Syrian Refugees

Emma Scott Hagle, Scripps College '21

interviewed Jesse Goldstein

            Drawing inspiration from Phillip Zimmermann’s Reaper, I decided to focus my project on a Middle Eastern topic—the Syrian refugee crisis. In fall of 2016, I spent two months in Camini, Italy working with refugees coming into the country from Mediterranean Sea vessels. My work focused on integrating newly arrived refugee families into Camini’s city and culture. I helped settle families into new homes, enroll adults in language and job skill courses, and developing activities and programs for children to spend time with one another, but most of my time was spent working in a nursery. I worked with children ages two to five while their parents were at work and siblings were in school. We practiced going over shapes and colors in Arabic, Italian, and English, and spent the majority of our time painting and playing on the jungle gym.

            Before the children could enter the playroom, everyone had to remove their shoes and line them up next to the wall—this is where the shoe image comes from. The reasoning behind the blue color of the shoes is that blue paint was the most highly requested color during arts and crafts time. Once everyone’s shoes were off, the children enjoyed playing on the slide, in the ball pit, and inside the playhouse. When climbing up the slide, the children would say, “shwe shwe” to one another. At first, I did not know what that meant and had to ask my supervisor. She explained that “shwe shwe” means “slowly”, “step by step”, or “carefully”. The children were instructing each other to be careful when climbing the ladder and going down the slide. The care and concern each child had for their peers struck me. They all had been born amidst the Syrian civil war, had numerous family members perish, and braved the cold and rocky sea to arrive in southern Italy, and even after all of that, they still valued gentleness and softness in their playtime.

            This value for care and compassion is something I was confronted by again and again—people who had seen and experienced unimaginable horrors were genuinely kindhearted and benevolent towards one another and towards me. In every home I visited, I was offered copious amounts of food and drink, asked about my own life, and treated as a new member of the family. The Syrian refugees I met in Camini truly changed the way I approach the world, and I am forever grateful for my experiences with them.

            This print is an homage to the people and the place that changed my worldview, and Philip Zimmermann and Jesse Goldstein each gave me fodder to develop and create my image. Zimmermann is very focused on the effects of war on communities which got me thinking about my volunteer experience. Goldstein uses stark and almost simplistic prints to get a greater message across, as shown in his Occuprint work. Goldstein’s bull print was simple and to the point, while still making his audience think about a greater idea.

            I hope that my print will entice people to spend a minute thinking over the greater implications of a refugee crisis and the effects war can have on children. I hope people will first be struck by the image of children’s shoes, then read the italicized “shwe shwe”, and finally read the rest of the text. Once they have looked at the front, they will flip to the back and see “Syrian Refugees, Camini, Italy, 2016”. At which point, the audience will have a larger context for the previous page and return to view the print again with a more informed understanding.