National Geographic photographer Amy Toensing shows images of young refugees dealing with some of the most difficult challenges imaginable.
A refugee girl jumps rope in her apartment complex courtyard in Nairobi, where it is safer to play than out on the street. Behind her, older refugee women wash clothes. For some, their journey as refugees began as children and may extend into old age due to the intractable nature of many conflicts. PHOTOGRAPHS BY AMY TOENSING
Some refugees are pursued across borders by attackers or killers who forced them from home. This refugee boy thought he had found safety in a neighboring country, but was kidnapped in the slum area where he was hiding and brought back to his homeland, where he was tortured.
This woman and her baby narrowly escaped through a window when her house was burned by a militia group in a raid on her village. Other members of her family perished inside.
A girl sips porridge her mother prepared for her. In urban areas, proper nutrition is often compromised because of scarce resources.
A young refugee girl rests on a mattress she shares with her five siblings. The most dangerous time for a refugee girl, particularly if she is on her own without parents or caretakers, is within the first 72 hours of arrival in a new city. This is the time when she is most susceptible to kidnapping and trafficking. Photo by Amy Toensing
A refugee girl counts to 10 while her six siblings dart into the corners during a game of hide and seek in the courtyard of their apartment complex. Urban refugee children are often confined to playing inside or within enclosed spaces to avoid kidnapping and attacks. Photo by Amy Toensing
A young refugee boy lives in this makeshift dwelling made in the space between two buildings with his aunt. Soon after this photo the landlord started limiting their access to the space, locking them out during the day and only allowing them to sleep there because they could not afford to pay the full rent. - Photo by Amy Toensing
If Amy Toensing had not lived in Portland a decade ago, she might never have gone to Kenya last spring.
Toensing, a graduate of the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies and a National Geographic photographer, is showing her Kenya photographs at SALT through Aug. 8. The exhibition, “In the Shadows: Urban Refugee Children in Africa,” documents the challenges faced by young people in Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa and the place where children and families go when fleeing Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
From there, refugees often come to the United States and, eventually, Portland.
Toensing, who now resides in New Paltz, N.Y., lived on Munjoy Hill in the early 2000s. Her neighbors were from Somalia.
“I got interested in what was going on in my own backyard,” she said. “And I really became interested in how young teen-age Muslim girls were adjusting to Western culture.”
“In the Shadows” is an extension of that interest. She and her husband, Matt Moyer, spent last May in Kenya. They raised $17,000 through Kickstarter, and partnered with RefugePoint, a nonprofit organization working in Africa to help refugees. One of Toensing’s contacts with RefugePoint is Cheryl Hamilton, who helped manage the migration of 2,500 Somali refugees to Maine between 2001 and 2003.
With this project, Toensing’s goal is to personalize the children who occupy some of Africa’s worst slums. She photographed one or two families a day, mostly just spending time with the kids and photographing them in their daily lives.
“Kids are pretty easy to hang out with,” she said. “I would just talk with them about what was going on in their lives.”
The project left her aching with sadness. She has traveled widely for her work, and witnessed many horrible situations of people in poverty and need.
“It’s one thing to live in poverty,” she said. “But when you do not have a home, it’s just so sad. Not having that sense of belonging and that sense of place for me pushed it over the edge.”
WHEN: Through Aug. 8
WHERE: Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, 561 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: Free
INFO: 761-0660 or salt.edu