At Oxfam we have a library of images collected from every one of the countries we work in. Some sad, some beautiful, some that manage to sum up a situation better than words could. We have this wonderful library thanks to people like Sam Tarling, a freelance photographer who captures these moments and brings them back to help us tell a story. Sam has been in Lebanon and Jordan for the past two years and his images help us tell the story of the millions of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the crisis in Syria. He visited Oxfam House on Wednesday to tell us about his work, about Syria and about the people he’s met. I wanted to tell you about it and I decided the best way was to share a few of his stories.
- “I’m quite a fan of Syrian food. I’ve probably put too many photos of it in here…” Sam has been covering the Syrian crisis for two years. He’s been there since the start. But his time there has been about much more than documenting a war. He talked about the different days you have as a war journalist, “One day you’re being shot by a fighter jet, and then you have days like this, when you just have a barbecue.” He made us think about the country and its people, Syrian life outside the context of the
current crisis. He talked about how amazing Syria is, how beautiful the landscape is and how great the food tastes – many of the photos at the start of his presentation focused on these things. He reminded us not to forget the ordinary lives people had before they became refugees.
- “Everything’s difficult. Refugees don’t need a fridge, right? And they don’t need a car.” Sam helped us put ourselves in the shoes of the Syrian families he’s met. He talked about things we could relate to. We might not be able to imagine what it’s like to have to leave our homes and live our lives in a refugee camp. But we can relate to not having a fridge, and not having a car. They seem luxurious when mentioned in this context. But without them, you have to go and get food every day because there’s no way of keeping it
fresh and edible. And with no transport, you have to walk to get that food. Every single day. Your life, your time, is taken up and dominated by what used to be the quick, easy, normal things.
- “Sometimes you feel like the Pied Piper – smiling kids are always following you.” Sam talked about the floods that swept through the camps earlier this year and how, at that point, he saw a chink in the armour of the incredibly strong children he met. “There were no smiling kids that day.” Children do have an amazing resilience and an inexplicable ability to endure so much. “I’m always amazed how happy the children always seem to be. I don’t know why they are.”
- “The ones making money in Syria are the ones selling headstones. There are so many of them.” I don’t think I need to say much about this. It’s just something Sam said that stuck with me.
More about the Syria Crisis
We’re still fundraising for Syria and Sam’s stories helped to show how much people need our support. Please donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal if you can.
Earlier this year, Sam met a 12 year old called Reema with Oxfam’s Jane Beesley. Jane wrote a series of blogs about Reema and her family. The first one is called The girl whose face you’ll never see.