops run by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) engaged 56 vulnerable Syrian and Jordanian children and youth in Mafraq. Through the photo-voice technique, which involves photography classes and individual and group counseling sessions, the participants develop their voices and contribute to building healthy and peaceful communities. When asked if it is important for children/youth to participate in community decisions, 58% of beneficiaries agreed, compared with only 53% at the start of the project

Beneficiaries expressed that the main issues affecting youth in their communities included: lack of quality education available, early marriage, child labour, lack of privacy for youth, lack of freedom and independence for youth, the community does not listen to youth’s ideas, and that they do not have anyone to support them in achieving their dreams. At the end of the program, 76% of beneficiaries believed that they could solve difficult problems and 85% felt they could stand up for what they wanted when facing opposition.

As part of this project, an exhibition was held in Mafraq to showcase the photos and stories of the young participants. A second and larger exhibition will be held in February in Amman, Jordan’s capital city.


* The teenager’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

About the author: International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC)

ICMC’s mission is to protect and serve uprooted people, including refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, victims of human trafficking, and migrants – regardless of faith, race, ethnicity or nationality.

ICMC provides protection and support services to Syrians and Jordanians, especially women and children, through its Protection Center in Mafraq, an urban area in northern Jordan densely populated by refugees. The Center offers a range of educational and awareness-raising activities, as well as psychosocial support for Syrian refugee women, young girls and children who experience difficult living conditions in Jordan. All the services provided are entirely free of charge for the beneficiaries, who can also benefit from transportation to and from the Center.

ICMC is a member of the Jordan INGO Forum. More information: https://www.icmc.net/ 


Pictures: 1) ICMC Exhibition in Mafraq 2) ICMC’s Protection Center – Mafraq, Jordan Recreational activities at ICMC’s Child Friendly Space. © ICMC / Patrick Gerber