The role of an object
Objects. Souvenirs. Mementos.
As a child, many of us had a prized possession – something that was just ours. We took care of it. We cherished it. In turn, it preserved memories that we still carry with us today.
But what if you suddenly had been forced on the move, fleeing war or escaping poverty? Could you have brought it? Would you have found something new along the way?
Welcome to the exhibition “Uprooted journeys: The role of an object”, co-organized by UNICEF and the National Human Rights Council in Morocco. Many of these photos illustrate that physical belongings help to maintain a sense of personal belonging through a young person’s journey. In some photos, objects appear to be a token of grief, desperation – or a testament to strength and courage. In others yet, children have nothing but the clothes on their backs.
We hope this exhibit reminds you that, whether children are migrants, refugees, internally displaced or stateless, first and foremost, #AChildIsAChild.
Harold, 17, is travelling from Caracas, Venezuela, to Lima, Peru, in 2018, to start a new life. When packing to leave, he discarded a lot of things that didn’t fit in his bag. But he did pack one special object: his high school medal. The medal, he hopes, represents the first achievement of many he will earn in his life.
Photo: Manuel Moreno Gonzalez
Fourteen-year-old Rohingya refugee Tasmin Akter holds her favourite book of poetry at a UNICEF-supported project in Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox's Bazar District, Bangladesh, in 2018. "When I take a decision for myself, like deciding to read a Bengali poem at home, I feel strong," says Tasmin.
Photo: Brian Sokol
A young girl poses with her toy dog at the Sloviansk central station in eastern Ukraine in 2015. She came to live in this train car with her mother after their home in Uglehorsk, Donetsk Oblast, was destroyed by missiles.
Photo: Paul Zmey
Valentina, 10, plays with other Venezuelan children in a UNICEF tent for mothers with their children in Rumichaca, Ecuador, on the border with Colombia in 2018. Valentina is traveling with her mother to Peru, where she hopes to meet her father and other relatives who have already made the journey.
Photo: Santiago Arcos
Agnes holds her baby boy’s knitted hat in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, north-western Uganda in 2017. She fled South Sudan, in the midst of conflict, where the war and instability had created a severe food crisis. Agnes’s baby contracted malaria during the journey to Uganda. Unfortunately, he passed away just days after their arrival at the settlement.
Photo: James Oatway
Hamza, 14, in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, holds a handwritten note from his teacher in Syria in 2018. The note calls Hamza a star. Hamza is now in 8th grade and has made a big effort to keep achieving academically, despite the disruption to his education. He made sure to pack the note when they left Syria. “It’s important for me to keep it, because it reminds me of when I was the best student in my class,” he says.
Photo: Christopher Herwig
Six-year-old Nyaboth holds her family stove in Bentiu Protection of Civilians site in Unity State, South Sudan in 2016. Nyaboth carries the stove every day to school so she has something to sit on while she learns.
Photo: Sebastian Rich
A boy shoulders his belongings in a large cloth bag as he walks along the railway tracks that cross from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia in 2015. The southern border town of Preöevo served as a transit point for many migrants and refugees in 2015.
Photo: Tomislav Georgiev
Eliasa, 15, displays the sole belongings he had with him on his journey to the US – a belt, shoelaces and some soap – at a governmental reception shelter in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala in 2018. An increasing number of children and families from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are migrating north through irregular routes, hoping to resettle in the US. Some are fleeing pervasive gang violence in their home communities, while others are trying to escape endemic poverty.
Photo: Tanya Bindra
Sajad Al-Faraji, 16, sits for a portrait during his archery practice in Vienna, Austria in 2017. He made the harrowing journey from Iraq to Austria in his wheelchair. “It's a beautiful feeling when I hit the target,” he says. “When I’m looking down the arrow, I don’t think about anything. Not the asylum papers, not my legs. No problems. It’s just me and the target at that moment. And in that moment, I am so happy, I feel free.”
Photo: Ashley Gilbertson, VII Photo
Extreme poverty in Somalia pushed 17-year-old Ideeya to leave everything behind – including the thing most precious to her, her baby – to migrate to Yemen for work. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Ideeya spent four days with no water or food while waiting for a boat, and once it did arrive, she had to fend off rape and abuse. Eventually she returned home: “I want to work hard to ensure that my daughter does not become like me,” she says. Ideeya cannot read or write.
Photo: Karel Prinsloo
Yahya, 13, in northern Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, holds a passport photo of himself in 2018. It was taken for his school registration. Yahya was in the first grade for only one week before his family fled to Jordan. He keeps the photo safe so he can remember his past when he looks at it. “This photo is part of my childhood,” he says. “It makes me smile to see myself, and I’m happy to have a memory of when I was younger in Syria.”
Photo: Christopher Herwig
A girl sits on the ground and plays with her toy bear, as people queue around her at the Vinojug reception centre near the town of Gevgelija, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2015. Waiting for long periods can be wearying for children without the companionship of their friends.
Photo: Tomislav Georgiev
Young migrants play a game at the Centro Astante in Palermo, Italy in 2017. Supported by UNICEF, the centre hosts two first-line reception sites for unaccompanied young migrants in the city, handling the registration and asylum application process. This is a common scene in many reception centres around the world: games to distract from the tedium and despair of long waiting days – which often become months and even years, with lasting impact on their futures.
Photo: Salvatore Cavalli
Mohammed Junaid, 10, fled his home village in Yangsang, Buthedaung, Myanmar, during a violent offensive by Myanmar’s military. He lost his bag of clothes, which was on another boat. Here in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in 2017, he holds the only belongings he has left: two copies of the Holy Quran.
Photo: Patrick Brown
Fifteen-year-old Irish Youth Ambassador Minahil Sarfraz, a refugee youth activist from Pakistan, stands inside an exhibit at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Media Zone at United Nations Headquarters, in 2016, holding a placard depicting SDG #16.
Photo: Susan Markisz