An Elementary School in Malibu, Calif. Shows Refugee Children in Uganda That They Care
“Those photographs you took, I loved them. You should be famous for what you did. They were amazing. I think you don’t deserve this life…Someday the sun will shine on you,” writes Jonah, a student at Webster Elementary School in Malibu, Calif., in a brightly decorated letter.
His classmate, Fiona, writes, “I loved the picture with the flowers. I feel how you are. I’m sorry what happened to you.” Her card includes a self portrait standing next to a drawing of her pen pal.
Last month, International Medical Corps visited Webster Elementary to share the exhibit, “Through the Eyes of Refugee Children,” a collection of photographs taken by 60 young refugees, ages 12 to 20, in southwest Uganda. Webster Elementary parent, Laurie Cappello, a long-time volunteer and supporter of International Medical Corps, organized bringing the exhibit to the school.
“The exhibit was an incredible educational tool that allowed the students to connect with other children across the world while they learned about difficult subject matter like refugees, hunger, and war,” says Cappello. “I was incredibly moved by the outpouring of support, friendship, and encouragement from the students. It is so important to educate children on the issues that face our world. This exhibit was a perfect opportunity to do just that and the reaction of the students shows how children, if given the opportunity, will work to change their world for the better.”
The exhibit is the product of a joint venture between International Medical Corps and National Geographic. In 2006 they teamed up to train children living in a refugee camp to photograph their lives as a form of art therapy. What came out of this program was a revealing look into lives shaped by poverty, hunger, and war.
One of the photographs shows a woman biting into a cob of corn. The caption provided by the young photographer reads, “In [my home country of] Congo we had and ate maize, but not as a daily food like in the camp. Here we eat it every day and as porridge as well. Now we have less variety. Maize is breakfast, lunch, and dinner, always the same.”
Another image shows the effects of having a diet consisting of mostly corn. A little boy holds his younger sister, both their tummies round and swollen from malnutrition. The caption beneath that photograph reads, “This is malnutrition. She will only grow up to know how to dig. They have one piece of clothing and don’t clean it for a year.”
In a photograph of a man removing an insect from his foot, the caption reads, “The life here is hard. We should not be here. We are suffering.”
For the students at Webster, these photographs offered an opportunity to connect with other children from across the globe. Moved by their hardships, different classes put together books of letters, drawings, and photographs to send to the young photographers in Uganda.
An International Medical Corps representative who participated in the project spoke to the children about Uganda and the young refugees who took the photographs. She was impressed by some of the questions that the children asked which ranged from how they got clean water, did their homework without electricity, and built a bicycle out of wood.
“How can you make a house? I want to learn how now. How was the boy who got lost? I want to know how he is. I want to know his name,” asks one student in his letter.
More than any other question, the children wanted to know what they could do to help.
“The pictures you guys sent to us were beautiful. I know how hard your life is in Uganda that’s why in the future I am going to come to Uganda in the future and make sure that you can afford what you need most for everything,” writes Tallulah, her drawing showing two girls and a boy holding hands in the sunshine.
When their words of encouragement reach the Uganda refugee camp, the youth will know that the messages captured in their photographs have not only been heard, but have resonated in the hearts and minds of a group of children in California who want to help.