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Refugees' kids photograph their perspectives

There are thousands of refugees from across the globe who have settled in the Tampa Bay area. They've fled dictatorships, torture and other traumas — bringing with them painful memories and heavy baggage.

They also brought their children.

Each child has a unique perspective on his new home, and to capture it, the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services put cameras in their hands and unleashed them on their subjects.

Nearly three months later, the group of 17 children from eight countries returned with hundreds of photographs for "From There to Here: A Photography Based Research Project and Exhibit."

About 50 images will be on display Saturday to Aug. 30 at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. The exhibit runs 2 to 5 p.m. on opening day and noon to 4 p.m. all other days.

The exhibit also will include pictures taken by foster children under a separate project.

After its St. Petersburg showing, the exhibit will move to the University of South Florida at Sarasota-Manatee.

"A lot of the pictures are typical of that which your mainstream American kid would take pictures of, but when you sit and talk with our kids, there's this whole other deep underlying thing they see there," said Niki Kelly, director of refugee youth programs for Gulf Coast.

There are pictures of shiny rims on cars and a sunny day at the beach, but the photographers' interest runs deeper.

One boy snapped a picture of sunbathers, perplexed at why anyone would want to be so exposed to sunlight. In the Thai refugee camp where he had lived, shade was priceless.

The images are worth a thousand words for the children who are still learning English.

"Art eliminates language barriers," Kelly said. "With kids, it eliminates their fears and vulnerability because they are totally in control."

In other photography projects, refugee youths are often the subjects, said Lynn McBrien, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. She wanted to focus on their point of view.

"The whole point of it was to try to get refugee voices about their challenges and their aspirations once they have come from their own countries to the U.S.," McBrien said.

A university grant funded the research, and a $5,000 private donation paid for the cameras.

Organizers hope the project will guide teachers, guidance counselors and other educators as they help students integrate themselves into our culture. McBrien will lead a teacher workshop using project research.

Refugees face a different set of challenges than other immigrants. Often it can be hard to coax them out of their shell, McBrien said.

Their journey here may have been traumatic to some degree. Some would have preferred to see conflicts in their homelands resolved instead of having been forced to leave.

But they are happy to persevere in their new country.

"There's something very strong in these people," she said. "We're kind of picking that up in the photos and the interviews."

>>Fast facts

Workshop for teachers

Lynn McBrien will lead a teacher workshop using project research and photos for continuing education credit hours in Pinellas County schools from 5 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

Refugees' kids photograph their perspectives 08/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 11:57am]
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