Sudanese refugees fleeing to Chad, in the middle of a sandstorm; a twice-displaced Iranian Kurdish girl hiding her face in her hands and crying as she recounts the kidnapping of her brother; an elderly woman walking amid the ruins of her home in the southern suburbs of Beirut – those are only some of the images that strike you at the UN Humanitarian Projects in the Middle East Photo Exhibition, currently on display at the Alexandria Library.
The photo exhibit is co-organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina UN Depository Library, the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations International Children s Emergency Fund (Unicef), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It features images from the humanitarian missions of those UN entities, and aims to raise awareness of their role in the region.
Divided into country sections, it includes images from Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Sudan.
The lead picture in the Sudan section is reminiscent of illustrations from ‘One Thousand and One Nights.’ Sudanese refugees, their heads and faces wrapped in turbans, are captured riding heavily-loaded camels. The displaced refugees are captured migrating to Chad, amidst a sandstorm.
In the next image, you see a twice displaced refugee family – a mother and her young daughter carrying their belongings away when their makeshift shelter got flooded after a heavy rainstorm.
Yet another photo by the World Food Program, shows two Sudanese women, sitting around a campfire in front of two big pots, cooking their monthly food rations, which they receive as displaced [people] after losing all their belongings… , reads the caption.
A UNHCR picture, taken by H. Caux, in Kourbileke from Chad, catches your attention. In it, a tree has become a storage space, with blankets, pillows and a mattress hanging from the branches. This is the temporary residence for some Sudanese refugees who fled to Chad after their home village of Habila was bombed.
Another photograph by K. Brooks, features the ghostly image of a twice-displaced Iranian Kurdish girl, in a white robe, standing on a pile of soil, with her head lowered staring off into the distance. Her tent is in the vicinity and what resembles a refugee camp constitutes the fuzzy background of this disturbing image.
Another image shows an Iranian Kurdish girl sitting on the floor of a dark room, covering her tearful face with her hands as she recalls the kidnapping of her brother. The family had fled to Kurdistan in 2005 after violence erupted in Al-Tash camp near Fallujah.
For Iranian Kurds in Iraq, cardboard boxes become bed sheets and a cement bag a pillow.
The haunting images are supported by even more disturbing facts: According to one caption, WFP in Iraq assists 3.8 million people, more than half of whom are children, 27 percent of them are five years old or under, all suffering from chronic malnourishment.
The WFP Food-for-Education Program in Iraq distributes high energy biscuits and milk to every school student. Possibly the first positive image from war-torn Iraq is Daniel Pepper s photo of a classroom full of Iraqi children participating in the program.
After the Iraqi section, images from Egypt feel much lighter. Most of the photos focus on the mundane – the avian flu awareness campaign, polio vaccinations and street children.
But this illusion is very quickly shaken by a striking photograph captured by Claudia Wiens showing the worn hands of a boy working in a mechanic shop in Alexandria. The dire statistics of the National Council for Children and Motherhood claim that Egypt is home to about 2.7 million child workers, aged between 14 and 16.
And at the very end of the Egypt collection, another very powerful image catches your eye. It is of an elderly midwife who voluntarily stopped circumcising girls, holding her scalpel for the camera. The sharp blade shines ominously in the foreground, her face can barely be seen in a photo dominated by her black robe and veil.
Next comes the collection of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Images of Palestinian refugees at Ruwasheed camp, Jordan dominate the section. One caption explains that these twice-displaced people, who had to flee Iraq, still remain in the scorpion-infested desert camp. It gives no explanation as to how they cope with their living conditions and their journey to reach the camp.
Another photograph portrays the typical Gaza scene. Behind rings of barbed wire, at a place resembling a checkpoint, veiled women walk ahead, holding their little children’s hands. The caption provides more striking statistics: due to the poor conditions in the Gaza Strip, the text reads, most families cannot afford to send their children to school. The alternatives for many are to send them out to work or marry them off early.
The following section shows what seems like an endless queue of heavy vehicles – trucks, jeeps, and microbuses, all of which are marked with the UN initials. The road weaves through a low mountainous region making it immediately clear that it is southern Lebanon, yet to fully recover from the massive destruction it suffered during last year s war.
Another image highlights another legacy of the July War: unexploded ordnances. This is one of the persisting problems in the country. In the foreground, a cluster bomb can be seen, half stuck in the road, with a UN vehicle in the background and a soldier to the side of the truck.
But the most powerful images are still to come. In one of them an old woman, dressed in black, walks bewildered amidst the ruins of Hareth Hriek in the southern suburbs of Beirut. She is looking at the remains of her house and it is only possible to make out broken pieces of furniture. The photo is taken from behind the woman, so we can only see her back and her hands in a gesture indicating despair and helplessness.
The last image shows a woman, holding her child in her arms, standing in the middle of the ruins, where pieces of broken concrete and beams resemble what once used to be a family home.
UN Humanitarian Projects in the Middle East Photo ExhibitionJuly 31-August 20,Conference Center Alexandria Library,West Exhibition HallSat-Thurs 11 am-7 pmFri 3 pm-7 pmTel: (20) 3483 9999 ext. 1860/1756