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With Cameras in Hand, Young Syrian Refugees Learn Storytelling

SFU photography workshop aims to help newcomers develop a voice.

By Christopher Cheung 18 Aug 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Cheung is editorial assistant at The Tyee. Follow him on Twitter @bychrischeung.

Originally from Iraq, Shawk Alani can relate to the experience of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada and having the media step in to tell their stories. To help them find their own voices, she’s teaching them photography.

“I just see that our stories as people who come to Vancouver from different places, they’re taken by other people and told in different ways,” Alani says. “I really want the younger generations to know that this is your life, and you can talk about it however you want to talk about it. And you don’t have to conform to some idea or image that people want to hear. You can say whatever you want about your story, and I think that’s really empowering.”

Alani, a student working on her Master’s in Liberal Arts, helped organize photography workshops for Syrian children aged six to 14 at Simon Fraser University.

The young students learned how to use film and digital cameras, but also what storytelling through photography can mean.

“I learned that you can take pictures of things that you like and that are important to you,” says Barfin Shaiko, age 11.

Photography is also a powerful medium for building bridges, says instructor Nawar Tamawi.

“With a camera, you can show people what you’re seeing,” Tamawi says. “It’s just easier to convey your message.”

Tamawi arrived in Canada from Iraq this year and shares Alani’s passion for helping individuals tell their own stories.

“I used to do photography back in Iraq [to try] to show people a different side of Iraq,” he says.

Unlike some media stereotypes of war and poverty, Tamawi’s Instagram of his homeland offers an intimate look at its people and places: markets with overflowing wares, children playing soccer on the street, nature and architecture.

Both Tamawi and Alani hope their young photography students will feel strengthened by putting down their lives on film.

The Syrian children’s photography will be on display at SFU Woodward’s between Aug. 31 and Sept. 10. You can find more details here and check out the story at SFU’s website here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Media

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