Refugee children's photos displayed as art project

    The Cross Cultural Center held a presentation of the Autosuficiencia juntada con Apoyo Project’s Refugee Youth Art Exhibit on Oct. 24, displaying photographs that were taken by marginalized and displaced children from Burma and Colombia.

    David Safford
    Guardian

    Founded in 1999, the AjA Project is a nonprofit charitable organization that provides educational support to refugee children living in areas of violent conflict.

    “”We provide innovative, vocational and multimedia programs to underprivileged youth,”” said Warren Ogden, executive director and co-founder of the AjA Project. “”Especially to refugee youth whose lives have been violently affected by the situations around them.””

    The AjA Project’s influence has extended to places like Colombia, Thailand and Burma — countries where political and social upheaval have left many of their nation’s youth without a source of education or place to explore their creativity. There, AjA provides teacher education, participatory photography and vocational weaving programs for children to help develop their analytical and communications skills.

    David Safford/
    Guardian

    “”Our goal is to promote self-sufficiency for both the children and the community,”” Ogden said. “”The project really becomes a nexus for the community’s pride.””

    The project will be on display at Espresso Roma and at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies until the end of the month.

    Recently, the AjA Project extended its participatory photography program to San Diego. The From Image to Reality program will focus on recently resettled refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sierra Leone, and will teach the youth the basics of photography and film development.

    “”We hope to engender learning in these kids and hopefully promote self-sustaining qualities,”” Ogden said.

    The photographs on display at the Cross Cultural Center, Roma Cafe and IR/PS are from the Colombian Shooting Cameras for Peace program, which began in Spring 2002. AjA instructors in the village of Bogota, Colombia, teach students to use cameras to document everyday aspects of their lives and analyze the images.

    Themes include memory, the future, fairy tales, family and fear. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief description written by the children and translated into English. The gallery provides a first-hand account to the lives of refugees through the eyes of a child living in a land of turmoil.

    A small collection of woven clothes from the vocational weaving program, which help the displaced youth learn valuable cultural skills, was also included in the exhibit.

    The AjA Project received tremendous praise and media coverage from Colombian newspapers and television networks for its work in Bogota, and similar programs are starting up in other villages in the country.

    “”We planted the seeds of change,”” said Alex Fattal, Colombian project director. “”We try to make sure they continue to grow, not only in the community of Bogota, but throughout the entire country.””

    The gallery is open free to the public. More information about the project is available on the AjA Web site at http://www.ajaproject.org.

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