Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Newly Arrived Refugee Youth Explore Their New Homeland through Photography

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Newly Arrived Refugee Youth Explore Their New Homeland through Photography

Article excerpt

Refugee youth explore adopted home through photography


TORONTO - Islam Lazakani is eager to show off her budding photography skills.

The chatty 13-year-old Syrian refugee flips through a smartphone, pointing out unusual colours and angles that caught her attention while wandering the streets of Toronto, her "second" home.

She's collected hundreds of images as part of a photography project involving 25 newcomers, and she beams while snapping pictures with a group that includes her older brothers Nour and Mohamad and other refugees from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"We know how to take pictures but not so good like this," Lazakani says.

It's a welcome distraction from the turmoil that has dominated much of her life, and the ongoing challenges of adjusting to a strange country.

Organizer and photographer Gilad Cohen says he hopes the project can offer a creative outlet during a key time in these youngsters' lives, noting the program is meant to break barriers, build self-esteem and combat stereotypes.

The outing on this day was part of a series of workshops in July, in which several seasoned photographers led classes in storytelling and photography and then sent the group into the field with camera phones. Graeme Roy, director of news photography for The Canadian Press, was among the photographers involved.

An exhibit of their work debuts Saturday. All the proceeds are going to the participants.

"They're incredibly resilient; they're incredibly inspiring," says Cohen, who runs the project through the charitable group Jayu.

"When we've been talking about some of the photos that we're looking at, they'll use words like 'freedom' or 'liberty' to describe some of the things that they're doing. So, very much whether or not they know it, their experiences very much shape the way they see the world around them."

Lazakani and her family arrived in January from Lebanon, where they lived for three years. Before that, they spent six months in Turkey.

"I was nine years old when I left it," Lazakani says of her home Idlib, in northwestern Syria. "I don't remember actually."

But she misses it, and the extended family members who remain. Her cousin died in a bomb explosion and her uncle succumbed to illness. …

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