Tag: Syrian refugee

Art supplies and Turkish coffee in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Art supplies and Turkish coffee in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

We’ve returned to the US from Turkey, and while I won’t speak for David, I’ve been walking around in a thick fog of jet lag. That fog, combined with a healthy dose of cultural shock, has left me feeling unmoored and dislocated — suspended between two worlds. So before my heart settles completely, I wanted to write a blog post about some of our final experiences in Turkey, in a city called Kahramanmaras.

In Kahramanmaras, we were fortunate to have both Khalid and Ezgi Içöz with us. Ezgi is an art therapist from Istanbul, and she and Khalid paired up to create a fantastic series of art therapy sessions for the kids:

Ezgi during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by Mieke Strand

Ezgi during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Khalid during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

Khalid during an art therapy session at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

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Students during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

A student describes her drawing during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

A student describes her drawing during an art therapy session in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

While Khalid and Ezgi were hard at work, David was taking portraits of other students on the roof of the school:

David photographing on the roof of a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

David photographing on the roof of a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by Mieke Strand

David also took photos of the kids coming into the school after break. They lined up like a choo-choo train and sang a song while entering the building.

Kids at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by David Gross

Kids at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, by David Gross

Here’s one more photo David took of a group of girls inside the school:

Students at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by David Gross

Students at a Syrian school in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, by David Gross

We’ll add another blog post shortly to wrap up our final thoughts on our trip. After that, we’ll be focusing on creating the eBook and sending out our kickstarter rewards. Stay tuned!

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are fortunate that our friend Khalid has been leading many of our recent art sessions here in Gaziantep. Khalid has a true gift with children. His words transform their faces into delight — it is quite something to see. We’ve been recording video of him for the eBook, and we’ll be posting a few clips here. The first one, below, is a short example of Khalid instructing the kids on how to use a brush. (The video is in Arabic, but English speakers will get the general gist of it. We’ll be adding subtitles later.)

Khalid is also a photographer, and he took some photos of some of the children peering into our classroom from the courtyard. I really love them. He’s graciously let us share some with you here:

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Children at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Khalid Eid

Thanks again to Khalid!

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

Happy New Year!

We’ve taken a holiday break from the blog, which means this post will be long and chock full of photos! We are now in a city about 4 hours north of Reyhanli, called Gaziantep. I’m really enjoying this city–the people are warm and welcoming.

Our friend, As’ad Sieo, connected us with a wonderful Syrian school here; its name translates to “Friendship School”. We’re also incredibly lucky that another friend, Khalid Eid, has been teaching art classes for us at this school. Khalid is a natural-born teacher, with an energy that the children love. The moment he begins speaking in a classroom, the children light up with joy. It’s magical to watch. Below, I’m posting a few photos of Khalid in action, but I’ll be posting some video clips of him as well in a later post. (Khalid’s also a photographer, so I’ll post some of his photographs in the next post, as well.)

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

Khalid and his students, by Mieke Strand

A student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

A student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Here are a couple of the paintings from the art sessions:

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

Painting by a child at the Syrian Friendship School in Gaziantep, photo by David Gross

David’s been making many portraits at this school; I’m including a few, mostly of teachers, below. We’re saving most of the photos of the kids for the book.

Manager at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Manager at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Teacher at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Teacher at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Student at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Class of students at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

Class of students at the Friendship School in Gaziantep, Turkey, by David Gross

I’ve started working again with my digital camera, photographing the city and the neighborhoods where the students live. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to take the school bus home with one of the girls at the school (and Khalid, who is also a fantastic translator). Below are a few photographs that I took on the bus ride:

Students from the Friendship School getting off the bus after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Students from the Friendship School getting off the bus after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Friendship School bus dropping kids off after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Friendship School bus dropping kids off after school in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from the Friendship School bus in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from the Friendship School bus in Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

View from a neighborhood in Gaziantep in which many Syrians are currently living, by Mieke Strand

View from a neighborhood in Gaziantep in which many Syrians are currently living, by Mieke Strand

And last, but not least, I’ve been going out photographing in the streets of Gaziantep to document city life. I’ll include just a couple here:

Gaziantep at night, by Mieke Strand

Gaziantep at night, by Mieke Strand

Portrait of a man from Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Portrait of a man from Gaziantep, by Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

We’ve taken a short, holiday break from Inside-Outside, which has allowed me to process the film I’d taken so far. In the spirit of our last post, here are a couple of the portraits I’ve made in Reyhanli:

Syrian girl in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian girl in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian teenage boy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Syrian teenage boy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

We hitched a ride one day with a boy collecting recyclables with his mule and cart. Here’s one photo from that memorable journey:

Smoke break, by Mieke Strand

Smoke break, by Mieke Strand

And my last photo in this post is in honor of my eldest nephew, Esteban. Esteban is currently a huge fan of  Barbapapa, a French cartoon character whose name means “cotton candy” (literally “daddy’s beard”). This one’s for you, Esteban:

Cotton candy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Cotton candy in Reyhanli, Turkey by Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

A few days ago, we asked you, Dear Readers, whether you would like to see some of the photographs and drawings from our project now, or whether we should instead unveil them all for the first time in the Inside-Outside eBook.

The reply was a resounding “now”! You asked, and we shall deliver. (Again, because I am shooting film, the photos in the post are all by David.)

We’ve been working most recently with a Syrian school in Reyhanli. The directors, teachers, and students at the school have been incredibly welcoming and generous with their time. The first two photographs below are of the director of the school and his wife. We can’t thank them enough for their generosity and warm welcome.

Director of school for Syrian children, by David Gross

Director of school for Syrian children, by David Gross

Wife of the Director of a school for Syrian Children, by David Gross

Wife of Director of school for Syrian Children, by David Gross

The next photograph in today’s series is of Tamador. Tamador provides psychological support to the students in addition to teaching. She has been leading art sessions at the school for months, and she had generously lent her time to leading sessions for our project as well. Tamador is constantly working, busy, on the move, and she has a fantastic, fantastic sense of humor.

Tamador, by David Gross

Tamador, by David Gross

And finally, here are two portraits of children from the school.

Girl at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Girl at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Boy at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Boy at Syrian school in Reyhanli, by David Gross

Now, for the drawings. Each session that Tamador has led has had a different focus, and the drawings reflect that. In the first drawing below, Tamador had the child draw his vision of Syrian before, during and after the war. This is drawing is more abstract than many of the others, and it is also one of my favorites. (Please note, I’ve blurred out the children’s names on their drawings for the sake of privacy.)

Drawing by child at Syrian refugee school in Reyhanli

Drawing (Before/During/After the War) by a boy at Syrian refugee school in Reyhanli

In this painting, the upper left corner (all in black paint) is how the child thinks of Syria in the past. As he explained, there were all different kinds of people, different religions, different ethnicities, but people didn’t really see each other as different. In the center section of the painting, the boy shows Syria as he sees it now. Differences are very clear, and they are keeping Syrians divided. His hope for Syria’s future is in the lower right. He expects people in Syria to still see their differences, but to nonetheless live together in harmony.

The next three drawings come from a session dealing with stories of loss. They are particularly heartbreaking. The children we’ve met have seen and experienced more than any child should endure.

"Black clouds. A mother crying for her son, baby, and sister. She lost 3 family members." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“Black clouds. A mother crying for her son, baby, and sister. She lost 3 family members.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

"Two planes drop bombs on the people. The children are crying, and the father has lost his hands." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“Two planes drop bombs on the people. The children are crying, and the father has lost his hands.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

"A girl at her father's grave." Drawing by Syrian girl.

“A girl at her father’s grave.” Drawing by Syrian girl.

And I’ll end on a more uplifting note. This last drawing shows a Syrian girl’s feelings toward Turkey, her current home. She felt that Turkey was the only nation to really help Syrians, and was clearly grateful for that help:

Syria and Turkey. Drawing by a Syrian girl.

Syria and Turkey. Drawing by a Syrian girl.

As always, we look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Görüşürüz! -Mieke

Reyhanli by David Gross

Reyhanli by David Gross

Much to my delight, it snowed here in Reyhanli on Wednesday. It was beautiful, and although the snow in the streets melted quickly, the surrounding hills remained dusted with white.

Snow in the Syrian hills above home construction in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, David Gross

Snow in the Syrian hills above home construction in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, David Gross

And of course, as beautiful as it is, it also makes life incredibly difficult for all the families who are living here without heat, not to mention those living in nearby camps. This thought reminds us that the hurdles we face in doing this project are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

But speaking of hurdles, our latest minor challenge has been power outages. Although we have no idea if this is related to the snow, the power was out in the entire city of Reyhanli for most of Wednesday and Thursday. The streets, however, remained active with life, including these two boys we met making the most of the weather:

Turkish boys pose with their snowman, David Gross

Turkish boys pose with their snowman, David Gross

It snowed again today, and we were worried that we wouldn’t have a chance to work (in part because of power outages, and in part because the school we are working with is closed on Fridays). We started the day by walking through Reyhanli as it snowed (I’ve been shooting primarily with film lately, so this blog post will contain mostly images by David):

Mieke in Reyhanli, David Gross

Mieke in Reyhanli, David Gross

As we were walking, David’s phone rang. It was our friend, Mohamad, and he had arranged for a group of boys to participate in an art session at a nearby tea house. Our friend, Tamador, was available to lead the session. We were so thrilled.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, both Mohamad and Tamador are volunteer teachers at the Syrian school that is working with us. Tamador also provides psychological support for its students, and she was leading art sessions with the children before we arrived in Reyhanli.

Both Mohamad and Tamador also work for the Maram Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by a group of Syrian-Americans to provide aid to Syrian refugees, both within Syria and here in southern Turkey. The Maram Foundation has been incredibly supportive of our project, and we are most grateful. We are also incredibly grateful to Mohamad and Tamador for their help and hard work. They have done so much for us in such a short amount of time, and we cannot thank them enough. !شكرا

Thanks to Mohamad and Tamador, the class today was wonderful. Here’s a photo Tamador took of David with the boys:

David with a group of boys from Syria, by Tamador

David with a group of boys from Syria, by Tamador

It was a really good day! We’ll share some drawings, and perhaps some photos, in a later post.

I’ll end with one of the few digital photos I’ve taken recently, of a new playground in Reyhanli:

New playground in Reyhanli, Mieke Strand

New playground in Reyhanli, Mieke Strand

 

Görüşürüz! -Mieke !إلى اللقاء

Our posts on the blog will most likely be fewer and far between for the next couple of weeks due to unpredictable internet service. In particular, it can be hard to upload photos, so I may stick to writing short updates with fewer photos for the time being.

We are now in the town of Reyhanli, near Turkey’s border with Syria. According to another group working with Syrian refugees in the area, the official population of Reyhanli has doubled from 30,000 in June of this year to over 60,000 now, due to the arrival of refugees from Syria. Who knows what the actual figures are, but it’s clear that the small city has experienced a huge population shift in a very short time.

We were incredibly lucky to connect with one of Ferdi’s Syrian friends in Reyhanli: Mohamad. In addition to doing IT & graphic design work, Mohamad is a volunteer teacher at a local school for Syrian children. Thanks to Mohamad and the lovely staff at his school, we were able to hold our very first art session in Reyhanli on Sunday. Mohamad’s friend Tamaldour, who teaches & provides psychological support to the school, ran the art session for us. We’re hoping to hold a few additional sessions at their school this week, and perhaps venture to another school or two in the area.

All of my photographs from the day are on film, so you’ll have to wait to see those. But David’s work is digital, so I’ll upload one of his photos from the day. I’m including just one photo for now, since uploading can take so long.

Mohamad in Reyhanli

Mohamad in Reyhanli, David Gross

This is a photo that David made of Mohamad. It illustrates the lighting techniques David also used in photographing the children.

We also documented the drawings that the children did. Here is one from the session:

Drawing by Syrian child in Reyhanli

Drawing by Syrian child in Reyhanli

The drawing depicts a helicopter dropping a bomb on the child’s hometown in Syria. The stories the children tell are awful, and it’s hard to listen to them. But it feels important to bear witness at the same time.

We’ll post more soon, as our internet allows.

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

Istanbul at night, Mieke Strand

Istanbul at night, Mieke Strand

At long last, we are leaving Istanbul tomorrow for Antakya, in Hatay Province. Don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is an amazing city. In many ways, I feel lucky that we ended up staying here as long as we did.

Istanbul stairs, Mieke Strand

Istanbul stairs, Mieke Strand

But I’m looking forward to arriving in Hatay province. We have a number of potential options set up for working there, and we’ll post more once things are definite. For now, here are a few parting shots of Istanbul.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

David in Istanbul, Mieke Strand

David in Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

Istanbul, David Gross

Istanbul, David Gross

As I discussed in an earlier post, we’ve run into more logistical hoops in doing this project than we had hoped. In fact, part of the challenge so far has been figuring out which permissions we actually need to get, and from whom. Bureaucratic details make for a lousy blog entry, so let me just say this: it’s been difficult for me, as a photographer, to spend so much time discussing the project, and so little time making photographs.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Therefore, I approached our meeting this morning with frustration and mild annoyance. We were meeting with an organization in Istanbul that provides legal services to refugees in Turkey. (In this post, I will not be naming the organizations we consulted. The politics surrounding everything to do with refugees is so sensitive that we’ve decided to keep their names off this blog post.)

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

A boarded-up house with young children living in it, most likely a Syrian family, David Gross.

As it turned out, we finally found answers to many of our remaining questions. We also got important contact information for people working in Gaziantep, in South-Eastern Turkey, where there is a large refugee camp, as well as a large Syrian population living outside the camp. And, it looks like we might be holding our first art therapy sessions early next week. Finally!

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Istanbul, Mieke Strand

In fact, things seem to be coming together for our move to southern Turkey. We met again last night with a German journalist who covers the Arab world for DPA in Germany. She is looking into connecting us with a school she supports in Gaziantep, which would help us enormously.

Birds at sunset, David Gross

Birds at sunset, David Gross

The photos I’m posting today are from a walk David & I took this afternoon, once the meetings were finally over. It is such a relief to me to walk and photograph the city after all the negotiations. I’m looking forward to starting the art therapy and photography portions of the project…soon.

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Recycling, Istanbul, Mieke Strand

One additional note: we’ve managed to weave our way through the intricacies of a foreign bureaucracy only thanks to the help of a few wonderful folks. In particular, Ezgi Içöz has helped us enormously this week. Ezgi, in case loyal blog readers have forgotten, is a Turkish art therapist who did her educational training in San Francisco. She speaks perfect English, and has done a lot of work translating for us. She is also the reason we were finally able to get the meeting we had this morning, after trying for several weeks. And she has provided incredible moral support from the beginning. We are so thrilled to be working with her. Thank you Ezgi!

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

A cat sits on a wall in Istanbul, David Gross

And finally, thanks to our friend George Georgiou for sending us a link to this article in The Guardian on the crisis that Syrian refugee children are facing today. It reminds us why the work of therapists like Ezgi is so important.

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Istanbul, Mieke Strand

Görüşürüz!  -Mieke

We visited two Syrian schools in Istanbul today. There is much to say — not everything is how we expected! — but for now, we are exhausted, so we will just post this short entry. (David says, “If I’m writing oddly, it’s because my language skills are all twisted up. I’ve been speaking pidgin Turkish all day, when I wasn’t listening to long Arabic dialogs.”)

At the first school we visited today in Istanbul we were shown a few small drawings. Two struck us as unusual. The first is a tiny drawing at the bottom of the page, in response to the question, what would you like to be? The child drew a picture of a doctor…with a dead patient.

A child's drawing on a development test. The drawing is of what the child wishes to become, a doctor in this case. The patient, however, is already dead.

A child’s drawing on a development test. The drawing is of what the child wishes to become, a doctor in this case. The patient, however, is already dead.

The second drawing was done elsewhere, and it is of a refugee camp for Syrians inside Turkey. The artist is an 11-year-old girl who is now working in a clothing store to make money, we were told.

The drawing of a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey by an 11-year-old girl. She now works in a clothing store in Istanbul to make money.

The drawing of a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey by an 11-year-old girl. She now works in a clothing store in Istanbul to make money.

After visiting our second school we had to rush to an internet cafe so our fixer/interpreter, Khalid, could send a photo to some government office before closing time. There, not so far from the Syrian school filled with shell-shocked children, I saw a group of Turkish (probably Kurdish) children playing video war games….

Children play war games in an internet cafe not far from a Syrian school.

Children play war games in an internet cafe not far from a Syrian school.

A Turkish child in an internet cafe not far from the Syrian school plays war games on a computer.

A Turkish child in an internet cafe not far from the Syrian school plays war games on a computer.

Görüşürüz! -David


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