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Beyond Borders

Dutch version below

Hi There,

Beyond Borders  is the title of our new project. The opening was last week Tuesday in the Town Hall of my hometown.

So what does this new project is about?
Well, it won’t be a surprise. It combines two of my passions, photography and working with people. And these people are, of course, the inhabitants of the refugee center here. We – me and two very good photographers, Manu and Marie – made a portrait of seventeen people, focusing on their job, hobby or dream job.

Why?
Well, often people ask me if it is tough working at the center. And honestly, I usually feel happy when I am there. The people are all very kind, polite and grateful. I feel surrounded by warmth and appreciation. But when I am in the outside world, it becomes different.  I hear criticism, judgments, lies… It is easy to talk about a group of people, not knowing them. The criticism really shocks me by times, certainly because so many people from the center have shown their vulnerability by telling me what they had been through. Believe me, it is not something people here often encounter, not even in a lifetime. Most refugees who come here are still very young and have been through a lot.

Melany, Venezuela, Baker

Sanaz, Iran, mother

Our goal?
Taking off the label of  “refugee” and  showing these seventeen people as real people, with dreams, professions, children, hopes, diplomas, talents, ambitions.
A few people also wrote about having to flee from their own country.  Their words are heartbreaking.

I’m still stuck…

I’m still stuck between the past and the present… Between love and hate…

I’m still stuck between sadness and joy… Between my old and new country…

I’m still stuck in the hearts of dead and alive people… Am I dead or alive?

I’m still stuck… And I still have that idea that when I open my eyes every morning…

I’m starting to get used to this new country…

I tried hard to figure out the causes of these wars and revolutions and the wrong policies that have taken over the country. I’ve looked at the legends of history and between the geography papers. All I found were a few words about the greatness and authenticity of my country…

And now I have only found a wounded child screaming. And a mother looking for her children between destruction and blood. A daughter follows her, runs away from the enemy…

We didn’t know what homelessness meant until we became refugees. We go east, west, north, and south. We’re crossing seas and oceans with bags on our shoulders, but our eyes are looking behind us. We’re looking at a country where we’ve left all our dreams and memories.

Every day and with every sunshine, refugees pray to God in the language of hope. Wishing that he finishes wars worldwide. So that they can go back home.

By Mohamad, Syria, actor

How?
We tried to bring diversity in land of origin, profession, age and sex. Most of the people I asked to join the project I already knew from teaching. Everyone was very happy to work together. On one hot summer day in August, we built a photo studio in our house. It was a beautiful day, working and laughing and eating together. Our models behaved as professional models! And we are all very proud of the result.
Mourad, Palestine, Fisherman

Alexandra, Venezuela, make-up artist
Merhawit, Eritrea, baker

Where?
You can admire our photos on banners in Lommel, until the end of December. And please follow us on Instagram @portraits.beyondborders

Next?
This team of people is great, and we want to go on. In November the photo banners will be placed on the playground of the high schools. We would like to combine this with a talk with the students. We can talk about why certain countries are so dangerous and why people need to go away and how it feels to come to a new country, where you have to start all over.

Help?
For the photos we were supported by the local Rotary (Neerpelt) and the restaurant Nomad. But if we continue, we need more support. You can send me a personal message if you can help our team of wonderful people.

At the opening, these are the words I spoke:

Dear Alexander, Alexandra, Ana, Diego, Elvis, Gabriella, Ginger, Jakub, Luisa, Mahmoud, Mario, Mariam, Matta, Melany, Merhawit, Mohamad, Murad, Ninette, Patricia, Ricardo and Sanaz,

You are all amazing people and we feel very grateful for working together on this photo-project.

We have learned to know you
Little by little

You have showed us your openness
By telling us the stories
Of wars in your home countries
Of your struggle for human rights
Of your journey by plane, by boat, by foot,
during days, during months, during years
crossing many borders

All in your search for a better life,
far away from your home and your family

You showed us your strength,
By telling us the stories
Of your fight against hunger, cold and rejection
Of your desire to forget
Of your battle against dehumanization
Of your hope of being accepted for who you are

You taught us
To stay positive
To believe in the goodness of other human beings
To have faith
To fight for the future of your children
And to continue to live
No matter what

You were confronted with the limits
Of a new country, a new language and a new culture

You crossed borders
Between your past and your future
Between your homeland and our homeland

We only hope the best for you

May you know peace
May you find happiness
May you know love
May you find faith in a better future

We wish you well

All of you

Ninette, Burundi, model

 

Dag lieve lezers,

Nog even in mijn mooie moedertaal!

Ons nieuwe project ‘Beyond Borders’ staat nu aan het Huis van de Stad in Lommel. Wij – Manu, Marie en ik, hebben samengewerkt met zeventien modellen van het Parelstrand, het vluchtelingenopvangcentrum hier in Lommel.

Op het Hertog Janplein kan je vanaf 1 oktober de reizende foto-expo ‘Beyond Borders’ bewonderen. Initiatiefnemers zijn Sophie Tournier, Marie Bouly en Manu Bloemen. Zij kenden elkaar al langer en beslisten om een nieuw project op poten te zetten rond het tijdelijke opvangcentrum op het domein Parelstrand. Hun drijfveer? Een mengeling van engagement, naastenliefde en passie voor fotografie. Maar vooral de drang om mensen in beeld te brengen. Geen asielzoekers, geen vluchtelingen, geen transmigranten, geen labels, maar gewoon… mensen. Het resultaat is een boeiende fotoreeks van 17 portretten van bewoners met als thema ‘Beroepen’.

Al sinds de opening van het Parelstrand begin dit jaar, ben ik aan de slag gegaan als vrijwilliger: Nederlandse les, het project 945 in Beeld, wandelingen en bezoekjes organiseren. Ik kom er vaak.  Een aantal bewoners staat erg dicht bij me. Je kan niet met mensen werken, zonder betrokken te raken (ondanks de steeds goed bedoelde raad: waak over je grenzen!). Niemand vertelt zijn levensverhaal bij een eerste ontmoeting. Nadat het vertrouwen gewonnen is, gebeurt dat wel. Luisteren is meestal  voldoende, heb ik gemerkt. Soms kan je ook concreet helpen, maar vaak niet.
Patricia, El Salvador, Engineer

Mariam, Palestine-Ukraine, student-singer, 15

Hoe pijnlijk en hartverscheurend de verhalen van de bewoners ook zijn, het moeilijkste vind ik de commentaren van mensen van buitenaf. De kritiek, de oordelen zonder grond. Daarom ben ik heel blij met dit project, en om met fantastische mensen te kunnen werken, uit alle hoeken van de wereld.
Jakub, Ghana, carpenter

We hebben hier thuis de fotoshoot gedaan. Een hartverwarmende dag. Iedereen was blij en gemotiveerd, we hebben samen gegeten, gebabbeld, gelachen…

In november staan de fotobanners in de secundaire scholen. De mensen van ons team willen graag komen praten met de studenten, om zo rechtstreeks te kunnen praten over wat er in hun geboorteland en de wereld gebeurt. Directer en actueler kan je de jongeren niet aanspreken. Zo hopen we om bij de jeugd meer begrip en empathie te creëren.

Voor de foto’s zelf hebben we reeds sponsors, maar voor dit educatief project zijn we nog op zoek naar steun. Een persoonlijk berichtje graag indien jullie willen helpen.

Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.
Kofi Annan

Ik wens jullie allen een mooie dag, met weinig zorgen. Lieve groet, Sophie

From left: Merhawit & Abraham, Melany, me, Ninette et bébé Shanah, Mohamad, Matta, Ricardo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories

What keeps us going

Dear Readers,

How are you?
Are you still working? From home now?

It has been a while, yes. Summer has passed easily, and this very special – I wanted to say “horrible,” but I believe we (my family and I) are still lucky – year is coming to an end. Usually I write about my volunteer projects or cultural excursions. But most of these came to an end.

Has your life changed a lot in this past year? Do you see positive things emerging from this lockdown and being limited in your social life?

I’ll just tell you about a few things that kept me going.

Wonderful Things

I was still able to see one exhibit! About a month ago we went to the exhibition of the photographer Tim Walker . He is so much more than a photographer. His photos emerge in his very creative mind, going back to childhood memories and fantasies. It takes a huge team of models, hairdressers, builders, screenwriters, make-up artists, etc to build up the scenery he has in mind. “To me, a photograph is far stronger when something is suggested rather than defined. If you define it there is nowhere for your imagination to go.”, Tim Walker said.

Walker used the garden of earthly delights by Bosch as an inspiration and made his own versions.
Bosch through the eyes of Tim Walker - Style has No size
Jeroen Bosch terug in Noordbrabants Museum: met dank aan fotograaf Tim Walker - Museumkijker.nl - Museumkijker.nl
Jeroen Bosch terug in Noordbrabants Museum: met dank aan fotograaf Tim Walker - Museumkijker.nl - Museumkijker.nl

The photos look like fairytales. What grabbed my attention also is that his models are very specific in their looks and facial features. The most intriguing part to me was the movie at the end. He remade a short film based on the fairytale of Hans Christian Andersen “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.”. Walker’s version centers around a tin soldier and a knight falling in love. You should go see for yourself, if the lockdown has passed 😉
MORE POST — TOM CHICK

Touching Stories

We can escape the daily life by wandering through the magical photos by this extraordinary photographer – and this feels good – yet, we cannot neglect the anxiety and absurdity of the times we are living in now.

The most difficult part is that we have all those rules to limit our freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I agree to them all, and they are necessary. But still, it is a challenge to not be able to hug, to see our family and friends. Certainly people that live on their own are susceptible to loneliness.

Yesterday on All Saints Day the sky was gray. I decided to walk to the bakery, to get some fresh air. When I was almost there, it started to drizzle. An old lady with a rollator passed the other direction. She looked at me and said:
– It is starting to rain!
– Well, I hope you are almost home
– Yes, I am, I live just around this corner.
– Luckily, you have had some exercise and fresh air then.
I continued walking, but she definitely wanted to continue talking.
– I make long walks, three times a day. I have to do this or I go crazy. I have a lot of sorrow inside of me, and I need to let it out somehow.
I stopped. Not asking now would be selfish and indifferent.
– What happened?
– My grandson died, last summer. He was twenty six. He was living together in Antwerp with his girlfriend. Yes, he had to take medication for this disease, and he forgot to take it. I am not sure how it exactly happened and if this is what caused it. My daughter cannot talk about it. I think she is hiding things from me. She lost a lot of weight, she’s only 45 kilos. You know I have this rattan little table that is normally in the yard. I put it inside now. On this table are all his photos. My daughter also printed out some pictures from Facebook. He was so popular. And active, never stayed silent. When he died he was wearing this sweater with “Stay Calm” on the front. My daughter couldn’t stand the fact that he was put into a coffin. So he was cremated, just on a wooden shelf. His scouting friends spread the ashes over in the river, combined with many rituals. They wrote a song for him. They put many things near this spot at the river. I would like to see it. But I can’t due to corona. Today is All Saints Day, I would like so much to go there, to see this, to be with him.
They only told me about it later, when he had died already. He was in a coma for four days. I couldn’t go see him anyway, I know, but still. Most of his organs were no good anymore, because of the coma. Except for his lungs. They were giving to a twenty three year old girl that had been on a breathing machine for a year. She made it now. We don’t know who she is. We cannot find out. At least, she has his lungs and is still alive.

By that time I was shivering from this story and the rain.
– It is so sad what you have been through, it is good you are able to talk about it. But I must go now, or the bakery will be closed.
– Oh dear, I am so sorry. You know what. I live at number twelve, if it is closed, you come to my house, I can still give you half of a bread.
– That is very kind. I will do that!

I rushed to the bakery and the woman that helped there was talking on the phone. I saw she was having difficulties to end the conversation.
– So sorry, that was my daughter, she cannot stop talking. Thanks for waiting.
– No problem at all. How old is she?
– Six and she cannot keep silent!
– That is a wonderful age. I hope she keeps on babbling and never stops.

Beyond Borders

Our project on the newcomers in this country has also been put on hold for a while. We still had plans to go to the schools so the newcomers could tell their own story, and so we would create more understanding. Because if one issue has left the news because of corona, it is the catastrophe of the refugees. Not totally, excuse me.  One story I still found in the newspapers: the one of the Iranian family with three young children that drowned on their way to England. The youngest was one.

Plus we have already begun interviewing people. We hope to make a small documentary. A little over a month ago, we drove to the other side of Belgium to meet Abraham and Merhawit, the beautiful couple from Eritrea. They met each other in horrific circumstances: in a Lebanese prison camp. They met there, were separated again and were reunited one year later in Europe. They married in Belgium. Now they are the happy parents of a beautiful boy. Marie made a birth card.

MUSA

This kept me really busy physically. I have been painting, sandblasting floors, decorating, choosing tiles, finding contractors… And still, we are not finished.


Musa will be a place to stay, for a few nights, in an old house in the museum-area of Antwerp. You can find us on Instagram  @ musa_antwerp. I’ll write more about the progress in a next post.

Please take care
of yourself,
and of others,

Sophie

Stories

Over the Border

Going back into history again. To World War II, a slight change from last week’s subject.

War is such a shocking word, and an even crueler circumstance. I have never been in one, luckily. But many people now, in the past, and very likely in the future, will be confronted with one.

This was the case for all those people – mostly Germans – lying underneath the endless rows of crosses in my hometown of Lommel. Two young men for one cross. In total about 39,108 war casualties. A few war criminals, but for the most part just victims, resting in peace (a cruel and ironic way of stating it).

I have been here many times, showing friends this physical embodiment of the absurdity of war. As a mother of two boys I cannot help but feel a deep grief when I see the dates on some graves: °13/06/1927  to 23/09/1944.

Close to this immense cemetery there are the buildings of the “House Across Borders.” This association organizes projects and activities for both youths and adults concerning peace and remembrance education. They also inform and help relatives or researchers regarding fallen German soldiers buried here. Continue Reading