Tag Archives: Refuguees
A few months ago, one of my photos from Congo was featured in Eye See Media’s Magazine woman’s issue. I was honored to have my photo featured as a full page spread. You can view more at their website.
- Timz – An Iraqi-American rapper from El Cajon, CA.
- Mark Kabban- Founder of Yalla San Diego, a program that uses soccer to motivate and help child survivors of war and immigrant youth rebuild their lives in the US.
- Cy Kuckenbaker – A filmmaker/photographer who produced the short film Bush League.
- Yasmeen Maxamuud - The author of Nomad Diaries, a novel about a Somali Woman who is resettled in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her family, and who struggles to adjust to a different way of living and a different culture.
Here’s also a copy of our presentation, which mostly consists of images of the Iraqi Refugees we met in Lebanon:
I was recently interviewed by Eye See Media, a media company focused on telling stories of hope and stories that are not often told. The interview, shared below, was shown on their Eye See Media’s Blog. They do some great work, and I would highly recommend reading their articles and their magazine. It was a great honor to be featured on their website.
When and how did you first become interested in photography?
I first became interested in photography during my travels through South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As I spent time in slums, far-flung villages, and refugee camps I repeatedly experienced a deep beauty in the people I met. I saw their joy in the midst of great suffering, and generosity in the midst of barely having enough to get through the day, and this changed how I saw the world. Over time it fundamentally changed who I was. Whenever I went through such places I captured what I could with the point and shoot camera I carried with me, but the results were never that great.
In 2008 I bought my first DSLR and a few months later I went on a trip to Guatemala for a friend’s wedding. I found myself spending hours walking through the streets and taking thousands of photos. What I was able to capture through the lens continued to reveal the power of a picture, at times expressing more than a million words would. I also enjoyed how people interacted with me just because I was holding a camera. It sure acted as a great ice-breaker!
After returning from Guatemala, I decided to pursue photography professionally, and I also decided to expand my portfolio to wedding photography and head-shots. However, the longer I spent with my camera, the deeper I desired to use my photography to show those around me a glimpse of people unknown, forgotten, and often misunderstood by them. The summer of 2009 presented the perfect opportunity to do so through a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo where I was to capture the work of a small US non-profit in Congolese refugee camps. I spent one month in Eastern Congo capturing images and hearing the moving life stories of refugees. Through this experience I truly discovered how I can uniquely capture beautiful images in the midst of great suffering, and this by primarily getting to know the people before I snapped their picture.
The following summer I joined my girlfriend, now wife, who was doing research on Iraqi Refugees in Beirut, Lebanon. Together, we captured images and stories of what these Iraqi Refugees had faced in Iraq, what led them to flee, and what life was like being caught in limbo in Beirut waiting for potential asylum in the West. The resilience, hope, generosity, and dignity these Iraqis showed after having had terrifyingly close encounters with death and while living in the midst of much insecurity and unknown was humbling, and spoke volumes of the courage that can drive the human spirit forward in the darkest moments of life. My photography barely captured all of this, but it was an experience that had me thinking deeply about the one side of war that many often forget to consider: its innocent, vulnerable victims.
This last year, as I was unable to travel and do a project abroad, I had an opportunity to partner with a local Southern California non-profit, called Mika CDC (link: www.mikacdc.org). This small non-profit does community development work with low-income Latino immigrants, the majority of whom are undocumented. The non-profit has a passion for empowering local leaders from the communities that they serve, and helping them in practical ways such as maintaining a number of education centers, health education, and community improvement projects. I was asked to capture images of their work for use in their print and online fundraising efforts. I was also hired to re-design their website, creating new photo galleries with my own photographic work. I was deeply impressed by Mika’s commitment to their work, their genuine focus on the community, and their desire to empower leaders who can bring change in their communities. Not to mention the stories of these immigrants, the injustices they face on a daily basis, and their perseverance to provide a better life for their children. Besides getting married in 2011, this project was a highlight of the year for me.
What is Art to you?
In my mind, good art captures both beauty and emotion. Whatever the means is, writing, painting, or photography, if done well they can all capture beautiful moments and deep emotions. When I visit photography exhibits or art galleries, the images and paintings that move me the most are the ones I value as good art. I am particularly interested in art that motivates action. Working with humanitarian projects, I want people to understand issues surrounding injustices and take action on behalf of those whose voice has been muted.
What is your goal with your photography?
The goal of my photography is to capture stories of people who have faced great injustices and to show the beauty, the hope, the dignity, and the humanity behind their pain. I believe that these people’s stories need to be told, and that hearing their stories inspires us all. I do this best through photography; snapshots that hopefully even those living a rushed life will catch a glimpse of. I want to share my work with anyone who would take the time to look at the hope and beauty that is seen amongst those who face the biggest injustices.
You spent some time in Lebanon and Congo, countries that the rest of the world fear because of the reports from media. Could you tell us a bit about your experiences being there and how that informed your view of media reports?
I have been surprised by every visit I have made to places considered dangerous by the West. As I spent considerable time in the Middle East and Africa, I have often been surprised by how safe I feel and by how misleading our perceptions of these places usually are. I felt as safe in Beirut, which I visited twice, as I have felt in my nearby city of Los Angeles. I feel that much of what the media says about these places is overblown and biased by an agenda to instill fear. Not to discount the reality of ethnic tensions (Lebanon) or even rebel forces (Congo), but I believe that you run the same risks in neighborhoods of major Western cities such as Los Angeles, New York, or London. Anywhere you go, you run the risk of something misfortunate happening to you, especially if you enter that place ignorant of the local customs and arrogantly proud of yours. Living your life in fear is not the answer. I personally made the conscious choice a while ago to not let fear rule over my decisions but rather to choose to understand others. No one is too hard to understand. And so I have chosen to go the places where the need for understanding and reconciliation is great, regardless of whether it is regarded as safe or not.
Why is it important to show the sides of life that don’t commonly get represented in the media when we communicate about countries and cultures we have experienced?
Solely because what we often hear is not the whole story and this is doing absolutely no justice to the many efforts to cancel out misunderstand, hatred, and fear. What desperately needs to be instilled is a love for and celebration of diversity. I have personally encountered great beauty in the midst of much injustice and suffering, a beauty that has changed me, and I believe others would be able to experience the same if only they were given the chance to. There is beauty for everyone everywhere-what we need are the eyes to see that beauty. My experiences have changed the way in which I see the world and I have the desire to capture those experiences through photography and share them with whomever is willing to stop and look.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
The Newport-Mesa area in Orange County is an area that has always triggered mixed emotions. Having worked there for almost a year, I can definitely appreciate its nice restaurants, its busy pubs, its luxurious marinas, and its natural beauty, the area being so close to the ocean. Yet, the distinct divide between the wealthy and the poor that I have so often observed as I have ventured out into the area’s diverse neighborhoods has left me perplexed, troubled, and burdened by the deep lack experienced by so many whilst others live in great excess.
For the past few months, my fiancée has been interning at a small non-profit based in Costa Mesa: Mika Community Development Corporation. Their work and mission immediately drew me to them, as it seemed that their heart had been broken for things similar to what had been breaking mine. In a nutshell, Mika’s focus is on loving those neighbors that many find it difficult to truly love. And because true love empowers, strengthens, and heals, these neighbors have been able to shine and to set off much needed transformation in their communities.
Founded in 2003, Mika’s founders and its current team believe that Costa Mesa’s social issues need to be addressed locally, and this by acknowledging and involving not only the rich but most especially the poor. Over the last years, Mika’s staff has developed and invested in relationships with neighbors in four low-income communities residing on Shalimar Drive, Center Street, Maple Avenue, and Baker Avenue. Their work is mostly focused on Neighborhood Development and Youth Development, with Mika’s broader mission being to identify and equip leaders in low-income neighborhoods to build communities with VISION…
- Vision: neighbors share and agree on a desired future for their community
- Interdependent Relationships with God and Each Other: neighbors support one another in all facets of life: spiritually, emotionally, socially, and economically
- Servant Leadership: leaders are committed to serve, listen, trust, collaborate, and empower other neighbors to serve effectively
- Impact: neighbors identify, design, fund, manage and evaluate sustainable initiatives that transform their community
- Organization: neighbors have established efficient and effective local systems and structures to reach their shared goals and vision
- Networks: neighbors collaborate with public and private partners from inside and outside the community to maximize the impact of their initiatives
A few weeks ago, Mika trusted me with the redesigning of their website, which I am doing in tandem with building a new photo portfolio of the neighborhoods they work in. The main focus of my work has been to communicate Mika’s mission and vision as clearly as possible, with the desire that more will be drawn to their work, and to partner with Mika in however ways they are able to. As I captured these images with my camera, I yearned to communicate the beauty that is found amongst much hardship, the familiarity that can be experienced amongst those most unknown to us, and the close-knit community that is formed when strength lies not in living alone but in living peacefully with others, walking together towards a common good.
Today I share some photos taken on Shalimar Drive, where I spent a few hours getting to know the neighbors Mika has been working with over the last few years. The next few weeks will feature faces from the other three neighborhoods.
The Shalimar neighborhood is comprised of three streets that are blocked off on three sides, creating a safe atmosphere for children and youth to interact and play. These boys, first generation Americans of Latino immigrant families, were more than keen to be photographed; a great way to break the ice!
The neighborhood’s park, once used by drug users and gangs, has recently been returned to the children of Shalimar. Together with Mika, the neighbors were able to meet with the Parks and Recreation Department to ask for support in upgrading and remodeling the park.
Recently, the neighbors planted a community garden behind the park that encourages families and generations to work together and provide vegetables for individuals and families in need.
While the neighborhood is still fighting a reputation of crime and violence, a new history is being written, one telling of neighbors working together. Shalimar’s weekly block party is one event that clearly witnesses this. This block party allows for families to cook and sell food, allowing for another source of family income. And the food is good!
Two of Mika’s seven staff members live on Shalimar Drive. Their presence in the neighborhood speaks not only of their personal commitment to their neighbors, but also of their willingness to experience at first hand the neighborhood’s hardships and needs.
***Mika’s work can be read about in further detail on www.mikacdc.org. The new website is still under construction, to be launched next month.
Story by Nathalie Borg Seale | Photos by Joshua Seale
I don’t know about you, but I got away with a lot during my teenage years. Reckless adventure, a deep passion to experience novel things and emotions, the drive to create and to be different, and a good dosage of foolishness made for a good start in transitioning from childhood into adulthood. And I am grateful that no one tried to fast forward that transition. During those years I had some around me whose adolescence was speckled with dark things, but none were quite as different as the youth I was exposed to this summer: Iraqi teenagers, no longer children, not quite adults, juggling childlike dreams and adult responsibility, torn between the desire to stay young and irresponsible and the fierce determination to be an adult and provide for their families.
In my opinion, the Iraqi teenagers temporarily settled in Lebanon have it the hardest. They live in a limbo within a limbo. They are suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood, unable to grow up so quickly yet aware that childhood no longer bears their identity. In addition, they are caught between what was and what is yet to come as bureaucratic organizations process their asylum application in what is often a long-drawn-out manner. With the invasion, and the violence and uprising that followed, to graduate from high school into college became a luxury in Iraq. As family businesses were targeted, jobs lost, and life became more expensive, families could no longer support further education, especially their sons’. Besides, attending school was becoming dangerous as school buses were being blown up and children kidnapped outside schools. And so many teenage sons had to pick up jobs, usually with the American army, the one sustainable entity in Iraq throughout the war. Girls, on the other hand, were safer at home.
With the move to Lebanon, the grass did not get any greener. With little savings, if any, higher rent, and a higher cost of living, Iraqi families could not afford to have their teenagers at home. This time, however, the context is even more complex. Iraqi refugees enter Lebanon legally. They fly in, get a month-long visa, and are allowed to enter the country without any questions. The Lebanese authorities know that arriving Iraqis are not tourists, but they let them in nonetheless, ever so aware of the consequences. Upon arrival the Iraqis register as refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, only to become officially illegal a month later. Lebanon is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention and so authorities have little regard to Iraqis’ refugee status.
What makes the context complex is that although their presence is not concealed, no one seeks them out, allowing for the Iraqis to gain a sense of false freedom. Iraqis know that any work they do is illegal and strictly seen as so with harsh repercussions, but as many get away they believe that they can too. Ironically, Lebanon’s economy is booming and so Iraqis look for work, find it, and take it. Lacking any and all rights, their wages are pitiful and days worked are long and hard. Teenagers are in demand, their strength favored over that of adults. Most of the families I met are being sustained by their teenagers, not only sons but also daughters. And so they take the risk and choose to take up work to sustain their families. Then one faithful day they come across a street patrol, are asked for their documents, are unable to provide them, and are arrested and imprisoned, indefinitely unless they are willing to be deported back to Iraq.
I met a father whose two teenage sons, 14 and 17 years old, had been imprisoned. When he opened his empty fridge to offer us some cold tap water, I knew that it was out of need that his sons had looked for work. As he talked of how hard it has been for them to be locked up amongst criminals, my translator whispered that many amongst them are abused, often frail and alienated in dark, filthy, and overcrowded cells. This was sadly confirmed by Hani, a young Iraqi who had been imprisoned for five months until he agreed to be deported. Soon after his deportation, Hani returned to Lebanon and when we visited with him he was willing to share about time spent in Lebanon’s largest prison. He talked of his cell being so dark that he could never tell whether it was day or night. He said that he was brought out into the sunlight once a week for an hour and before he knew it he spiraled into depression and started to harm himself just to feel something. Hani still suffers from breathing problems and other health issues, which he blames on the filthy food and water that was served in prison. He shared how he is now terrified of being caught again but has no choice but to leave for work every single morning.
Having had many conversations with other Iraqi youth, some resettled in El Cajon, San Diego, and others in Lebanon, I know the dreams they have to start life anew. Their life was hijacked at its best by a war that tore their innocence apart and demanded that they grow up, fast. Yet, they dream big, unwavering as they face many challenges, adjustments, and unknowns. Their hopeful determination is what drives them to bravely face the risk of imprisonment, believing that their courage will win the day. Their teenage spirit is not easily consumed by fear but I do wonder whether it is valiant enough to stand against the evil that roams the prison cells. I know mine would have been gravely bullied by it, but perhaps you’d stand to differ.
The following pictures were taken in Zaaytrieh and Sed el Bouchrieh, two neighborhoods in the suburbs of Beirut that host many Iraqi refugees.
Story by Nathalie Borg Seale | Photos by Joshua Seale
I just returned from a little over two weeks of travel in the Middle East and Europe. The trip was rewarding on a number of levels, and it was jam-packed with many things to do, people to meet, and places to see.
I was able to return to Beirut, Lebanon where I lived in 2006. I joined Nathalie for the last week of her MA degree research, which she did in partnership with local NGO Heart For Lebanon. Most of my time was spent visiting Iraqi refugee families in their homes in various neighborhoods in the suburbs of Beirut, hearing about the hardships they face as they do life in transition from what was to what is to be. Iraqi refugees are not granted residency by the Lebanese government. Their time there is temporary and insecure, with most of them waiting for asylum in a Western nation.
The violence that has resulted from the war launched in 2003 can never be explained better than Iraqis who have lost members of their families and all they ever owned due to an invasion that did anything but bring them democracy and freedom. Nathalie spoke to around 60 families and every single one of them left Iraq because they were directly threatened. The large majority had members of their families kidnapped, at times murdered. They left because they were left with little choice, not because they wanted to.
Their hope for a better future in the midst of so much uncertainty – caught in limbo in a land where they cannot work legally, are miserably underpaid when they have to work illegally, and barely making it from day to day – was truly humbling, and it was an honor to get to know the Iraqis I visited during my time in Beirut
It is estimated that there are around 4.5 million Iraqis displaced due to the US invasion, which is the second largest displaced people group after the Sudanese. In Lebanon there are about 50,000 Iraqi refugees and, as opposed to neighboring Syria and Jordan, it is still accepting Iraqi refugees to apply for asylum from its land. Heart For Lebanon was given the mandate to work with ‘Christian’ Iraqi refugees.
Over the next few months I plan to post a series of stories and photos of some of the Iraqis Nathalie and I have met. These will be posted on my media non-profit blog: http://cultureasart.com.
I was also able to spend a week on the Mediterranean island of Malta, which is where Nathalie is from. It was a joy to meet her family and see where she is from. I was also able to shoot hundreds of photos, which I will be sharing on my photography website: http://joshua-seale.com
Please stop by both of these sites as I publish different stories and photos from this trip.
This last weekend I was interviewed on the first ever Revolt Collective podcast. This blog is run by my good friend Joel Hickenbottom and it was really great to be featured on it. I was able to share about how I started in photography, my thoughts on the Middle East, and my upcoming project in Lebanon with Iraqi Refugees. Thank you Joel for this opportunity!
Revolt Collective describes itself as:
“We are a faith-based collective of activists, thinkers, creatives & entrepreneurs who aspire to be the greatest lovers the world has ever seen. By revolting towards & not against. Towards love, justice, community, beauty, creation, creativity, our neighbor & ultimately, Jesus.”
Check out Revolt Collective at their website: http://www.revoltcollective.com/
Follow Revolt Collective on twitter: http://twitter.com/revoltcollectiv
At a celebration with some Iraqi Refugees in San Diego.
Over the last few months I have been reading, listening, and learning as much as I can about the current Iraqi refugee crisis in the Middle East, most notably in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. I have also spent a number of weekends with some Iraqi refugees that have resettled in San Diego, and I have been truly touched by their stories as they shared about their life in Iraq, and what it means to leave all you have ever known and start anew in a foreign land. My girlfriend Nathalie is currently in Lebanon, where she has partnered with a local NGO that provides relief to Iraqi refugees, as well as pays them visits to hear their stories, and comfort and encourage them through the message of the Gospel. I am planning on joining Nathalie and NGO Heart For Lebanon in less than a month.
The stories of the Iraqis caught in Lebanon are heartbreaking: family members killed, loved ones kidnapped and missing to this very day, and a loss of just about everything they ever worked and lived for. Perhaps what touches one’s heart the most is to see children still scared of all that surrounds them.
Most Iraqis, especially Christian Iraqis, fled the country that they still love for fear of being killed or caught in the endless violence that has gripped Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. Once they arrive in another country, usually Syria, Jordan or Lebanon, they are not able to work legally and are often taken advantage of in their vulnerable situation.
They are stuck, caught in grim transition, not being able to make a living, unable to provide even the most basic needs for their families. Yet, most humbling is the gratefulness and hope that they are able to communicate. However, more can be done, and more needs to be done in order for these refugees to know that they are being prayed for and loved. As of January 2010, there were as many as 3.5 million refugees from Iraq, according to the UNHCR.
The stories of these refugees need to be told, and they need to be told in a way that dignifies them. On July 18th, I will be joining Nathalie and Heart For Lebanon, the NGO she is partnering with, in an effort to land a hand in all that they do. I will be helping with food and clothing distribution, but primarily doing the house visits with Nathalie and the team. Since my passion is in photography, I am also eager to capture their lives through still images and videos, and sharing their stories accordingly.
Hearing about what Heart for Lebanon does has motivated me to give wholeheartedly while I am out there. Costs will total to around $3,000, but I am hoping to raise beyond this amount in order to contribute to the projects that they are doing to meet Iraqi’s immediate material and spiritual needs. If you feel led to support me in this venture, please email me at: email@example.com or you can give directly through Paypal.
I am very excited to share and announce that I will be going to Lebanon this summer and working with refugees along with my girlfriend Nathalie. My hope is to tell the stories of refugees through both still photography and video, similar to what I did in Congo last summer.
In 2006, I lived in Beirut, Lebanon for three months, and have wanted to go back ever since. I loved my time there and feel like the Father has put so much in my heart about what He is doing there. So much of my philosophy in what I am trying to communicate and capture through my photography, and this blog, was developed through my time there.
Nathalie will be spending seven weeks in Lebanon. Here she explains what she will be doing and why she is going:
“Over the summer I will be joining a Christian Lebanese NGO that reaches out to Iraqi refugees in the city of Beirut, helping them in their work, as well as carrying out research for my Masters thesis. In doing a Masters degree in Anthropology, my focus has been on development in the context of the Middle East, and as it can be used to bring security, justice, rights, and hope to refugees in the region. It is finally time to transition from the classroom to the field, to a nation that has seen one too many conflicts; a nation that is, in its own way, trying to negotiate a balance between tradition and modernity; a nation that in the midst of political instability is hosting two large refugee populations that have been uprooted as a result of the war in Iraq, and the continuing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
If you had to ask me what I am expecting from my time in Beirut, I would first giggle nervously, and then share that I expect my Father to blow my mind with how He’s moving in the midst of much pain and suffering; I expect Him to continue to show me how He sees refugees, and with that continue to break my heart for people who have lost everything in the name of war. I know that He will keep speaking to me on how He’d love to bring me in on His plan for redemption for refugees in the Middle East. I also know that there will be times when I will be overwhelmed, but my Father is a loving expert in centering me back in on Him when I choose to barter my hope, joy, and peace in His Son for the many injustices that surround me. One last thing: I also cannot wait to spend time with Jesus in the region He chose to come to earth to, that faithful day. We will be enjoying long, hot, and humid days by the Mediterranean. They won’t be our first, and certainly not our last!”
I am planning on going to Lebanon for the last ten days of her trip, and spend some time capturing and hearing stories of different refugees. I feel as though this is another opportunity to build and develop my skill and passion for capturing and communicating stories of hope and transformation through my camera.
Obviously there are some large costs that go along with this trip. While I am able to pay some of the costs through my job, it is honestly a walk of faith to be able to go. I have complete confidence that God is going to provide for me, as He has so many times before. But if you feel like you want to give towards this trip, it would be greatly appreciated. You can easily do so through Paypal here:
A few weekends ago, Nathalie and I spent some time with a few Chaldean Iraqi friends down in El Cajon, San Diego. Almost every Sunday over the summer months, literally thousands of Chaldean Iraqis get together in a few different parks in San Diego to celebrate their patron saints as they would in Iraq. Such gatherings also allow for families and young people to come together as a community in a new land. Young and old gather together, kebab’s are grilled, hookah is smoked, and traditional dancing is the highlight of these gatherings.
The more stories I hear about Iraqi refugees and what they have been through, the more my heart breaks for them. These refugees have been through so much in leaving Iraq and getting here. I am currently reading the book, “Waiting for an Ordinary Day” which is written by a Wall Street Journal reporter who lived in Iraq before and during the occupation. It chronicles the life of different Iraqis she has met, and gives a very personal picture of what has happened in Iraq during the last few years.
During my time with our Iraqi friends, I couldn’t help think about the difficulties and horrors they have seen and experienced. I also couldn’t be more surprised by how they are simply able to enjoy life: it is the simple things in life that they hold on to and enjoy. It was a beautiful (and fun) experience to share with them all.