I have had the incredible opportunity to travel so much (14 countries!) in the past 2.5 years (before that I had never been out of the U.S.!). The way that traveling has changed my perspective on the world cannot be quantified. I feel that there is no aspect of my life and view of the world that has not been impacted. The moment I came back to the U.S., I was ready to travel again. I felt that the Middle East was definitely the area of the world that I needed to see. This opportunity to travel to Palestine seemed to have just fallen into my lap, by that beauty called fate. In fact I have only known for four weeks that I would be going. My friend Christine, who is also a photographer, was originally going to go, but her parents' opposition intervened. She sent me an email offering me the position (of course I immediately started crying and shaking :D). That day I emailed the trip leader, and the next day I was officially on the team. I had no expectation for my summer, except to work full-time nannying (which I will do when I come back), and all of a sudden this amazing opportunity (doing exactly the kind of work I can see myself doing later) came to me. I am so grateful. It is my belief and passion that international photography can transform the way we see our brothers and sisters around the globe.
I am working with Students of the World, a non profit, also started by the Clinton Global Initiative through which college students have the opportunity to travel abroad and work with NGOs (many created through CGI as well). With these NGOs the students then create their own piece of professional media documenting change, in my case creating a documentary and producing a photography exhibit. These will then be shown at the CGI world summit where philanthropists can donate and choose to fund TYO. The film will also be showed in other outlets . My role will be as the official photographer. As photographer I will document the daily events (as well as the lives) of those who utilize the services of the organization. My work will be featured in both the film and in exhibitions. I may even have the opportunity to do a homestay for a week (crossing my fingers).
Often in representations of the Middle East, we rarely hear the stories of the everyday lives of those who live in hostile and violent situations, yet still find ways to invest in their futures. With my work I do not wish to isolate through my frame only the tragedies and difficulties present in the lives of those I will meet, or glorify every aspect of this organization. By trying to tell a wider story, one with nuances and contradictions, I hope to bring back to the United States a more holistic depiction of this country. Inevitably, working in a city where the borders are closed, unemployment is pandemic and refugee camps are the “home” base of thousands, politics are bound to arise, yet if these are viewed in a larger context, one focused on the stories of a wide range of individuals, it is simply the stories of their lives, not propaganda. Of course I will have to be very sensitive to issues of politics and representation.
Over half the population in the Middle East, and in Palestine is under the age of 25. The potential of the future generation, in such great numbers, is limitless- either for peace built out of education or war built out of poverty and lack of opportunity.
Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) is an American 501(c) 3 organization working in Nablus, Palestine. Founded in 2008 by a Palestinian-American, Hani Masri (current President of the Board of Directors), the organization serves the people of three local refugee camps and two other impoverished communities. This organization has cultivated a unique relationship crossing international barriers and promoting cross cultural understanding and peace. This organization, although new, has a wide range of offered services and a large network of volunteers and supporters from all around the world. Their holistic view of the individual, family and society is demonstrated through their various programs.
Since this organization is considered an American organization, and many of the staff members are from the United States, it is very important to me that locals find the space to express their voice, subjectivity and agency. This is why I am designing a peace project that will be a part of my overall photography project. I am bringing 30 disposable cameras, which I got donated by Kodak (yay!!). Upon my arrival, after I get to know the kids a bit, I will host (with the help of a translator) a photography class. This course will talk about composition, subject matter, light and style. Depending on the ease of communication, I hope to have the opportunity to engage in discussions about the meaning behind images, what they construct, what story they tell, and the role of the photographer in that process. I will then distribute the cameras and they will have several days with them before I collect them all. Their task will be to tell the story of their life: what is most important to them, who is most important to them, the struggles they face, the things that make them happy. I will work with our team interpreter (a fellow NYU student) to document the stories of these kids on tape. I will record their responses and write them into biographies.
My team (there are five of us) will be keeping a blog where I will be regularly posting photos. I will post it here as soon as I know.
We are staying in Tel Aviv for a few days and then going to Jerusalem (on monday?) before we head over to Nablus. I can't wait!
websites to check out:
seechangenow.org (past students of the world videos)