I Miss My Mother's Coffee
An exhibition in three parts for Refugee Week 2020
This exhibition was planned to take place in Strangers Coffee House cafes in Norwich UK however, due to lockdown from coronavirus, it is now online. It is named after a drawing by Majid, one of the asylum seekers I met in Athens. You can see his portrait in Part Three of this exhibition below, Every Life Matters, holding another of his drawings where the woman's hair spells Syria.
I hope you will be inspired by the story of Mohamad who set up a school for the children in his refugee camp. His determination, energy and positivity is helping to change the lives of other children, and now women, who attend the school. I hope you will be able to spare £10 towards keeping the school open. Maybe see this as the money you saved last week from not being able to buy coffee at work or a round in the pub. And when we raise £30 it will pay for one month of education and fun for a lucky student.
The difficult situation we find ourselves in globally is the every day reality for displaced people with no home to stay safe in. They may not have heard from friends, family and loved ones for months, or they may have lost them through violence, disease or imprisonment. They are used to food shortages, no running water and no work or school to go to. They definitely don't have a good supply of toilet paper.
I hope that having to experience just a fraction of these frightening and difficult conditions will enable us all to be more empathic with those who have lost their homes through war, unsafe political regimes, environmental change or other circumstances outside their control. I hope it will encourage people to campaign for change and welcome asylum seekers to give them a safe place to live.
Mohamad won the International Children's Peace Prize in 2017 for his amazing work setting up a school for refugee children after he and his family fled Syria. He set up the school in the camp in Lebanon because he missed his friends from home. He now helps to run it with the support of Gharsah NGO, from Sweden, his new home.
Mohamad taught the children photography using his father's camera. These photographs are taken by Mohamad and the children, both in the camp and in the school.
The school is in need of financial help to keep open and continue their work with refugee women and children.
A Polaroid for a Refugee
These photographs depict a point of transition in the lives of individual refugees. The Polaroids reflect the inner strength and dignity maintained by refugees during their long and harrowing journeys.
Being a refugee is not a choice. You do not leave your home because you fancy living in Europe so much that you are happy to die for it. You reluctantly leave your country because you want to carry on living, that is why you are willing to risk everything.
The portraits are very similar to family portraits, conveying a relaxed and trouble-free attitude that only scratches the surface of refugee life. For every polaroid Giovanna takes, she gives one to the refugees as a reminder of the moment, and on the back is a simple statement: "Wherever your destination may be – tell me when you feel you have reached a safe place."This is a message of hope, which, sadly, for some may never be fulfilled.
Every Life Matters
These photographs aim to bring the voice of humanity back into the picture with the biggest refugee crisis since WW2, raising awareness of, empathy and support for, the brave individuals fleeing war and tyranny, risking their lives, to give their family a safer home.
They were taken on my trip to Athens with Giovanna and Jo in 2016 where we ran workshops in makeshift squats with displaced people living in an old school and on the docks. Older siblings and parents helped the children design their own new t-shirt to keep. Fathers and mothers, although exhausted by the trip they had taken so far and full of worry and fear for where their journey would next lead them, crouched down beside their children to give them a moment of normality and fun together.
I find it hard to stomach that the situation is no better now than it was four years ago when we visited Athens. People like us, our children and our parents, are living in squalor and dying trying to find a safe place to live.
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