Palestinian camp children 'shoot' gloomy life in Lebanon

Date: 04-14-07

by Rana Moussawi

RASHIDIYEH, Lebanon (AFP) - A boy smokes a cigarette, another holds a Kalashnikov, mud and garbage everywhere. These are the pictures of everyday life as shot by children in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

The images of gloomy reality have been taken by 13-year-old Yasmine and dozens of other children at the refugee camps where half of Lebanon's 400,000 Palestinian refugees still live in miserable conditions.

"Photography is an extraordinary leisure activity. It is like a game, but also a way to fulfill our dreams," said Yasmine, whose only other fun activity so far had been to roll old tyres on roads around her camp.

Photography came to the camps' young people through a project launched by a local association called Image Festival Association-Zakira (Memory, in Arabic).

"We want photography to become a leasure activity for these children, many of whom are forced to leave school early to help their parents because of the economic crisis," organiser Bilal Jawish said.

The project allows the youngsters, mainly aged between seven and 12, to take pictures of daily life using disposable cameras, after a few instructions from professional photographers who are members of Zakira.

The association plans to distribute disposable cameras to a total of 500 children across all 12 Palestinian camps where their families have sought refuge since the creation of Israel in 1948.

The organisers say that the 100 best pictures will be published in a book and that exhibitions of the photos will be held in Lebanon, the Arab world, Europe and the United States.

A few of the young people taking part in the project will be selected to undergo training with professional photographers.

"We will teach them how to take pictures, maybe one day they can become professional photographers," said Jawish.

Palestinian refugees live in poverty and have a high rate of unemployment, particularly because they are officially banned from dozens of jobs in Lebanon.

The project has already achieved wonders.

Through it, Mohamad, an 11-year-old boy at Rashidiyeh camp in southern Lebanon, has been able to overcome his fear and roll out of his home in his wheelchair to take pictures.

Mohamad lost both his legs in the explosion of a fragmentation bomb dropped by Israeli forces on southern Lebanon during the Jewish state's military offensive in July-August 2006.

For months, Mohamad would not leave his house, but now he is determined "to become a photographer."

Most of the children's pictures show garbage-strewn streets, sewage running along the narrow alleys of the camp.

They also show homes riddled with bullets, graffiti glorifying late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and rooms overcrowded by large families.

On one picture, children stand near an old rail track which once linked Beirut to Haifa - before the latter city became part of Israel in 1948. The rails once ran through Rashidiyeh.

"It symbolizes the desire to return to Palestine," said one of the organisers.


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