From Ain el-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Sidon, Lebanon
Not knowing what lay beyond the fence I ignored the warnings of the Lebanese officers not to enter the camp alone. Give me 15 minutes. If I’m not back in 15, then come find me.
As I watched the rugs sway between the shadows, eyes peered out from inside the sheds, curious to know what an outsider was doing in their camp.
In the background one woman waved to me and beckoned me further inside the camp. She welcomed me and showed me around the camp with introductions to the rest of the community.
We stopped in front of the doorway to her house. Come inside, she motioned. I followed her inside where I found a blankets on the dirt floor, empty jugs of water and her children playing. She opened a door-- it was the bathroom. "Ma fi mai" she pointed, "No water." We go in the kitchen-- "Ma fi mai." She takes me outside and points to the water tank. Junk, not water, was in the tank. No water.
You have to tell the UN, you have to tell someone, she urged me. In the confusion of helplessness as to how to help, her daughter tugged on my camera and asked, "Aine surah" -- "Picture me!" And so I gladly prepared to take a picture, but the girl ran back into the house. Between her disappearance and my confusion, she came back outside fixing her hejab. Once in place, she smiled ready and proud for the photo.
I looked back at her mother; and our eyes met. Now you see me, her eyes said-- a mother struggling to survive, a woman amongst many who has been forsaken by the world of politics. In mine she saw her reflection-- that she existed, that her life mattered, and that she deserved the same dignity as any other-- the chance to see and be seen.
Soorah, the children shouted again and again, aine sourah!
It was from this experience that the EYE SEE YOU Project was inspired-- a project to see others through the lens of compassion, vulnerability and courage.