telling loury’s story again a year later

A little more than a year ago I helped to tell Loury’s story, along with Molly Bernstein and the Fuller Project for International Reporting. As journalists we often tell stories and don’t have the resources or opportunity to follow-up after they are published. Fortunately, I was able to go back and tell Loury’s story again this year; this time with the lovely Dalia Mortada and once again in collaboration with the Fuller Project for International Reporting.

Last year when the story was published, there was an outpouring of support. Someone even donated a violin. But it wasn’t enough to change Loury’s life in the longterm. She’s given up on going back to school but hasn’t stopped learning. She now speaks Turkish and is working on her English. Because she is working, her brother is able to go to school. She says this is what matters to her now.

See Dalia’s story for PRI’s The World.

See the full story from last year published by Women in the World.

braving new worlds at TEDx lausanne

Sometimes I still don’t believe this even happened, but here’s the video to remind me it did. I was beyond honored (and terrified) to share my experience of traveling with Syrian Ziad Altaha from Turkey to Norway at TEDxLausanne.

Weeks before the event, I was struggling to craft an end to the speech. As I was going through old boxes, I came across a book from my mom and opened it. Inside the front cover it said, “May you make every journey one that brings you closer to yourself and others.”

That’s it! The stories I tell are my journeys, and I’m grateful for each one.

Thank you Ziad Altaha for believing in the power of your story and helping me remember why every story, life, person matters.

the everyday projects on medium

Last September colleague and friend Danielle Villasana and I started editing and writing for The Everyday Projects Medium publication. Back in July 2014, we were living in Lima, Peru, and the work of Everyday Africa caught our eye. We wanted to bring its mission– “an attempt to form a more complete portrayal of life on the continent than the mainstream media allows”–to Latin America too. So along with two other colleagues, we started Everyday Latin America. Since then, we’ve met several of the contributors to the accounts and Everyday Africa founders Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill.

The Everyday accounts on Instagram are all volunteer. The photographers contributing to them do so out of concern and commitment to the craft of journalism and the regions where we live and work. Being part of an industry on a shifting and often shaky foundation, The Everyday Projects has been a ray of light to me, and I’m thrilled the Medium publication has allowed me to become more involved with telling stories that I think matter.

Here are a few of the articles I most enjoyed writing:

Movement and Survival: Challenging the Way We Tell Refugee Stories: On World Refugee Day we ask the creators of @EverydayMigration and several photographers about their work covering human movement around the globe.

Five Year of Documenting Everyday Life on Instagram: In March 2012, Everyday Africa launched and gave rise to a movement of everyday life photography. We recount its history and reflect on its impact.

Seeing Iraq Beyond the Frontlines: Photographers Hawre Khalid and Sebastian Meyer give us a more rich and complex view of a country at war.

The Power of Collective Storytelling Online: Mikkel Stjernberg, Bjarke Myrthu and Joachim Bøggild designed and built The Everyday Projects new website, with the financial support of Photowings. We spoke with Mikkel and Bjarke to learn more about their experience, philosophy and latest project, Storyfriend.

 

 

“bravery has consequences” for pri’s across women’s lives

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.

oxfam video series “the good fight”

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.

ghina’s story for news deeply

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.

This is the third story I had the opportunity to tell for the Fuller Project for International Reporting about education in Turkey for Syrian teenage girls. Read the full article on Syria Deeply.

sudanese refugees in germany for vice

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.

 

Hafiz Abdalla is a political activist in Hannover, Germany, where he is one of several organizers of a camp to protest the treatment of Sudanese refugees and question Germany’s diplomacy towards the Sudanese government.
Ali Ahmed from South Kordofan, Sudan, left the country in 2005. Ahmed received asylum in Italy but left because he was unable to make a living. He's been deported once from Germany. Back in Italy, he slept in a car for two weeks and then returned to Germany.
Khadija Noor from Northern Darfur lives on the outskirts of Hannover with her three children.
Hafiz Abdalla filed for asylum in June 2014, well before the current crisis; he has yet to receive an answer.
Inside the communal kitchen at the protest camp started in May 2014 in Hannover, Germany.
Inside a tent at the protest camp started in May 2014 in Hannover, Germany.
Mohammed Said Mustafa, 36, from North Kortum, Darfur, came to live in Germany after four years in Belgium where he says his claim for asylum was denied.
Several Sudanese men gather to talk about their current immigration situation at the camp.
Mohammed Said Mustafa says his application for asylum was denied in Belgium and strangers helped him arrive to Germany where he now lives in a home for the blind among mostly Germans.
Hafiz Abdalla cooks lunch at his apartment in Hannover, Germany. Abdalla lives in a small apartment he shares with four other men and receives 360 euros ($400) a month from the government, 150 of which he sends to family in Sudan.
An advent calendar filled with chocolates, some eaten out of order, sits on the counter in Hafiz Abdalla's apartment.

rural albania for der spiegel

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 5.24.47 PM
 

salesian center offers haven for iraqi, syrian children in Istanbul

 

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.