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Every picture tells a story

26 March 2018, Voices from the Field

Award-winning photographer, Patrick Willocq, depicts what it's really like to be a refugee child.

The four photos below, commissioned by Save the Children in partnership with education company Pearson, are based on real experiences and staged with the help of Syrian children living in a camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

"At the beginning of this project, my aim was to tell refugee stories in a different way. Many of the refugee images you see in mainstream media are the same and perpetuate a stereotype. I wanted to show real children, involve the subjects, listen to them and create a set together staging their lives and desires. I wanted the resulting photos to be empowering representations of these children while upholding their dignity."


Hatem*, 15, has spent four years in the camp. He initially went to school for two years, but had to stop as his family had no money to carry on his education. He used to love school and his favourite subjects were Maths, English and Arabic. Hatem* had planned to go to university and join the army but now those dreams are all gone. He said he is 'sad and scared' about his destiny.

"When I was in Syria, I saw my school getting hit by an airstrike. I was scared that my house would be targeted. We fled the shelling and came here. Now that I'm in Lebanon, I will not become a teacher. There are schools here but we don't have money to pay the tuition and continue studying. Education is important. You can become a teacher at a school instead of working as a porter and getting a lot of physical pain. Because I am working now and I have been off school for 3 years, I have missed a lot of studying and won't be able to fill the gap."

Child Labour

Bassam* 12, Tamer* 11, Lubna* 16 and Farah* 11, pose in a picture that depicts their experiences working. Many Syrian children in the Anjar refugee camp in Lebanon are forced to work to help support their families. Bassam and Tamer both sell tissues for a living after a wall fell on their father's leg during shelling in Syria. They often work for 12 hours a day, earning on average just $3. Both brothers have faced abuse whilst working. Once Bassam* was bundled into a car and dropped off far from the village. Luckily, he had sold enough tissues that day to get a taxi home. Farah* helps to supports her family of ten. She works in a field weeding and clearing land for sowing.

"What makes me very tired is that I have to keep bending down. When we try and stand up, they ask us to bend down. We spend the whole day like this. The money they give us is not enough."

Many girls also work in factories peeling oranges to make tinned fruit, often working 7am to 6pm, earning as little as $8 a day. Children who work miss schooling in order to support their families.

Lubna* says, "Education is very important. I feel it is especially important for girls. When girls get education, they are respected in society. Some girls even have jobs in factories. They shouldn't be working - they should be studying."

Our Dream


Zeina*, 11 (right) and Samira*, 10 (left) are best friends and appear in a tableau that depicts their future dreams. Zeina wants to be an artist and Samira would like to be an actress. They are both inspired by TV cartoons such as Cinderella.

Both girls left Syria with their families due to increased violence and shelling near their homes. The house next to Samira's in Syria was shelled, killing the family next door. Samira says, "The worst things were the planes and the shelling. When the planes came we were scared they would hit us. In Syria, when we got snow or wind it was OK. But here, when the wind blows we get a bit scared, as we're afraid the tent will get blown away."

What Happened (The Past)

Walaa*, 11, left Syria with her pregnant mother because airstrikes had blown up all the hospitals, schools and supermarkets in the area. They had no access to food, water or health services – everything they needed to survive. One day, as she was walking home, Walaa saw her school explode before her eyes, as shells landed on the buildings. She could smell burning and heard the sound of plane engines as they flew low overhead.

This image uses an original drawing created by Walaa to tell the story of the moment her school was bombed. Walaa's drawing has been re-created and enlarged into a 3D tableau, using props made by children in the camp. Walaa says, "The aircraft targeted the school with rockets. I thought my uncles had been killed and I cried." Many Syrian refugee children experience first-hand the devastating impact of airstrikes on homes and schools.

Walaa attends Save the Children's Child Friendly Space in Anjar and spends time studying at home with her mother. She has made friends in the camp, but says it still doesn't feel like home.

*Names changed to protect identity

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