Last fall I traveled to four countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Nigeria and India – to witness what people are doing to stop violence against women and girls. I am honored to be part of this project – a collaboration between News Deeply and Oxfam in the Middle East – and look forward to sharing the series with you all later this year. In each country we selected one project to profile in video, which we are in the process of finalizing. For now, here’s a glimpse at what is to come. Globally violence against women is still prevalent, but it’s heartening to see initiatives of all kinds and scales out there serving those most in need.
Hoor saw the sea for the first time in Istanbul. When she looks at it, she says she feels calm and comforted.
Important stories are usually difficult to listen to and also to tell. I recently photographed Hoor to depict the story of an Afghan teenage girl in Istanbul, written by Fariba Nawa. Hoor escaped a forced marriage in Afghanistan, defied deportation in Iran and crossed the border into Turkey with smugglers, and without her family. Once in Turkey, she was raped by one of the smugglers. As the title of the article reads, unfortunately the refugee trail can be as dangerous as the war left behind.
Hoor is now living at a state-run orphanage, studying Turkish and in the process of getting her Turkish residency. In her notebook she jots down Turkish words and their translations in her native Dari. Hoor left three younger sisters behind in Afghanistan, who she says inspire her to learn Turkish and look for work so she can find a way to bring them to Istanbul.
See the full article published by PRI’s Across Women’s Lives.
Organizations and individuals like this woman from United Rescues have helped put a roof over her head and settle her in Turkey. Hoor embraces the woman in this picture, who she now calls sister.
I can still hear Ghina’s voice in my head. The 16-year-old Syrian refugee spoke like a 20-something seasoned activist (until she started talking about her favorite South Korean boy band!). Ghina’s father was arrested years ago, and the family hasn’t heard from him since. Her sisters made it to the U.S. and Germany through education opportunities, but Ghina and her mother are still living in southern Turkey. We visited Ghina to learn more about what life is like for her divided family and how the war has affected her education.
It’s not the waiting that is destroying Hafiz Abdalla, although existing in the strange limbo between asylum seeker and German resident is constantly disorienting. It is how no one seems aware of the violence in Sudan, the lack of news coverage of the war, and his inability to communicate in German. It’s a collection of things that gain weight the way an object seems to when sinking.
Caitlin L. Chandler and I recently spent some time in Hannover, Germany, at a protest camp created by Sudanese refugees. While the organizers don’t live at the camp, sometimes refugees without a place to go stay over night. Sitting under one of the tattered tents and listening to their stories, I’m transported to Sudan. I think to myself, these individuals have come so far and given so much to end up in a place that feels a lot like what they were trying to leave. Caitlin’s article in Vice offers a story that I think is too absent in the media.
After seeing this photo of Alex Assali serving food to Berlin’s homeless on Facebook, my friend and colleague Caitlin L. Chandler and I went to meet him. We were fortunate that he shared his story with us. Here’s how we told his inspiring tale for Al Jazeera.
Poverty and high unemployment rates have driven thousands of Albanians to leave the country, seeking a better life in the European Union. In villages in northern Albania like Shishtavec and Novosej more than half the population has left. Most that seek asylum in the European Union are rejected. In Germany the government is working to declare Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro as “safe” countries as a way to speed up deportations. I traveled to Shishtavec and Novosej for Der Spiegel back in August to show what these thousands of Albanians have left behind.
See more pictures here.
Conflict in places like Syria and Iraq has disrupted the education of millions of children. This story looks at one school in Istanbul trying to make a small difference by offering free education in Arabic for about 300 students.
By Elie Gardner
Catholic News Service
ISTANBUL (CNS) — Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
The Istanbul center was started 20 years ago as a temporary response to the wave of refugees coming from Iraq. Conflict in the region continues, and new refugees and asylum seekers arrive every day. Today, 300 children, mostly from Iraq and Syria, are enrolled at the center.
The center is primarily funded by donations to the Salesian Mission in Bonn, Germany, and students attend at no cost.
Like Toma, most of the teachers at the center are refugees or asylum seekers. Father Calleja says this helps the youth because the teachers have lived the same situation and understand what the students have suffered. They also speak Arabic.
While the young people study English, math and computing, Father Calleja said, the center is also “a center of joy, where children can play and sing.”
Sarah Mohammed, 14, left her home in Aleppo, Syria, about one year ago. After an explosion near her school, the students were told not to come to class anymore: It was not safe.
“Many of them have never been in school, or they have been very irregular going to school because of the wars,” Father Calleja said. “We try to give them some regularity so that after one, two or three years when they reach some other country, they haven’t lost the continuity of school.”
Sarah said she loves to study. She speaks English and has also learned Turkish. She dreams of being an engineer and attending college.
While Sarah and her younger sister are enrolled at Don Bosco, their 17-year-old brother works 12 hours a day in a bakery to help support the family.
The U.N. Human Rights Council reports that the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey is expected to hit 1.9 million in 2015.
For most refugees and asylum seekers, Turkey is only a stopping point, a purgatory they pass on the way to new lives in Australia, Canada, the United States and Europe.
While Toma worries less for her family’s safety, she said she worries more about paying the bills. Compared to Iraq and Syria, Istanbul is an expensive city, with limited work opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.
After more than two years in Istanbul, she is still not sure where her family will be resettled or when they will go. She said she prays they will be granted asylum in Canada, where most of her relatives are already living.
“I believe God sees us, and that he’s knows what’s best for my family,” Toma said.
She added that her dream is simple: She wants a small house with nice furniture and for her children to attend college.
Father Calleja said he hopes and prays that the wars finish and people can live in peace. Until then, he believes the center serves a critical need.
“The group environment and the environment of joy, freedom and tolerance is already healing many wounds,” Father Calleja said.