Youth Lens: Picturing the future in Turkey

A photography project helps Syrian and Turkish students imagine their futures – and builds bridges.

By Adrian Brune and Jason Miks
Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
UNICEF/UN0322370/Sayindi

24 July 2019

Friends. Hope. Warmth. The future. How might you represent any of these in a single image? Syrian and Turkish students took on that challenge as part of a project aimed at building bridges between refugees and their host communities.

Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, about 1.5 million of whom are children. But with an estimated 400,000 school-age children out of school, many refugees are left potentially vulnerable to social isolation, discrimination, child labour and child marriage.

Over the course of four months, 60 students aged 11 to 18 were encouraged to share their lives – and their visions for the future – with the help of renowned photographer Reza Deghati, as part of the UNICEF-supported Youth Lens project. In workshops across three cities in Turkey students learned some of the ins and outs of photography and visual narration to tell their own stories, centred around a series of themes.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Yasmin Masri, 17, a Syrian student, photographed three sisters watching a video together on a mobile phone before bedtime to illustrate 'Family'. "I worked for a while when we first came to Turkey, and helped my family,” says Yasmin, who snapped the picture in Istanbul. “But I want to become a professional photographer. I'm going to work really hard.”

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Yasmin also photographed a young boy offering a flower to a girl in Istanbul to depict ‘Friendship’.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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In another of Yasmin’s photos, a flower sprouting from a crack in a tree in Istanbul is used to represent ‘Hope’.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Seagulls land on the coast of Istanbul in this image captured by Ali Albakri, 17, a Syrian student. “I love taking photos and showing my emotions,” says Ali, who used this picture to epitomize ‘Freedom’. Ali, the oldest of five children, has lived in Turkey for six years.  

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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A skateboarder performs a jump in a photograph on the theme of ‘Elevation’ taken in Istanbul by Mohammad Abou Daher, 16, a Syrian student. “I signed up because I like taking photos,” Mohammad says. One of five children, Mohammad hopes to join his older brother and sister at university.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Two brothers laugh on the balcony of their home, representing ‘Happiness’ as seen through the lens of Verde Mashad, 16, a Syrian student. “The photography training gave meaning to my life... I believe I can do many things,” says Verde, whose family came to Izmir to Aleppo, Syria — just 90 kilometres away. 

 

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A reflection on a street after a rain shower in Izmir represents ‘Paradigms’ for Halid Adali, 17, a Syrian refugee. “There are millions of people in need, and I can take the photos of those people and share them in the media to increase awareness,” Halid says. “In this way we can be of [some] help.”

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Sand slides through the fingers of a girl at the Istanbul seaside in a photograph on the theme of ‘Hourglass’ by Sana Aboud, 14, a Syrian student. “My oldest brother works at a photographer's [store]; I joined the course because I'd like to learn more,” says Sana, whose family came from Aleppo. “I want to work in this field.”

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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A mirror captures a Gaziantep shoemaker crafting a new pair of traditional shoes in ‘Reflection’ by Zehra Oguz, 16, a Turkish student. “I came to the photography workshop to improve [my photography skills] and to make friends,” Zehra says.

 

Youth Lens
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An elderly lady holds prayer beads while resting on her sofa in Gaziantep – a photo that embodies ‘Peace’ to Abdülhakim Epengin, 17, a Turkish student. Abdülhakim plays on a hockey team in addition to working on his photography.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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A teenage girl gazes at a painting of a house on fire at an exhibition in Istanbul, representing ‘Memories’ to Rama Masri, 16. “My family and I have been living in Turkey for four years” says Rama, a Syrian student who came from Aleppo. “I'm deeply fond of Istanbul.”

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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A group of people gather around a fire in Gaziantep while a man sells fruit juice in the background in a photo entitled ‘Warmth’ by Bahaddin Mohamad: “Photography gave me a new way of seeing." Bahaddin, a 14-year-old Syrian student, has lived in Turkey for six years.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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Enis Aydeyer poses next to a photo of Ara Güler – a famous photographer known as the ‘Eye of Istanbul’ – at the Ara Güler Museum in Istanbul. His friend, 16-year-old Turkish student Nazli Erdogdu, captured the image to embody the concept of ‘Master’. “I came here because I like taking pictures and I want to improve myself,” Nazli says.

 

Youth Lens: Dreams of the Future
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A group of Youth Lens project students pose after finishing their outdoor class in Istanbul. Omar Koulko, a young Syrian who has been in Turkey since 2017, snapped the photograph entitled ‘Mission Accomplished’.

 

— The Youth Lens project was launched within the framework of the non-formal education programme by UNICEF Turkey, in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sports, with the financial support of the European Union.