The Syrian youth who are served by the Syrian Canadian Foundation (SCF) face significant challenges. Many have low educational attainment or interrupted schooling, live in poverty, face social isolation, experience bullying, discrimination and violence (especially at school), and engage in anti-social behaviors that lead to police encounters. The SCF has worked directly with the youth participants from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) since their arrival and has developed strong relationships with families and communities. Other local programs available to refugee youth tend to focus exclusively on school performance. Due to a lack of trust, many families do not allow their children to attend these offerings. This project will connect refugee youth to the wider community by providing spaces where they can express themselves artistically, develop skills, and build confidence and a sense of belonging in their new communities.
Objectives & Research Questions
As part of the SCF programing, the Flash Forward Photovoice project aims to: provide an educational and artistic platform for Syrian refugee youth to share their perspectives and integration experiences through photography; foster a healthy, creative support network that fosters integration; and create awareness of how refugee youth are portrayed and help to refute stereotypes. We ask: What are Syrian refugee youth’s integration experiences in the GTA and how can photovoice be used to visualize and communicate these experiences to wider audiences?
This project will use photovoice to engage 12 Syrian refugee youth aged 16-21 who are living in the GTA. Photovoice is a research tool informed by participatory visual methodologies (PVM), a creative, community-based framework that positions young people as capable social agents with the capacity to make valuable contributions to issues of concern in their lives. Photovoice uses photography, discussion, and critical reflection to access and represent the needs, experiences, and knowledge of groups whose voices may be marginalized. The knowledge emerging from participant reflection is both given a platform from which to be voiced and amplified in ways that are heard.
Over 20 weeks, a professional photographer and a project coordinator will provide participants with weekly photography classes (2-3 hours), mentorship, and workshops in communication, creative expression, and presentation skills. Each session will focus on a different topic including camera use, photography genres and approaches, prompts/exercises (e.g. explore a local landmark through photo), and analysis of the images. At the beginning and end of the program reflection circles will be used to survey the youth and assess if the project objectives have been met. The youth will make a body of artwork and develop new ways of interacting with their surrounds and understanding their unique experiences and social positions. The project will culminate in an exhibition where participants will present their stories and photography to the community, which includes the families of refugee youth, refugee community leaders, local artists, educators, researchers, local politicians and ministries, police, settlement workers, and media.