Saturday, November 20, 2010

Refugee children tell of their stories via snapshots


By JADE CHAN

jade@thestar.com.my
Photos by BRIAN MOH


LIKE any other child, Peter Jackson and his friends dream of becoming doctors or singers.
However, they are unlike most children as these teenagers are Myanmar refugee children in Kuala Lumpur.
The works of these budding photographers are exhibited at the Everyone Has Hope exhibition, with the photos portraying an insight into their life in the city.
Against the odds: A group of Myanmar refugee children playing football without shoes, a photo taken by Amos
The photography exhibition, presented by the See the World Through Our Eyes project, showcases some 60 photographs shot by 16 refugee children aged between 13 and 16 — Zaw Naw, Hanah, Nilarson, Zaw Rein, Peter Jackson, Neem, Grace Elly, Alex, Andrew, Amos, Suithlawntial, Joan, Maliani, Jonah, Myo Toe Aung and Sam Tun.
The project, conducted by a group of Taylor’s College students and lecturer, saw the children learn the art of photography over three months.
Organised with the support of British Council’s Global Changemakers, Amnesty International Malaysia and several partners, the project was aimed at allowing these children to develop skills in the arts, have fun, and ultimately tell their story to the world.
Budding photographers: The refugee children with the Taylor’s College students involved in > SEE NEXT PAGE the See the World Through Our Eyes Project, and some of the project’s supporters.
Peter, a keen and bright 13-year-old, had no knowledge about holding a camera but has since developed a passion for photography.
“My favourite photo is Thinking, which is about a man thinking about his life. With the man’s back facing the camera, I had no idea if that was a sad or happy moment. I made it more interesting by shooting it in black and white,” he said.
Peter enjoys shooting a variety of themes like black and white, landscape, action, portrait and night shots.
“I also hope to get an SLR camera and travel around the world to take photos,” said the aspiring photographer and computer technician.
All smiles: A photo taken by Amos entitled ‘Be Happy.’
Peter said he also liked dancing and singing to hip-hop tunes, with his favourite song being Mizz Nina’s What You Waiting For.
Ma Liani, 14, hopes to continue pursuing photography and becoming a doctor to help her people.
“Photography allows me to show other people’s lives to the world,” she said shyly with the help of a translator.
Home Saloon and Thoughts depict a typical scene at the refugee homes, whereby they have to do their own haircut as they can’t go to a barber.”
Telling a story: ‘Thoughts’ by Ma Liani is a photo that she said depicts a typical scene at the refugee homes, whereby they have to do their own haircut as they can’t go to a barber.
On why she selected My Lovely Sister as her favourite photo, Ma said it captured the innocence of a baby who is yet to be affected by the difficulties in life.
Of his nine photos on display, football enthusiast Amos picked Everyone Has Hope as his favourite because it depicted a group of fellow refugee children playing football.
“Even though they are playing football without any shoes (because they can’t afford them), they are still enjoying the game while dreaming of being their favourite footballers,” said the Lionel Messi fan.
Confident is a self portrait of Amos standing against an interesting graffiti wall along Jalan Imbi.
“I happened to be walking along the road and this wall’s striking colours caught my eye. I composed the shot and got a stranger to help me click the camera,” he said.
The 14-year-old who dreams of being a famous singer hopes to take more interesting photos in the future.
Taylor’s College Canadian Pre-U programme lecturer Colin Boyd Shafer said the project was inspired by a documentary from India entitled Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.
“A few of my students said they wanted to do something after watching the film. I got to know about the Association of Chin Refugees (ACR) School, where my sister had volunteered more than a year ago,” said the Canadian who teaches World Issues.
“Taking out a leaf out of the documentary’s concept, we decided to teach the refugee children about photography but first had to get the cameras.”
Shafer and the students involved in the project got their families and friends from Malaysia and Canada to donate their used cameras. He also sold some of his photographs to buy new ones.
They then got a group of amateur and professional photographers to teach the children the basics of photography and also went on short field trips.
“The children initially started focusing on inanimate objects like flowers, but we encouraged them to be more creative and explore photojournalism to tell stories with photos,” said Shafer.
“We did not expect the photos to be as creative as what they are exhibited today. While the photos capture their interaction with friends and family and their daily activities, the fact is that they managed to capture moments that are unreal.”
Isabelle Choi, 18, said the most important lesson she learnt from the project is to always hope and show positivity, while Shafer hoped that similar projects would be held at other schools for refugees.
Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Nora Murat noted that the youth were the ones who served as a catalyst to affect change.
Commending the project, she said: “There are more than 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, who are forced to leave their native land due to political, environmental and other problems.
“These photographs help personalise the refugees’ issues and allow the public to understand their life, difficulties, fear and hope.”
The exhibition’s launch featured a special performance by the budding photographers who came dressed in their traditional costumes.
The photos are priced at RM10 and RM25 for the 4R and 8R sizes respectively. All proceeds will go to the ACR School.
Everyone Has Hope is held until next Saturday at the Annexe Gallery, 1st and 2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe, Jalan Hang Kasturi, KL.
The exhibition is open to the public from 11am to 8pm daily. Admission is free.
For details, call 03-2070 1137.