Photography: ten refugees describe their daily life in Breidjing camp

Country : Chad

Tags : Refugees, Camp, Darfur, Photography

Veteran of the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kuwait, Iraq and Syria, photographer Laurent Van Der Stockt has covered all – or almost all – the major conflicts of these last decades. Awarded a Visa d'Or last year for his photo report on the chemical gas attacks perpetrated by the forces of Bashar Al-Assad, exhibited this year in Bayeux Cathedral, for one week the Belgian photographer swapped his role as war reporter for that of photography teacher.

Sent by ARTE Reportage to the Breidjing camp for Darfur refugees in eastern Chad, he organized a workshop and handed out cameras to ten refugees, male and female, aged from 10 to 33. Here is the result of this workshop, in 10 portfolios. "The ten of them tell very similar stories", Laurent Van der Stockt explanes. "They fled the violence in Darfur in 2004 and wound up in eastern Chad. They are survivors. They settled here a decade ago and are still here today, far from home, with the other 40,000 Sudanese living in Breidjing refugee camp. They all heard about a photography workshop, and that they could then share their photos and tell their stories on a well-known TV channel website. Then they found out that there was only one condition: they had to be keen and willing to spend a few days at it."

"Soon after the workshop started", the photographer says, "they also heard that they could choose whatever they wanted to talk about: anything they found nice or otherwise, anything they – and their neighbours – resented or hoped for. They are excited because they are the ones telling their stories and deciding what stories to tell. Anybody can shoot photos but what matters here is who tells a story, what the story is about and who is listening. By the end of the first day, they each knew what they were going to work on and what they wanted to show and talk about."

Click on the names of the participants to view their respective works, each accompanied by a commentary by Laurent Van Der Stockt.

Khadidja Mahamat Khatir, 23 years old
Zakia Sidik Daoud, 17
Aziza Issak Mahamat, 13
Mansour Adam Ali, 13
Sarah Ibrahim Issa, 23
Noureddine Hamad, 26
Houda Adam Ali, 18
Youssouf Issak, 30
Ikram Ismail Hassan, 10
Adam Idriss Abdallah, 33
Zakia and Khadidja, 17 and 23 

 

 
Khadidja Mahamat Khatir, 23, student

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Khadidja is 23. She is in secondary school. She’s a natural and has decided to capture the camp’s landscapes. She finds a spot on a hill near the camp to tell the story about how the people here are piecing together their memories of the homeland they have left behind. They are doing this by naming the areas by the wadi here the same as similar places back home."

 
 
 
 
Zakia Sidik Daoud, 17 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Zakia is 17, meaning she fled her homeland with her family when she was about 7. She wants to explore the water supply problem, but follows wherever her eye leads her. When you look at her snapshots, you can see that she has taken a raw, in-your-face slant. She has taken a visual stand. It is clear in her pictures, which capture the building materials used to make houses. She later teams up with Kadidja to shoot the food distribution."

 
 
 
 
Aziza Issak Mahamat, 13 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Aziza is a young 13-year-old girl. She follows her instincts and wants to capture the things she likes and sees every day. Her friends. Her street. The tents that refugees camped in ten years ago have disappeared and there are now small houses made of dry mud bricks in their stead. Community life has flourished in their midst, in spite of everything else. This is what she wants to document."

 
 
 
 
Mansour Adam Ali, 13 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Mansour is a 13-year-old boy. At first, he sits quietly and listens carefully. Then he starts talking and you can’t stop him. He has plenty to say – like everybody else – about the most serious and most urgent problems. These include the fact that the World Food Programme has suddenly cut back its rations. This has plunged the 40,000 refugees in his camp into an awful predicament: they have to think about how they will survive for the first time in years. Many have deserted the camp, come what may, at their risk and peril, to try to grow crops in the scrubland. His father has planted millet. It is ripe and he wants to photograph the work in the fields."

 
 
 
 
Sarah Ibrahim Issa, 23 years old, teacher

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Sarah is a 23-year-old teacher, mother and leader, and very involved in her community’s life. She also helped to spread the word about the workshop and to get people to come along. She is looking for a simple way to tell her people’s story. She wants to tell others about their lives and the hardships they are enduring there. She conscientiously writes a brief account of her neighbour’s life."

 
 
 
 
Noureddine Hamad, 26 years old, teacher

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Noureddine is a teacher. He is also a youth leader on his block and told the children about the workshop. The camp is divided into 33 blocks. Noureddine also wanted to show the bright side of the community. The solidarity there. In the end, he walked up the main street in the camp and captured the landlords at the few shops there."

 
 
 
 
Houda Adam Ali, 18, health agent

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Houda is 18, and was therefore 8 years old when she left her homeland. She has a quiet, thoughtful look about her. She trained locally to work as a nurse and is now a health worker at the camp hospital. She wants to talk about the schools that are closing down and the children who are no longer learning."

 
 
 
 
Youssouf Issak, 30 years old, vaccines agent

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Youssouf is a 30-year-old young man, and the one who dispenses vaccines at the health centre. He has trained specifically for his job. He is a brainy type and wants to shed light on the ties of solidarity at work among the refugees, in particular on the football pitch. The practicalities of photography lead him to document a more crucial problem the following day: water supplies. There are wells scattered around the camp but there is rarely much water in them. Many people dig wells in the wadi for water to drink, wash or bring back to the camp, even though it can cause serious diseases."

 
 
Ikram Ismail Hassan, 10 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Ikram is the youngest in the group. She is cheerful. She liked Aziza’s idea and promptly announced that she too will be photographing her friends. Ikram and the others are mostly oblivious to the fact that the little machines they are holding in their hands have batteries and switches. They can’t wait to start using them – a lot. Neither is she aware that she has a natural knack for photography and that is perhaps why she lets her zest for life and fondness for her kin take over, and lead her eyes and feet. The flurry of images she captures adds up to a masterpiece of candid spontaneity. Her project grows on its own strength. She is in a state of grace."

 
 
Adam Idriss Abdallah, 33 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "Adam Idriss Abdallah is 33 and decided to capture the camp’s most destitute refugees: the sick, lonely, injured, disabled, widows and orphans who receive very little or no help in an environment that even the toughest find taxing. 'These people need help. Life in refugee camps in eastern Chad is even harder for them then for others. The UN has a duty to take their hellish life into consideration.'"

 
 
Zakia and Khadidja, 17 and 23 years old

Laurent Van Der Stockt: "They both noticed before the end of the workshop that nobody had mentioned the WFP food supplies. There is a lot of debate about this issue: the WFP recently cut its food supplies to less than half the original amounts for the first time in nine years. Camp refugees cannot survive on the slashed rations."

 

 

 

 

Glosssary

Boule is the standard staple in many Equatorial African countries. It is a steamed dumpling made from a variety of starchy foods (corn, manioc, millet).

Scrubland refers to typical African topical landscapes scattered with scrubs, thicket and bushes.

Gumbo (okra) is an African fruit which can be eaten raw or cooked, as a vegetable or as a spice. The cross-section forms a perfect pentagon, and the seeds grow in the middle. Gumbo is available throughout the year: some varieties grow in the rainy season and others during the dry season.

Millet is a coarse grain planted for its seeds and stems, and used as food and fodder. It is grown extensively in semiarid areas.

Sorghum is one of the most extensively farmed cereals around the world. Its seeds can be eaten (like rice) or be used to make flour. It has deeper roots than most plants and is therefore more resilient to droughts.

A wadi (or oued in North Africa) is the dry bed of a desert river.