The photographic exhibition “Youth Lens – Dreams of the Future” was launched at UNICEF House in New York on 11 June 2019, with members of the UNICEF Executive Board 2019, the Turkish Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the Canadian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and several UNICEF, UN and international staff in attendance. Also in attendance were two out of the 60 children who took part in an innovative and enlightening photography workshop led by photographer Reza Deghati.
President of the UNICEF Executive Board, H.E. Mr. Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Morocco opened the session by recapping the opening day of the Annual Session of the Executive Board meeting 2019, stressing the importance of collaboration. He quoted famed Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who said ”Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
“We must take this step, and utter this word, together. After all, we are all working towards the same end: to guarantee a positive future, a bright one, for today’s and tomorrow’s children, everywhere.”
“I believe this generation of children will be a force to be reckoned with. They are fearless and innovative. We should harness their energy and ideas, and remember that it is the future that is at stake.”
Speaking to one of the adolescents in attendance, he added, “Your photos are full of light and hope, despite the fact that you have been through trauma, suffering, and fear. But all your photos show a belief in the future.”
The images displayed at the exhibition are a selection from a wider body of photographs taken by 60 Turkish and Syrian adolescents living in Turkey. The UNICEF-supported Youth Lens project was launched in 2018 in Turkey, training 60 youths, 30 Syrian refugees and 30 Turks, from Gaziantep, Istanbul and Izmir in the language of images. The young photographers, aged 11 to 18 were introduced to image storytelling over a period of four months by Reza and Turkish trainers.
Syrian Yasmin Masri, 17, through a translator, said, “This project gave me the opportunity to show people what I see through my eyes. I’m so thankful to UNICEF and the staff of UNICEF for giving me this opportunity to show the world my life and what is happening around us.”
Yasmin wants to become a wedding photographer. She is interested in giving a voice to women and children through photography. She also wants to become a women’s rights activist to defend the rights of all women, regardless of their background or culture.
Workshops took place in the three cities, and were first led by Reza and later scheduled under the supervision of Turkish trainers. Students learned the tools of photography and became familiar with visual narration to tell their dreams and realities through the power of images. They explored specific themes, then shared various aspects of their lives through photographs. In doing so, they seize their destiny and project themselves into the future. The participants, gathered around a common project, learned to share and live together, thus contributing to the social cohesion of their environment.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said that the future of young people takes priority. “This exhibit is a great demonstration of how young people from different backgrounds can work together on a common project.”
Furkan Uygun, 16, from Turkey, said, through a translator, “Before the training, I just saw this process as simply taking a photo. Now, I understand that there is a story and a meaning behind each photo. UNICEF is doing so much for children around the world, so please keep doing it.”
The project gives resonance to actions that help build bridges between people and among communities. Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees under temporary protection. Of these, 1.5 million are children and about 650,000 are attending school. However, 400,000 school-age children remain out of school and are potentially vulnerable to social isolation, discrimination, child labour and child marriage. In view of this, and within the framework of the non-formal education programme, UNICEF Turkey, in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sports and photographer Reza, launched the Youth Lens project backed by financial support from the European Union.
UNICEF Director of the Division of Communications, Paloma Escudero, summed up the event concisely, saying, “What unites us is a better future for all children, no matter what.”