The Za’atari camp is now a temporary home to over 80,000 refugees from Syria, including many children and young people. The My Own Account project forms part of a wider programme by Save the Children that has been taking place for the past two years at the camp, offering photography classes for teenagers and encouraging them to share their stories through images. With the Instagram project (which can be found @InsideZaatari), the hope is that the unique perspective of the teens in the camp can reach a wider audience.
“As part of the psycho-social work that we do with traumatised kids is lots of focus on arts and crafts, and writing their stories and drawing their stories,” says Jess Crombie, deputy director of creative at Save the Children UK. “A well-known technique to help kids get over traumatic situations is to help them share their stories.
“My team were going out to Za’atari really regularly and documenting the kids in the camp to gather content for fundraising, and we met a lot of these teenage kids, and they were really articulate, challenging, engaged, angry, interesting kids,” Crombie continues. “They had loads to say and had no place to say it.”
The Save the Children team originally conceived of the Instagram idea as a week-long project but its success is such that it has now been running for two years, and has reached a point where the charity feels it should be publicised to a wider audience.
It was officially launched last night at a charity event held at Mother ad agency, which is supporting the project and exhibiting photos from it in its foyer gallery space, and has also published a book of the images. The hope is that the teens will gain followers on Instagram, and that the project will inspire people to donate to the wider photography and arts programme at Za’atari, which is now in need of further funding.
A variety of emotions, and styles of approach, are expressed in the photographs, which display a mix of ordinary family scenes that will be familiar to people all over the world, as well as the specific circumstances of the teens.
One shot shows a dense dust cloud rolling in in the near distance, which appears both majestic and deadly. The effects of the cloud can then be further seen in a film created by one of the kids and shown below. The film aspect of the project is backed both by Save the Children and another NGO, Voices of the Children, and aims to allow the refugees to further express their stories, as well as, in this instance, their hopes for the future.
“Most people’s view of a refugee camp is an overview of lots of tents or a few specific shots of people looking limp and sad inside a camp,” says Crombie. “This is a window into real life at the camp. That’s what so exciting about this project from our point of view, we don’t get to communicate in this way very often. We don’t get to show the everyday-ness of life in a camp, and therefore what it’s like to be a human being in a camp, not a number.”
Crombie points out that the average time that someone spends in a refugee camp is 17 years. “For these kids there’s this horrible level of uncertainty, they don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Follow the My Own Account project on Instagram @InsideZaatari; To find out more about Save the Children’s work in Syria, visit savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/emergencies/syria-appeal.