Hello, I am Kenichi Tanaka, a designer.

Using my vacation days, I had the opportunity to visit a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan last year. It turned into a valuable experience that changed my impression of the Middle East; and in today’s post, I hope I could somehow convey what a refugee camp is like and what kind of people live there mainly through the photographs that I took.

127cc87ef8a29b69b851c0a5d9277214-1024x628An aerial shot taken in 2013 (State Department photo / Public Domain)

It’s been four years since the Syrian conflict began. This camp was established in 2012, and more than three years have passed since people have started living here. Many of the people here have been here for a long time, having lived here for 2-3 years. In this vast area that could hold 130 Tokyo Domes, the scenery was the same no matter how far I walked – it was a place where I couldn’t see the end of the road.

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In the beginning, the people lived in tents. But that has passed, and now each family lives in a provided container called a “caravan” which has become their home.

I stayed in the camp as a volunteer of the magazine project supported by the Japanese NGO JEN. With an interesting concept of “a magazine for refugees by refugees,” the magazine’s staff consists of young people in the camp in their high school and college years. They write and publish an informational magazine as a means of transmitting information within the camp with a journalistic viewpoint.

Eighty thousand people live in the camp, which is almost like a city in its scale. However, there is no media in the camp, so many people have no means of relaying information. With the magazine playing such a role, at the same time, it’s wonderful that this project also acts as job training for the staff.

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An editorial meeting being held in a container that also functions as an office.

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I was given the chance to talk to the magazine staff about design and photography.

While this project is being conducted under special circumstances, as a designer, I was very happy that I was able to experience this undertaking wherein people are able to transmit information smoothly, communicate through the magazine’s design, and are given joy in their daily lives.

During extraordinary situations such as times of disaster, it may be difficult for me to extend direct aid such as civil engineering work and medical assistance, but I realized that even I can do something as a designer.

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These are children who have come to gather when the magazine was being distributed. Because there is not much entertainment in the camp, the magazine is beloved by the people.

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From this point onwards, I’d like to share the lives of the people in the camps mainly through the photographs that I took. My camera used film, because I wanted to capture the humanity of the people whom I met.

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This is Yunus , the one in charge of photography. He accompanied me as I went around the camp. Despite his grown-up appearance, I was surprised to learn that he was only 23 years old.

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These are the staff of JEN who took care of me. Aside from the magazine project, JEN is involved in managing water supply tanks and public health education. I’m happy and proud that aid from Japan has reached this faraway place.

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These are the outer walls of the camp. The red color in the photographs that were put up when the camp was established have faded in the sun, indicating the passing of time.

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Children playing outside. Many of the Syrians I met, children and adults alike, were self-effacing and shy.

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At the main avenue lined with shops. I saw a lot of girls taking care of babies and their little brothers.

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A container converted into a barbershop. This is Ahmed , a staff member of the magazine cutting his friend’s hair. He has an air of dignity about him that belies his 25 years.

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This man with his child invited me to their home. This was taken in front of their “caravan,” their container home.

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This is Ahmeen , a former soldier who lost his leg in a bomb. He said that it’s difficult living in a refugee camp.

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A young boy helping in his parents’ perfume shop. The perfume in the bottles lining the wall are transferred and sold in smaller bottles.

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When I was about to leave, this girl shyly asked me to take her picture. The kids kids were truly adorable.

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In a place where the way of life is a 180-degree turn from ours, and being a Muslim country, and having had a negative impression of the Middle East and Syria, by actually going there, I found that many of the people whom I met were humble and kind like the Japanese.

Through these photos, I’ll be happy if you’ll feel an affinity with them, and if you’ve had a negative impression of Syria and Jordan, I hope that that impression would change.

As a means of supporting their work, I have offered the photographs that I took to the NGO for use in reports, postcards and their website. As a designer, I’m still exploring how photographs and design can contribute to solving social problems. I intend to continue thinking about how I could achieve this.

I have uploaded more photos in my website. If you would like to see more, please take a look here:http://kenichi-photography.com/Za-atari-Refugee-Camp

This is the website for Jordan, especially set up by JEN, the NGO that took care of me:http://www.jen-npo.org/jp/project/project_jordan.php

 

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