10 PHOTOS WITH MOHAMAD OJJEH
"The locals told me to meet these kids. The boy works from 8 in the morning until 9 at night. If they see a police car, they will signal to each other to hide. This photo was taken while they waited for the police officer to leave. They are both 10 or 11 years old. They are street buddies. The boy and his brother sell kleenex – they are orphaned from their father. They are a family of 5 kids, Karam sponsored the boy and his siblings through our Sponsor a Syrian Refugee Family program."
"I’m walking around and start talking to her – the kids teased her about her eye. I’m not sure what it was, I think it was an infection from the water. She was upset by what the kids were saying. I told them she is beautiful, and she smiled when I asked to take her photo. As I’m taking her photo – I realized she wore the same dress for a few days in a row – I noticed that her tan lines show that this may be the only dress she had. She attended our workshop for that week after taking this photo – I think she felt more confident and comfortable with the other kids."
"All the kids want me to take their photos – I wasn’t asking to take their photos, these kids followed me to take their photos. This girl seemed shy, but wanted me to take her photo. She seemed very sad – if you look at her eyes, they seem teary-eyed. I couldn’t make her smile, I tried for so long to make her smile, she even clasps her lips shut. To me it felt like she wants people to see her photo – to see that she is not happy. Throughout that entire week – she came to the workshop, and she didn’t smile. I didn’t ask questions, because our job was to heal, not to re-open the wounds."
"Her name is Fatoun. She stole everyone’s heart when we were at the camp. She told us that she wants to go back with us to the US. She was very attached to all of us, and really wanted to come back with us. When I went back 6 months later to this camp, I found her and I printed all the photos I had taken of her and gave them to her mom. She looked so much older. Every time I see this photo, I wonder if we were able to bring her here, would she have still have that hope in her eyes. In those 6 months she aged so much, and seemed so different, and quiet. She was happy to see me, but you can tell that she went through a lot in those 6 months."
"There was one night that I slept at the camp. I was walking around and I see a mother at the bottom of the tent, and I see that she put her son at the top so he can slide down. You can see that the mother is really making happiness out of nothing – she is using whatever resources she has to make her son happy. It was a joyful moment for me, to see this mother try to uplift her kids spirits and find hope in a very difficult situation. No one saw me taking this photo – I wanted to respect the mother’s privacy, and to really focus on the boy."
"This same night that I stayed over night. I was in a hurry, trying to catch the sunset at the top of the camp. I see this little girl, and she’s running from far between the tents through a little alley. And she is running toward me to catch me. She stands in front of me and says “look how pretty I am” and she smiles, and runs back after I take the photo. She looks very happy and she is beautiful. You can see her hair, it is messy – they have very little access to water. You see behind her this trench of trash – that is sewage water. In one photo you see such a beautiful girl, in such an ugly situation. 6 months later I looked for her so I can give her her photos and I didn’t see her. This is my favorite. Because it was such a quick photo – unplanned."
"I see this girl, I didn’t ask her what happened. But her arm is broken. We had an activities workshop – you have to take this ball and run through this obstacle. I see this girl, and see her hand – I felt sorry for her because I thought she wouldn’t be able to participate. Suddenly I see as her turn comes up, she just grabs this ball with this look “you’re not going to stop me from having fun.” This moment made me so hopeful – because despite her circumstances with a broken arm, she is determined to move on – we didn’t move on, but she did."
"Her name is Duaa. She stole everyone’s heart, not just mine. She knew how to sweet talk everyone. She lived with her grandmother, her parents did not live with them in Turkey. She was 7 years old at the time of this photo. When I was young, I had red hair, so naturally I had a bias since she has red hair. 6 months later, I went back for another mission to another school. I called the school before my visit asking if Dua is still at the school. She moved to a different school. I wanted to see her so I could give her her photo and a gift. The school organized it so that she could come back to her old school and participate in the mission. I had a few bracelets that American students had made specially for kids that we were visiting. I gave her the option of choosing 3 bracelets. She wanted more bracelets and I said I had to keep these for the other students. And then she asked "do you love other students more than me?"And of course I gave in and let her choose 2 more bracelets."
"This is when I went back to give the kids their photos. There is no relation between these kids. I saw these girls poking their heads out of the tent as I’m walking around. They were laughing and giggling. So I asked them can I take your photo? You see this photo and you see hope, and these kids are creating their own happiness out of the awful circumstances they're living under. The image of their smiles against the image of the tent. It was a very natural photo, it wasn’t staged. They were smiling."
"When we do these workshops – a lot of people ask oh why do you do art – saying it’s not important and that the kids need more. But I’ve seen these kids when they do art, when they are painting or making something, they are completely lost in the art – they are completely focused and isolated from their circumstances, forgetting their trauma in that moment to make something beautiful. And that’s what I see when I see this photo."