"People have to understand what a big difference there is between our different countries. It is like the difference between night and day. I don't think anyone comes like a tourist, just coming here to have fun. I don't want to be a refugee but I was not given any choice. I don't want people to call me refugee. I want to be seen as everybody else. I believe people are all the same. So, you are English and I am a refugee. What are you that is more than me? I think like that but other people think other things".
Bajram, 16 years, Kosovo
In 2000, 2,735 unaccompanied refugee children applied for asylum in the UK, but still relatively little was known about their individual experiences. Child refugees arriving without a parent or guardian have to cope with huge challenges as they settle into life in the UK, adrift from their own culture, language and support structures, stripped of any certainty for their future and often on the run from extreme trauma and in search of sanctuary. All too often they are met by public hostility, stigma, and discrimination which only serves to compound their isolation.
In 2002 I initiated, managed and facilitated Transparency, a participatory photography project with unaccompanied refugee youth in London's East End from countries including Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Nigeria, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka. Through photography, the 13 students expressed their desire for people to look beyond their refugee status and to see them as they see themselves: as teenagers, far from home, in a difficult present, determined to succeed in spite of their past.
The project grew to be an important support network for the young participants as well as providing them with a creative outlet through which they could combat the dehumanising portrayal of refugees presented in the British media. One participant went on to study photography at university level, one has continued to work as a photographer and videographer. Another member of the group became a finalist in a national self-portraiture competition, featured on Channel 4 and exhibited in London's National Portrait Gallery. A number went on to participate in further PhotoVoice projects, collaborating as assistant facilitators and project advisors as well as participants.
In June 2003, the Transparency project won the Arts, Culture and Heritage category of the Charity Awards 2003.
Transparency was a partnership project between PhotoVoice and Project Dost based at The Trinity Community Centre in East Ham. PhotoVoice and Project DOST went on to collaborate on a number of subsequent projects. Transparency was funded by Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Transparency documentary by Dominque Chadwick and Camille Warrington
Transparency photo booklet