News Article

Hallam Students visit refugee camps

"I think the kids are going to be quite excited to be movie stars"

On 9th June, a group of students and staff from Sheffield Hallam University's Media Arts and Communications department will be making the 2500 or so mile journey to Lebanon. This party of 16 students and 3 staff members have set themselves the task of producing a series of films documenting life inside Beqaa Valley refugee camps. This is home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who make up a large part of the 1.5 million strong refugee populations in the country. Over 10 days, this party plans to film journalism and documentary pieces revealing the reality of life in these camps and the rich stories behind the people who live here. In addition, a short drama will also be produced starring the children in these camps, many of them orphans, who make up around 50% of all the refugees in Lebanon.

The aim is to enable Syrian refugees to share their experience and tell their stories of displacement, belonging and life in the camps. Through creative collaboration with students, the hope is that both money and awareness can be raised to support the refugees of Beqaa Valley.

Click here to donate to this amazing project, and help Hallam students raise £6000 to deliver items desperately needed in the Beqaa Valley refugee camps.

Not only the cause, but the logistics involved in this project are hugely impressive. Transporting a large amount of professional production equipment to Beirut, where they will be based before heading to the refugee camps, is huge task in itself. Much of the final production meeting was dedicated to packing several large travel bags, with each student double checking the equipment inside and triple checking their itineraries. The meeting discussion covered many topics: respecting Lebanese culture, ID cards and safe zones; laptop software, backing up footage and how to avoid getting sand on camera lenses; appropriate clothing, plug sockets and gaffer tape. These students have clearly put a lot of time into this project alongside their studies. The same could be said for the staff. Lucas Jedrzejak, cinematographer and associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, is accompanying the students on this trip. Despite previously producing films from the Lebanese refugee camps and similar films around the world, he described this project as the largest trip he has ever been involved with, and emphasized how the projects scale brings with it plenty of logistical and safety issues. When asked how he felt the students would find capturing life in the refugee camps, Lucas stated "it will be challenging", however "it will change your life".

Students Jess Terry and Iulia Nistor are preparing to participate in this life changing experience - they shared their thoughts and aspirations for the project.

 

Firstly, how are you feeling about the trip? Are you excited and do you feel prepared?

Jess: I'm definitely really excited; I'm doing the journalism side of things as I've just finished my journalism degree. I think the only issue is that I feel, because the representation and coverage of refugees isn't always done in the nicest of senses, (we need to) make sure that the people that we speak to know that, while we our journalists, we're not here to exploit them or take advantage of their situation. We're literally just here to document what is happening. I think is one of the benefits of going to Lebanon. It's such an accepting country! 1 in 4 people in Lebanon is a refugee, so it's very different from, say, doing a project in this country (UK) where I think, a lot of the time, attitudes are still quite backwards towards refugees.

Iulia: Scared is not the right word. I'm just really aware of these people being really unfortunate and I'm scared that we're not going to treat them fairly enough. I'm part of the drama group and we're going to go there with a script, and I'm really afraid that they're going to say "this is not my story", and that they're going to feel like we're using them. That's not at all what we want to do! We want to raise awareness for them in doing the drama.

Are the cultural differences, and maybe a potential difficulty in communicating your intention to people in Lebanon, the cause of these concerns?

Iulia: That's a little bit of it. I'm not afraid of communication. It's just I'm afraid that they're going to feel that we're there to use them, because there is so (much) publicity around them, I know there's a lot of people there who have (just visited) because the publicity is good for themselves. I just don't want them to feel that way about our group and what we're doing.

 

What do you really want to achieve and get out of this project?

Iulia: Two things! I want it to be a great experience for the refugees as well, not just for us. I think the kids are going to be quite excited to be movie stars, to be in a film and have this experience. I'm sure not many of them have had the experience of being in drama and acting. I think it's going to be quite cool for them, like a game. Second, I really want to produce a high quality that film we could put into festivals, and hopefully transmit a message, and bring back to the general consciousness that they are here and they need our help.

So what has inspired the drama production?

Iulia: We've been in contact with a school. It’s a school for refugees made by refugees. The teachers there are also refugees. We asked for them to send us stories and we got quite a few pictures from the children that they drew and then we've got some really amazing, inspirational stories from the teachers there as well. At this moment we still haven't got a script, as we have literally just got the stories. We want to incorporate all of them as we want to give them a voice. Everyone's really excited to be a part of it, so we're allowed to film a bit in the school as well as in the camps.

How have you gone about preparing to film the journalism pieces?

Jess: It's hard for us to pre-plan. We sort of know vaguely what we want to achieve, but we don't have set goals for when we get there. The only thing we've really said is that we want to try and show the human side of it. We all know the tragedy; we all know what the refugees go through to get to host countries. It's been discussed so frequently. I think we just want to show that it's not an us and them situation. So maybe like find a couple who have got married there or children who have literally lived there their entire lives. It's not all doom and gloom. They've escaped something so horrific, but they've managed to find a life and somewhere they feel safe. I think that’s a really powerful message that people quite often forget. Refugee camps aren't always desolate.

 

In terms of the fundraising element of this project, how have you been raising money for those crucial items needed by refugees in the Lebanese camps?

Iulia: I work part-time in a coffee shop on Division Street, and they were kind enough to provide a room and a barista. We did a masterclass in brewing coffee, and all the money we got went in to our campaign!

Jess: I've been quite active on social media and things like that, but myself and one of the guys (coming on the trip) Dave actually have an event tonight to raise money. We have some artists and bands lined up. A couple of big names in Sheffield are coming.

Oh great, which artists?

Sweetness, which are quite a well-known Sheffield band. We also have a band that is a Hallam-based band, two of their guys are from Hallam, they're called WeekDaze.

                

We've touched on this already, but what do you think are the main challenges you will face on this trip, capturing your stories and traveling round Lebanon?

Jess: I think the biggest challenge will be finding people that will be trusting of us. It's quite frequent that people from Syria, or places like that, don't have very good experiences with white people. White faces can be quite scary to them, and this is something I experienced when I was in Calais last year as well. A lot of people when they've experienced white people, they've been met with oppression and violence, obviously that is not what we're there for. So it might be quite difficult getting people to trust us. But that's why we're really lucky to have Save the Children on our side and out there in parallel to us, because they are an organisation who is trusted there, and they can vouch for us. Hopefully, they (the refugees) won't have any issues with us, but obviously it's their safe space; it’s the place they call home. I would find it weird if people were trying to get me to talk to a camera! It's about making sure everyone feels comfortable I think.

Iulia: Well there are quite a few challenges. (Producing) dramas usually need a lot of preparation and we have only just now been doing the script because we really want to base it on real events and real stories. That means we have a lot less time for planning the actual shoot, which takes a lot of time normally. We only have 4 days in the camp, and one of the days we need to sacrifice for casting, as we want to use the people that live there. Finding the people who are excited to be on camera, and good on camera, will be a big challenge. Choosing the people to be on camera will feel a bit weird as some of the children might not be able to be (included) and I do not want anyone to be discriminated in any way, but at the same time I do want to have a good film so we can have an impact. Also, as I'm going to be directing this piece, I'm really stressing about building a rapport with the actors, especially with the children because that is one of the most important things as a director, to build a rapport with the actors. And we're there for a really short amount of time. But I'm sure once we're settled it'll flow. It's all so exciting!        

 

To learn more about this amazing project and support Hallam students in delivering items desperately needed in the refugee camps, click here.