Motherhood is an identity that transcends countries of birth and circumstance. Mothers across the world experience starkly different realities, but the connection between us all is unavoidable. When I see a mother, no matter where I am, I feel a sense of kinship. We are the nurturers, the matriarchs, the teachers of life lessons. We are the kissers of boo-boo’s and the safe place to rest at the end of a hard day.
So when I was offered the opportunity to visit a camp for Syrian refugees in Northern Greece, my first thoughts were of the mothers. My best friend since childhood was doing research on education for refugees throughout the world, and asked me to come along and document the journey in images. I’m a professional photographer by trade, but this was far beyond anything I’d ever done before. I admit, I was afraid. What if I wasn’t strong enough to handle something of this magnitude?
But then I thought of the mothers.
Since March of 2011, over 4.9 million Syrians have fled their homes due to the war in Syria. As of January 2017, over 57,000 Syrian refugees are currently hosted in Greece. Over half are women and children. When people speak of the refugee crisis, or extreme poverty in all areas of the world, they may not realize that women and children are disproportionately affected. When you picture a refugee in your head, what do you see? You should see a woman, a mother, a child…
Initially, the refugee communities in this area were hosted in a huge informal camp called Indomeni on the border of Greece and Macedonia. In May 2016, thousands of refugees were evacuated from Indomeni and placed in military camps across northern Greece. The camp I visited, Camp Sinatex, is a family camp of 300 Kurdish refugees, nearly all Syrians. Almost half of those residing at the camp are children and 30% are women.
The volunteers working at the camp realized education was the best solution they could offer the refugee community stranded there. They found a piece of private land and began teaching, creating the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center. There are seven teachers from the refugee community who are teaching Arabic, Kurdish, math, science and geography. They also provide kindergarten for the youngest children at the camp, and volunteers from all over the world are teaching English to all ages, including the adults.
When I entered the camp, I was amazed to find almost ALL of the children could speak conversational English and German. They were eager and excited to learn. They wanted to know all about me and my family, and what America was really like. They were kind, smart and welcoming. While I was there, one of the older students was celebrating his 18th birthday, and his mother invited all of us into her tent, where she fed us a traditional meal. Her pride on her son’s big day was evident on her face, which was lit up by a huge smile.
The other mothers washed laundry in buckets outside, made meals, tended to children, regardless of who they belonged to. Many children affected by this crisis have either lost their parents in the war, or have been separated during their migration. These unaccompanied children are cared for by the community, and the mothers lead the way.
Since my return to Kansas City, I’ve been searching for ways to help these refugee communities through locally-based organizations. KC for Refugees in an incredible local group whose mission is to provide a unified platform for diverse communities to help create a welcoming environment for refugees moving to and living in the greater Kansas City area. They do this through educating community groups and organizations on the refugee settlement process at the national and local level. They also connect community groups with local refugees through social activities, support refugees by working with local agencies and encouraging people to donate time, funds and household items. They develop alliances with regional and national organizations working toward the same vision.
I am so grateful to be partnering with KC for Refugees to share my story from Greece and to use my experience to educate others about the refugee experience. In September, I will be hosting a gallery showing of my images from the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center during Kansas City’s First Fridays event in the Crossroads Art District. I am so excited to share my message with the people of Kansas City and to encourage more individuals to step up and serve these communities. If you’d like to learn more about how to help resettled refugee families in Kansas City, please visit the KC for Refugees for information on other upcoming events and opportunities.
Frey, Theresa (2017). Access to Basic Education for Refugee Children: Sinatex-Kavalari camp in Northern Greece.
Manuscript in preparation.
Megan Peters is a professional photographer and blogger based in Overland Park, Kansas. Megan has a degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and is an award-winning photographer whose work is focused on lifestyle portraits of families, children, and babies. Her passion for advocacy with a focus on women and children led to her first gallery show in 2015, which featured strong portraits of women who were survivors of domestic violence. Recently, Megan returned from Greece where she photographed the Be Sinor Cultural Center, an informal school in a Syrian refugee camp. Photos from this series will be on display in a Crossroads Art District First Fridays Gallery Show in September 2017.