Living in the digitized 21st century, many of us have adhered to stigmatized viewpoints revolving around issues we don’t interact with as often as we probably should. Specifically, when it comes to refugees, social media and the digital world have unfortunately transformed the perception of their characteristics and qualities into an image only elucidating pain, trauma, and suffering. We view these people as images on our screen rather than as our peers. We see the ragged tents and unjust living conditions. We see hungry children. We see them suffering. Only. Although some of this is indeed the case of their day-to-day lifestyle, from campsites to hygienic facilities, their humanity has become shielded from us. In other words, we no longer have the opportunities to admire their incredible talent and potential.
As a 17-year-old student myself, visiting refugee camps was definitely a moment of realization and reflection. The physical sight at first was bizarre. From the lack of toilet facilities to the lack of windows and doors, the living situation alone had me silenced and in utter shock. Considering I had completed work in the field prior to the visit, the feelings that surfaced were unexpected. But what really forced me to think about this stigmatized view we carry were the interactions I had with girls and students. Looking at them, I realized that they were literally just like me — girls with curly hair — students, worried about an upcoming test — humans who were just like me. I almost felt as if I was staring in a mirror. From the stress of exams to the love of common K-pop groups, it almost felt as if we were friends. The conversations felt weirdly normal. Why was that thought so exotic? So foreign? Almost as if it didn’t feel appropriate?
At that moment, I realized that, although these refugees are underprivileged and living in a situation where the bare minimum isn’t provided, they are still human beings. They still have to get through the day and make the best out of the life given to them.
They are unfortunately put into a situation that is heart-wrenching and beyond words to describe, but we must give these humans the same power we give each other.
Whether that be through public school, homeschooling, or whatever is available to them. If this is indeed the case, why do we view them as less than us? Only as victims? Don’t get me wrong, they are unfortunately put into a situation that is heart-wrenching and beyond words to describe, but we must give these humans the same power we give each other. We must stop dehumanizing them and viewing them as a picture on our screen when they have the exact same capabilities as we do.
As an artist myself, I was in awe of the creativity I was exposed to during my visits. The employment of any resources around them to create something so breathtaking was just incredible to admire. Speaking with the girls, they confessed to me how dear art was to them and how disappointed they would get when they ran out of the necessary materials to complete a piece. One girl explained how she used art as an outlet to release any unwanted tension and stress from the previous few days.
Art helps the curator understand the feelings that may not be expressed through the written word or a conversation. For these girls, art does just that. It allows them to create something beautiful about the pain they are withholding. Just viewing the pieces alone really elucidated to me how incredibly talented this community is. These self-taught artists created everything from sculptures to paintings about COVID-19 to abstract, incredibly mind-blowing drawings.
Unfortunately, much of this incredible talent is hidden under the stigmatized views we have grown accustomed to. Because we only see the horrific side of their situation, which again is vastly important, we no longer get the opportunity to see the beautiful side.
As a community, it is our job and responsibility to continue shedding light on the power of our peers, no matter the origin. We must break through the stigmatized viewpoint placed among them and begin admiring and appreciating the beauty they bring into this world.
• Carmah Hawwari lives in Riyadh and has founded a local, student-owned nonprofit called the Middle East Crisis Relief Organization. She has visited numerous refugee camps in Amman.