Through Their Eyes

April 3, 2015 • South Sudan
Through Their Eyes

Children in a South Sudanese refugee camp learn how to tell their stories through photography

Shanna McClarnon is the Samaritan’s Purse Information and Communications Manager in South Sudan.

I remember vividly when the kids arrived on the first day of class. Quiet and timid, their small hands anxiously held the cameras, as most of them had never used one before. The children weren’t exactly sure why they were even there. They had been hand selected by community members and were told just “to come.” And isn’t that God’s message to all of us? He tells us to come, to simply be willing and obedient. I knew immediately that these 10 children were the exact ones God had planned to be a part of the photography workshop.

The “Through Their Eyes Youth Photography Workshop” was designed to provide an opportunity for kids to be creative, have fun, and just be kids. For many of these children, their childhood has been stripped away, as much of what they have experienced in their young lives has resulted from conflict, violence, and war.

Through Their Eyes

Fetching Water: Photo by 13-year-old Kallo, taken at a water point in the refugee camp

Now living in a refugee camp with about 70,000 other people, these children were forced to flee their homeland due to aerial bombardment, insecurity, and lack of food. Some of the children walked for days to arrive at the refugee camp, others now find themselves separated from family members, and assuredly all of them have lost loved ones due to a war founded on the pursuit of power and pride.

The workshop created a way for the children to share their story through photographs. Pictures are a powerful form of communication—they are a visual method of storytelling and can generate emotion that even the best of words don’t have the power to do.

In my role with Samaritan’s Purse, I’m honored to have the opportunity to be the “voice for the voiceless,” as described in Proverbs 31. But deep down, my desire has always been that “the voiceless” would have the power to share their stories on their own and that the world would listen.

Who is better to tell their stories than the children themselves? They’re the ones who had to flee their home country in search of safety, and they have a voice that needs to be heard. It would do the world good to know what life looks like through their eyes.

While the workshop introduced basic photography techniques and skills, it also focused on eternal truth—our identity in Jesus Christ. The workshop sessions included Bible studies and teaching the kids who God is and who they are as His children. With the realization that God is The Creator of all things, photographs and stories take on a whole new meaning and significance.

Through Their Eyes

Toma’s Portrait: Photo by 14-year-old classmate Nanuse

After weeks of classes, the workshop concluded with a photo exhibition held in the refugee camp. The children arrived with their families, everyone wearing their Sunday best. The photos the children took were hung on display for all to see. They were presented with certificates, Bibles, and photo albums full of their pictures.

My heart was full of joy when I saw the children eagerly looking through the albums and showing their families the results of all they had been working on throughout the workshop. Each of them told their story with the flip of every page.

My hope is that the children walk away from this experience with a freedom to express themselves creatively and that they may one day be able to use the technical skills learned in a professional setting. But more importantly, my prayer is that the children walk away with their heads held high, knowing that they are children of The Living God.

Through Their Eyes

Colors of South Sudan: Photo by a 13-year-old class participant

Through Their Eyes

Laundry Day: Photo by 14-year-old Nanuse

Through Their Eyes

Bird Flying High: Photo by 13-year-old Kallo, learning to use the zoom function on the camera

Through Their Eyes

Kallo’s Portrait: Photo by 15-year-old Rufail

Through Their Eyes

Tea Time: Photo by Rufail, taken at a tea shop in the marketplace in the refugee camp

Through Their Eyes

Posing: Photo by 17-year-old Asia