‘I Have a Dream’ Photo Exhibition Tells Story of Refugee Children
The traveling photo exhibition "I Have a Dream", dedicated to the Syrian refugee children in Bulgaria, was launched at the 18th school "William Gladstone" in Sofia on Monday.
The exhibition was first presented in January at a community center in Sofia, but now begins its journey around a number of elementary and secondary schools in Bulgaria. The initiative is supported by UNICEF Bulgaria. Its main goal is to show the plight of Syrian refugee children and to help their integration through building bridges with their Bulgarian peers.
The touching photographs of kids of various ages were taken in Bulgaria's refugee reception centers by photographer Ilka Antonova and Syrian journalist Nidal Khlaif. Under each photograph, there is a statement of the child, answering the question: "What is your dream?".
The event was opened by the Representative of UNICEF Bulgaria Tanja Radocaj, the Mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova, and the journalist Nidal Khlaif. Guests included NGOs, diplomats, media, Syrian children, and teachers and students of 18th school "William Gladstone".
"For many of us, the war in Syria seems something far away. However, it has been going on for 3 years and affected 5.5 million children. As many as 1.2 million of them have had to leave their country, leaving friends and relatives behind. Many of them have not been able to go to school here, enduring the suffering that comes from not knowing the language, culture, and customs of their new country of residence", Mrs. Radocaj said.
"It is important to understand why these people are here. If many of them were not here, they would not be alive. Although there is no confirmed data, at least 10,000 children have been killed during the Syrian conflict and many more have been injured. We call on the young people in Bulgaria to make the refugee children welcome and to try understanding their story and their dreams. Us, the older, have to make sure that these children can go to school as soon as possible. Some of them have been out of school for 3 years, and if we do not act now, we risk having a lost generation", the UNICEF Representative added.
"Sofia is a city of tolerance. Our schools are inclusive and open for the Syrian children. Sofia has around 600 refugee kids. We must find the right school for them, so they can get the necessary education and make new friends. I hope you (the Bulgarian children) will make them welcome and help keep Sofia's tolerant spirit going. All children around the world are the same, regardless of skin color or nationality.", Mayor Fandakova stated.
Nidal Khlaif, a Syrian journalist based in Bulgaria since 1994 talked about his experience in putting together this exhibition.
"In these photographs I saw lots of sadness and pain, but I also saw tremendous hope in the eyes of the children. I am positive that they can go on to become ambassadors of Bulgaria in Syria. Bulgarians have proved throughout history that they are tolerant people, and now is another time to make this visible. I sincerely thank everyone who gave us a hand in making this exhibition and letting us show it to the wider community", Khlaif said.
After the opening remarks, three Syrian refugee girls (aged 9-12) sang songs in Bulgarian and Arabic, representing the bridge between cultures and languages.
"I dream of making new friends in Bulgaria. When the war in Syria ends one day, I want to invite them and show them around my country", one of the little girls said on the stage.
The performance was followed by songs and dances from students of the 18th school, which is emblematic for tolerance and multicultural education, as it specializes in teaching eastern languages, including Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic.