Of course I can’t do anything normal for my summer vacation! As part of my travels prior to starting grad school at NYU in the fall, I will be volunteering with an organization called Services Civil International in a refugee center in Poland. It has received special permission to organize summer work camps to brighten up the lives of the children living there for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been asked to bring peace building activities for the children. After thinking about this, I feel that photography could be a great way to build peace, as well as be a great educational tool and a lot of fun. My idea is to bring about 10 digital cameras to the camp and to teach the children (and hopefully others in the camp) some basics of photography, and at the same time, to look at the world in a different way. The pictures that the children take will also serve as tools for future lessons to practice writing and thinking about why they took a certain picture, learning vocabulary and grammar, and serving as a record of their existence. And you can help—I am seeking donations of cameras, memory cards, batteries, etc. for this project and would appreciate any used items (as long as they still work). Come on, you know it’s time to upgrade your camera anyway!
About the camp:
There are approximately 5000 asylum seekers seeking refugee status in Poland each year, but only 5-10% actually obtain it. The refugees remain in refugee centers with no right to work while they wait to find out if they have been granted refugee status, and this may take up to 2 years. The particular refugee center I will be going to is Smoszewo, a village about 50 kilometers outside of Warsaw. Approximately 150 refugees live there, and the majority of them are from Chechnya. There are anywhere from 40-80 children living there, and with very limited funding from the government, there aren’t enough resources to provide the children with an education or even paper and crayons to draw.
From the information I received from the camp, they say that the “children suffer in that situation particularly hard... the trauma of having been forced to flee from their homes is doubled by the problems of adapting in the new country. Parents are often in apathy and do not take care of them. As a result, they spend their time in inactivity and not constructively, wandering across the center premises all day long.”
The war in Chechnya, while declared over by the Russian government in 2003, continues to affect the lives of these refugees. Many of them lived through both Chechnyan wars, a brutal battle between the Russian military and terrorists in their region. The civilians were caught in the middle and suffered atrocities at the hands of both groups, such as bombings, brutality, kidnappings, rapes, and a total decay of infrastructure. Schools and hospitals, along with homes and families, remain in chaos, and the country is littered with landmines. The people who managed to escape and are now seeking refugee status have left their homes behind, with essentially no hope of ever returning. Along with losing everything, they have also lost their past and all pictures to remember their home, country and loved ones. With this project, I hope to help them remember their present and future.
10 Digital cameras (the cameras do not need to be new, just something that still works!)
Memory cards (10 +)
Batteries for cameras (or chargers)
Money to print the pictures (At this time, I do not have estimates on the cost of printing pictures in Poland, but Warsaw is a major city and it will be possible to find a place to print the pictures that the children take)
I will need these items by July 16th, since that is when I will be leaving Utah.
My plan is to leave the cameras at the refugee center so that they will be able to continue taking pictures. Camp workers will be able to take the memory cards to town to have pictures printed from time to time. Since the pictures will be digital, I will also bring back copies and hope to use them to raise awareness about the plight of Chechen refugees. As a donor, after the project I will send you a report on how your donation was used, as well as a CD presentation of the pictures. If this project is successful, I will work on establishing a non-profit organization dedicated to setting up similar projects in refugee centers worldwide, raising awareness, and advocating for more aid to refugees.
These children witnessed terrible things living in Chechnya, one of the most dangerous places in the world. Instead of them turning to a gun as a weapon of war, I want to provide them with a camera as a weapon for peace.
If you can make a donation, please let me know! I'll need everything by July 16th, which is when I leave Salt Lake.
Do it for the kids.
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