LEBANON -- I’ve been spending a lot of time meeting Syrian refugees lately for stories about the massive influx of people fleeing to Europe and the hardship caused by the shortfall in aid. Along the way I took some pictures of the people I met, and especially the children. Half of all the 4 million refugees are children.
This brother and sister live in Al-Minya in northern Lebanon in one of the makeshift camps set up by private landlords for refugees. They were swinging on their swing hung from the roof of their little shack while I was interviewing their mother about the difficulty of surviving on limited aid. I noticed that they swung without joy. They didn’t smile once.
Outside, however, these two little boys could not have been having more fun splashing in the puddles left by a recent rainstorm. I wish I had turned the video on and caught the infectious sound of their high-volume giggles, which continued for minutes on end. I started giggling myself.
This is a tent school in the camp run by a local charity and funded by UNICEF. It is no substitute for a proper school. The teachers are not trained teachers, but volunteers from among the refugees. There is little in the way of equipment. These children were drawing on torn scraps of paper seated on metal boxes around a grubby plastic table.
These children were very excited to have visitors to their camp located on farmland in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and they followed us around all over. You can see how miserable these camps are. Because they are on private land, the UN has no role in running them, and they are referred to as “informal tented settlements,” though the residents call them camps.
It was therefore an unexpected delight to turn a corner and discover a blaze of color. This man has planted a garden of flowers in front of his tent. He is a carpenter from Homs and has been living here for three years.
Refugee families try to improve their tents in many small ways. One thing that is noticeable is how impeccably tidy and well-organized their makeshift kitchens are. It felt intrusive taking photos of people’s kitchens, but they were always happy to let me do it. It’s one of their last vestiges of a real life. There’s a hole in the roof of this tent, but the kitchen was immaculate.