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The young photographers in Lebanon’s camps

Recent clashes along Israel’s border have offered a reminder about the plight of 4.5 million Palestinians displaced by the conflict in Israel.

10 Palestinians were killed along the border with Lebanon after demonstrations about the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. Lebanon has nearly half a million Palestinian refugees living on its soil. Although Palestinians represent nearly 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population (of around 4.2 million), restrictions on their status and the kinds of employment they can undertake, mean little integration has taken place into Lebanese society. Most Palestinians live in 12 refugee camps, slums of cheaply-built dwellings with open sewers running down the alleyways.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is trying to improve conditions for the refugees with its limited funds. After thousands of homes were destroyed in the fighting of 2007, the agency is overseeing some rebuilding in areas with proper sewers and amenities such as schools and health centres. The first new housing units have now been handed over to Palestinian refugees. However, when interviewed by Reuters after the border clashes, one elderly resident of the new units said if given the chance, she’d “leave the house and go to Palestine, my country.”

For young Palestinians, the refugee camps in Lebanon are all they’ve known. IRIN this week reports on the work of Zakira, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Beirut, whose aim is to improve the lives of Palestinian children in the camps. A spokesman for the NGO says “kids are kids, they are the same everywhere”. However, he goes on to describe how youngsters in the camps have few recreational outlets, especially important in helping some of them to deal with difficult experiences or express troubles they have seen.

Zakira has been organising photo projects in the camps. The first was called ‘Lahza’ which means ‘glimpse’ or ‘moment’ in Arabic. Children were given disposable cameras and lessons in basic photography, before being asked to take photos of life in the camps. A selection of their pictures was published and proceeds used towards a football field and dance studio.

In a second project, called ‘After Lahza’, over 250 teenagers took part in workshops which taught them advanced photography. The aim was to give them skills they could use to find employment, such as taking photos for weddings or providing people with ID photos. One young trainee even had some pictures published in a Lebanese newspaper and has been asked to be an events photographer in his camp. But even if the teenagers only keep photography as a hobby, according to the organisers the project allowed the youngsters to find a sense of “determination” as well as an outlet for “self-expression” in a society where they face poverty, discrimination and marginalisation.

Laurinda Luffman signature