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This Powerful Photo Series Asks Refugee Children What They Want To Be When They Grow Up

“Daesh is destroying Iraq, so I want a job that lets me build it back again. All the houses I’ve ever lived in have been destroyed.”

Posted on September 18, 2019, at 5:38 p.m. ET

Lorand Hadaya, 13, from Ras al-Amud, Syria, wants to be a break dancer.

Vincent Tremeau

“People tell me that break dancing is just for boys, but that doesn’t make sense because I’m much better at it than any of them.”

Vincent Tremeau is a photographer based in Dakar, Senegal, whose work focuses on raising awareness around humanistic issues across the globe. His ongoing series of portraits, One Day, I Will, asks displaced children living in refugee camps a single question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Tremeau follows this question by asking each child to build a costume designed after their chosen profession. The result is a powerful series of images that capture the dreams and ambitions of the world’s youth. At this year’s Photoville festival in New York City, a special exhibition of Tremeau’s work, presented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlights the girls and young women he’s photographed in his travels and their goals for the future.

Here, Tremeau shares with BuzzFeed News a collection of portraits from his series One Day, I Will and discusses his experience in meeting and photographing these incredible young people:

The idea of One Day, I Will began as an experiment — it was a way to play a game with the children I met while covering a story about internally displaced persons in the Central African Republic. It was in 2014, and a community of Muslims had been sheltered in a church for over a year. They were unable to leave for fear of being killed. The children were unable to go to school because there was no school anymore.

Halaz Khaled Ibrahim, 14, from Damascus, Syria, wants to be a lawyer.

Vincent Tremeau

“I’m not going to become just any kind of lawyer — I’m going to become a human rights lawyer, and I’ll work for free to defend anyone who’s facing problems during wars and conflicts.”

I remember a girl who started crying as she told me her story. So I began to think of how I could tell the stories of these children in a way that would focus on possibilities for their future rather than trauma of the past and daily survival.

I came up with an assignment for these children: Find or make a costume that will represent what you want to be when you grow up, and I will take a portrait of you in it. At that time, I had no idea whether this would work, but it would at least be fun.

The originality of what the children came up with amazed me, especially because they were able to express so much with practically nothing. I became curious about what results I would get elsewhere. So I started replicating this idea while on assignment in other countries affected by a crisis. In Democratic Republic of Congo, in Niger, in Iraq, and so on. As of today, 20 nationalities are represented in the One Day, I Will project.

The children’s choices reflect their everyday experience: who they saw around them, what their parents did, who had directly influenced their lives. Many are pragmatic, some more aspirational.

Zuha Yunis, 10, from Mosul, Iraq, wants to be an artist.

Vincent Tremeau

“I do art nearly every day in the camp. I like drawing flowers and houses the most. But when I’m an artist, I won’t sell my paintings. I’ll just hang them in my house.”

As a global community, we need to make young girls’ education a priority.

We need to ensure girls can have access to school, no matter the circumstances that surround them. No matter if there is a humanitarian crisis or a war. No matter their resources or their disabilities. We must make sure they can all go to school, so they can get equal opportunities and so they can participate in making the world of tomorrow more equal.

We also have to make sure our own children respect one another, no matter their religion, skin color, resources, or disabilities. We have to remember what unites us more than what divides us. If we start with that philosophy from an early age, at school, then we will be able to face and overcome all the challenges our world has and is going to face.

Dina Khalid, 11, from Mosul, Iraq, wants to be an engineer.

Vincent Tremeau

“Daesh is destroying Iraq, so I want a job that lets me build it back again. All the houses I’ve ever lived in have been destroyed.”

Habiba, 13, from Damassak, Nigeria, wants to be a journalist.

Vincent

“I would like to be a journalist when I grow up, because I want to inform people on the things that are happening around the world.”

Ahlam Fardous, 12, from Mosul, Iraq, wants to be a dentist.

Vincent Tremeau

“I want to be a dentist so that I can help people when they’re in pain.”

Otpika Pandey, 18, from Bithuwa, Nepal, wants to be an accountant.

Vincent Tremeau

“I’m really good with numbers, so I’ve been planning to become an accountant for a long time. But it’s going to take a lot of work — you need so many qualifications! I’m in year 12 now, so I have another year at school before going to college to study commerce, and then getting my bachelor’s degree. There aren’t many girls left in my year of school.”

Sarita Tharu, 16, from Bankaffa, Nepal, wants to be a civil engineer.

Vincent Tremeau

“I just want a career that lets me be independent. I want to be in charge of my own life and not have anyone else make decisions for me on my behalf. It’s pretty simple really. I don’t want to have to depend on anybody else, ever.”

Khadija Kaku, 15, from Nigeria, wants to be a computer scientist.

Vincent Tremeau

“I’d like to work in IT and new technologies. What I’ve learned is that with the internet, even if you don’t know something, somebody in the world has what you need. It’s the best way to learn and to share knowledge.”

Photoville NYC is a free outdoor photo festival located in Brooklyn Bridge Park from Sept. 12–22.


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