“To Whom It May Concern”: These words I read every day on my UNHCR asylum seeker certificate. I’m a Syrian child. The only thing I hope in the world is to wake up from this terrible nightmare and to return to my friends, to return to my life, to my home before this war. And if the time goes back, I just want to play with the people who lost their lives, and I will ask them to leave Syria. I never thought that I would live in a tent, but that’s alright. I never thought I would not listen to my English teacher, who I love so much in Syria, but that’s alright. I never thought I would not breath the smells of Syrian fields in the summer night, but that’s alright. But, to whom it may concern, please … stop war, and let me go back to my past life.—Anwar Al Sayed
These are the words of Anwar Al Sayed, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee who has been living in Jordan for the past three years. She read this letter to a full classroom on the second day of the National Geographic Photo Camp in Jordan. Photo Camp provides opportunities for young people from underserved communities worldwide, including at-risk and refugee teens, to tell their own stories. National Geographic photographers and editors serve as mentors, working with the next generation to highlight youth perspectives on issues of global importance.
In Jordan, our classroom consisted of 20 students, all Syrian refugees, ranging in age from 13 to 15. Each day we taught basic photography lessons in the morning and set out on photo assignments in the afternoon, and each night the students took their cameras home to photograph their families, neighborhoods, and communities. Over the course of the week I looked at over 25,000 student photographs.
It was more than inspiring to picture the world through these students’ eyes. Below is a selection of their photographs demonstrating the beauty they found in their every day, the intimacy they found in their homes, and the vibrancy they found in the community around them.
To make a donation and to learn more about Photo Camp Jordan’s partners and team, please scroll to the bottom. The students’ text below was translated by Nousha Kabawat.
“The [Bashar al Assad Baath] regime came to our area and took the house next to us. They started shooting from it, and the area around our home became very dangerous. My dad decided that we would leave Syria so my little brothers and sisters could stay alive. We were smuggled in a car from Damascus to Daraa, and then we walked around six hours from Daraa to Jordan. We had no food or water until we got to the border. We lived in the Zaatari Refugee Camp for three months, before coming to Jaresh.
In this photo, my friend is holding a pigeon and calling another friend. This is my Jordanian friend who keeps these pigeons. Originally, my Dad’s friend gave me two pigeons, and I kept them at my friend’s house, but they flew back to their first home. Now my friend has a new pigeon, and it reminds me of the original two. The pigeons are kept for pets, but the photo could remind me of flying back to Syria.”—Mohammed Mahmoud
“I was living in Daraa, where the revolution sparked. This was the first place intensely targeted by the regime. We had to leave because there was constant bombing and shelling. We were smuggled close to the Syrian Jordanian border by a car, and then we walked across, accompanied by the Free Syrian Army. We lived in Irbid for six months before moving to Jaresh.
I took a picture of the mukhtar in his home. The mukhtar is a local leader in the Kitteh community in Jaresh. I wanted to show tradition in this photograph, how the Bedouins lived, and this is why he’s wearing formal dress. I am interested in history, and I watch documentaries on history and war. This photograph reminds me of our ancestors. We still hang on to our history even though we are refugees living somewhere else.”—Anwar Al Sayed
“There is a rule in Syria that if you are male, you must serve in the army. My uncle had already left for Jordan because he didn’t want his sons to have to serve in the regime’s army. My uncle took his family to safety, and our family followed after they left. Homs was the second city to be extremely targeted by the regime. When we left Homs we passed by a town close to the Jordanian border. It was regime territory, and I remember there were bullets overhead. We were smuggled into Jordan by car. First we went to Zaatari Refugee Camp for several days, then to my uncle’s village before coming here to Jaresh.
Rehan, the young girl in this photograph, is my cousin, and the small boy under her was being squished. These kids are in the younger class at our school, and they asked me to take a picture. Everyone was pushing each other to be in the photo, and I thought it was a funny moment. I care about my cousin and all the kids in the younger class. They are very innocent, and I see the love inside of them. School is important to me, because now I have a place to go in the day and learn. It is important for me to learn so I can be a civil engineer and go back and rebuild Syria.”—Mohammed Nafel
“I have two sisters and three brothers. We left Daraa because our house was bombed. We crossed the Jordanian border by van and were taken to the Zaatari Refugee Camp. Then we moved to Jaresh, where we rent a house for a hundred dinar. I dream about being a military pilot and protecting my country. I wish that Syria will be restored and become more beautiful than it was. I dream about returning to the village of Kush al Hamam and sitting outside and playing marbles next door with my friends.
I took this photograph after we went hiking in the woods. I liked the way the donkey’s hair [was] on his forehead, the way the man was riding the donkey, and the two bags he’s carrying. In the background, I like the curve of the street.”—Yacoub Ahmad Hamzeh
“My only dream is to grow older and older and become a hairdresser and prepare the brides of Syria when we go back. I also have another dream: I wish to return to Syria and rebuild and replant to make everything beautiful. I would give my life for whatever my country needs. I want to help Syrians any way that I can. I am a strong woman of Syria, and during difficult times, I am ready to wipe away mountains. Sometimes maybe I make people sad and cry when I say these things. Life is like a piano: It has white keys that represent happiness, but it also has black keys that represent sadness and sorrow. You will surely go through both, but this is what gives life a melody.”—Nour Al Zoubi
“A rocket hit my neighborhood, a place close to my house, and my father was so afraid he decided we should leave and go to Jordan. We walked from our house in Saida to the main road, where we caught a big pickup truck. The pickup dropped us off a half day’s walk to the Nasib border. When we arrived, the police and soldiers took our official papers and moved us to a refugee camp, where we stayed for one day. Then we went to Al Zarqa, where we lived for two years. Last year we moved to Nahla.
This photograph is of my sisters Sajida and Huda. There was a lot of wind, and I wanted to take this photo because they were hugging each other, and it shows how much they love each other.
“—Siham Al Zoubi
“We left Daraa when a lot of bombs and rockets started falling next to our house. There are six people in my family, including my mom and dad. My dad decided we would go to Jordan because my grandfather used to visit Jordan. I came to the border on a bus with my parents, but my brothers and sisters were smuggled in. First we lived in Zerka, and now we’ve been in Kittah for eight months.
The horse in this photograph reminds me of my neighbor’s horse in Syria. I used to ride their horse in Syria. I also love the atmosphere and the greenery in this photograph.”—Shefaa Hassan
“I can’t remember how we left Syria. My family went to Lebanon for a year and then came to Jordan because Lebanon was too expensive.
I took this photograph because we had an assignment to photograph a reflection. I don’t think it’s a self-portrait because you can’t see my face, and I become anonymous. In the future I could imagine being a photographer, because I have a hard time expressing myself in words.
My hope is that Syria will be restored and will become better. I hope to return to Syria and see it rebuilt. I hope to become an engineer and rebuild Syria, house by house, and build the biggest hospitals, the biggest mosques, the biggest schools, build bakeries, and rebuild our home. I hope to become a good engineer, God willing, we will rebuild Syria the best we can. We are going to make Syria the most beautiful country and restore the life in it.”—Abdullah Al Zoubi
Photo Camp Jordan was a partnership with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Aziz Abu Sarah, cameras were generously provided by Olympus, sponsored by Cultures of Resistance Network Foundation, and the week was taught, produced, and made possible by Jon Brack, Kirsten Elstner, Nousha Kabawat, Iara Lee, Matt Moyer, Susan Poulton, Ala’a Shaba’an, Amy Toensing, and Jessie Wender. Team leadership was provided by Mohammad Alhaj Ali, AL Montaser Bellah AL jajeh, Elian Hadj-Hamdi, and Kelly Lynn.
On the go? Download Nat Geo View, National Geographic’s new, bite-size daily digest app for the iPhone. Each day editors select Proof posts, as well as our best pictures, stories, and videos, and send them straight to your iPhone. Check out all National Geographic has to offer in an elegant, easy-to-use app you can tap into wherever you are today.