2014 — student award of excellence
Every year millions of families flee their native countries to find safety and stability, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Few people fully realize the hardships refugee families face once they have landed in a new country with very little to their name. Through still photographs, New Roots aims to document the first year of resettlement for a refugee family as they come to America and settle in Rochester, New York.
As of June 2013, the total population of concern to the UNHCR has reached an all-time high at 37.8 million people, including 11.1 million refugees, as well as asylum-seekers and internally displaced people. Multiple refugee crises are occurring, caused by ongoing violent conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UNHCR expects the total population of concern to exceed 40 million people. Many host countries are unable to provide refugees with a permanent home, and limit forcibly displaced people to refugee camps or settlements with crowded living environments and sparse opportunities for education and employment. The United States offers a permanent new home to a limited number of refugees that cannot return safely to their native countries. 69,930 refugees arrived in the US during the fiscal year 2013. According to Catholic Family Center (CFC), 20 percent of refugees that arrive in the state of New York are resettled in Rochester.
Over the past few decades, Rochester has grown into a community for refugees of many nationalities. Over 15 organizations offering assistance to refugees have sprung up in the city, providing essentials and services, including clothes, furniture, and English classes. Often times, former refugees will give back to their community by assisting new immigrants as they arrive and volunteering with organizations that help with resettlement.
I am working with Catholic Family Center, the largest provider of family services in Rochester. CFC is the only official refugee resettlement agency in Rochester and receives funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. Through Catholic Family Center, I will be able to work with a refugee family beginning shortly after their arrival and document their transition to life in Rochester for one year. The photo documentation will include everyday moments and major milestones that occur as the family arrives, receives services and becomes self-sufficient. Viewers will witness as the refugees attend English classes, learn to drive, celebrate American holidays and experience religious freedom.
Since January of 2013, I have been a regular volunteer at Mary’s Place, a refugee outreach center in Rochester. During my time as a volunteer, I have extensively photographed the day-to-day happenings at the center. I have produced a body of documentary photographs that captures the spirit of Mary’s Place and the people within it. From first hand accounts, I have learned what it is like for a refugee to transition to life in America. I feel that my dedicated work with refugees has left me with a stronger understanding of what it means to build a new life in a foreign country. Since my first visit to Mary’s Place, I have become passionate about refugee issues and I am enthusiastic about completing a project that is able to illustrate a more complete picture of the resettlement process.
Creating a visual record of the resettlement of a refugee family in Rochester will help to promote a better cultural understanding not only in this city, but also throughout the nation. The visual examination of an unfamiliar way of life also provides the opportunity for a thoughtful look at American society. The collision of cultures shows that cooperation among nations is necessary in times of turmoil. Giving a voice to those who have been uprooted can help the world better understand how conflict can reach much further than just the initial act of violence. The challenges faced by the world’s refugees need to be addressed and photographs have the unique power to communicate without a common language.