Odiase is one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.
Elena Dorfman recently returned after a six-month assignment for the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.
She was sent to take portraits of Syrian refugees who have fled their country because of the civil war. Over two million Syrians have registered as refugees with the U.N., and over 700,000 of them have settled in Lebanon, where Dorfman spent most of her time.
In the course of her project, Dorfman was struck particularly by the young adults she met. One of the young Syrian refugees she met, a 19-year-old named Hani, left an indelible impression on her.
I want to be able to believe that what I saw in them can be conveyed through the photographs.
“Hani was such a bright star,” Dorfman told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “He’s incredibly interested in what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on outside of his very small tented world at the moment.”
There are no organized settlement in Lebanon, so refugees are creating shelter wherever they can. One of the families she met lived in an active slaughterhouse.
On what kind of impact she hopes her photographs will have, Dorfman says, “I want people to be able to connect with the kids. I want to be able to believe that what I saw in them can be conveyed through the photographs … I just want the kids not to be a statistic.”
Dorfman shares some of her photos in the slideshow above, as well as a portrait of Hani, below. You can also hear some of the interviews Dorfman conducted with the young adults she met, below.
Translation: I’m 24-years-old. I am from Homs in Syria. My story? I was studying law and I was very successful in my studies. And I was the head of my class at the end of this year. Unfortunately, because of the situation, I moved away from my studies. And it has been very painful and annoying because I considered my education very precious. Really. I am very, very, very annoyed. The ones who are seeking education are most affected during Syria’s events. The middle class is the group who was working in Syria to secure their daily living; only to secure their daily living, that’s it. They did not ask for more. They did not work toward building palaces, or something else. They wanted to secure a life for their children. This group is the most affected one. I am noticing here, from Lebanon, I am noticing the middle class.And I am one of them. They make you cry, those are the ones who are affected.
They left their houses, even if they were simple houses. I used to live in a very classy house, very beautiful. Not like here. I am being trapped here. I sleep in the same room as my sisters. My freedom is limited.
I used to live in a big house, have my own room. I used to go out, whenever I wanted, come back whenever I wanted. Here our freedom is very limited. It is true that i am a young man. Here, I go out in Lebanon, but I am not having my freedom like I had it in Syria.
Translation: I am 18 years-old. I was in 11th grade in Syria. I came here [to Lebanon] because of the shelling. We couldn’t bear the shelling. I came here w my relatives. My immediate family stayed in Syria. Now i have brothers here. We did not come together here. Each one of us came alone. I still have part of my family there in Syria.
Right now I am here, continuing my study here in Lebanon to ease the pain we faced in Syria. The only thing that makes it easier on us here is going to school. School reduces the pain but it does not take it away.
We need to finish our study and to follow our ambition, to achieve our dream and our country’s dream.
In Syria, my ambition was … I don’t know sometimes; I feel it is a dream. But I won’t give it up and nothing will harm it. My dream is to finish school, and go to a good college and become an engineer, a doctor, or a pharmacist. Just to have my family be proud of me.
Translation: I hope … I’d like to go back right now before tomorrow comes to finish my school. Not everyone understands the meaning of the word homeland. The homeland is everything; it is very valuable. It is all that we have. It is part of our bodies.
Of course, I’m still hopeful. We have faith in God. We shouldn’t give up the hope to return home. But right now we should live our life here. We should keep moving in our life here, and when we return, we will bring back our life that we left.
Translations by Nidal Al-Azraq.