Ibrahim is a quiet and earnest eleven-year-old boy who hardly ever smiles. His brother Juan is a year older and one can at best guess the cheerful nature behind his timidity. Ibrahim and Juan are from Syria. Together with their family, they escaped the fighting in their home town Aleppo and came to Turkey. Now, they live in a crumbling accommodation with their mother Fatme. The mother and her sons collect plastic bottles and canisters and sell them for a couple of euros per month. Additionally, both boys work on construction sites — very hard work for very little money. The income is hardly enough to survive on.
Ever since Ibrahim and Juan started participating in Welthungerhilfe’s photo project, their spirits have visibly lifted. Here, they have the opportunity to be children again. At the photo club, together with other Syrian and Turkish boys and girls, the brothers study how to take photos with an analogue camera and how to develop them in the darkroom. “At first, Ibrahim showed an aggressive behaviour, but when we started to listen to music and danced while we were developing the photos, he managed to become more comfortable. The children soon realised that this wasn’t only about learning about photography, but mostly about having fun together,” recounts photographer and teacher Emel Ernalbant.
Studying helps to feel a little more light-hearted
During class, the children first learn about composition, symmetry and lighting. Then they receive cameras and become photographers themselves. In the age of digital photography, it is a challenge for them to only have a limited number of photos they can shoot with one analogue film. They think twice about what to photograph and discuss their ideas in the group and with Emel. During the last step, they develop their own photos in the darkroom. The process takes quite a while, involves all senses and requires patience. “I love the darkroom. It’s a magical place. At first, I was afraid of the chemicals that we develop the photos in, but I really wanted to learn how to do it,” says Juan. “When they gave me a camera, I went out and started looking for the best subjects right away.”
On most days, Ibrahim and Juan go to the photo club straight after work. “It’s really sad to see them like that. They arrive here as hard-working men — later they turn back into children who just want to learn and play,” Emel saysJuan decided to take pictures of the other child labourers, but most of them did not want to be photographed and his boss didn’t allow it either. So he started photographing his younger brother and his friends. Most of them share a similar fate. They are Syrians who fled to Turkey, escaping the war in their home country. Their parents are often out of work and do not have a regular income. Most children work to try and support their families.
Welthungerhilfe has been providing emergency aid to civil war victims in Syria since November 2012.
The photo club exists to improve the social interaction between Turkish and Syrian children. The results are positive. “I found many Syrian friends here,” says 13-year-old Xunaf Ahmed, who is Turkish. “We used to just say hello to each other on the streets, or my mum would occasionally help out Syrian neighbours. But now we’re really friends,” she continues. The four Syrian girls Sevin, Fatma, Hewa and Raperin agree.
The photo club is part of a larger project in which Welthungerhilfe – with the support of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) — works on improving the interaction and integration of Syrians into Turkish society. In two community centres, in Istanbul and in the Mardin province in the southeast of Turkey, Syrian and Turkish families can come in for legal and psychological advice. Health courses, computer classes and cultural and sporting activities are also offered.