All photography provided by Jon Yee
Our mission is pretty simple: we just want refugees' voices and stories to be heard. To this end, we're producing a podcast, allowing refugees to share their stories without fear of being traced (only first names are used, and any identifying details are edited out), in the hopes of providing a platform for these otherwise unheard voices. You might be thinking that you've seen a thousand news reports about refugees, read a hundred different articles about the war in Syria, and that is probably true. But it is harder to find accessible, longform, intimate interviews with refugees. Often refugees' stories are edited into soundbites, and the richness and fullness of their lives, experiences, beliefs and memories is distilled into something much simpler, and much less complete.
And so, our focus isn't just on the grim stories of relatives lost and bombs falling. We want our interviews to not be limited to the experience of being a refugee (although when conducting interviews in a refugee's tent this topic does come up a lot!) but also be about getting to know people, providing a glimpse into a life and experience we all hear a lot about, but maybe don't have any clear understanding of what it might actually be like.
And finally, one of the many sad losses in displacement is the loss of culture: folktales, recipes, cultural memories and beliefs are threatened and often lost through displacement. Many of the refugees interviewed have already been living in Lebanon for half a decade, and few harbour hopes of returning in the near future. So we are also hoping to record as many memories of what Syria was like before the war, and to provide refugees with an opportunity to be proud of their origins and unique cultural heritage.
Why a podcast?
- Audio feels personal, but is much harder to track than video. Some refugees may feel threatened by the idea of their image being distributed, particularly if they still have family in Syria who are in danger of potential violence. Many of our interviewees mentioned how important this was to them, and some had already experienced backlash from statements they made in video interviews in the past. Doing an audio only interview made them feel a lot safer and freer to speak.
- For reasons of modesty, many women prefer not to be photographed or filmed, but are happy to have just their voice recorded. Sometimes the women who would typically avoid doing video interviews were interested in doing an audio interview.
- Audio recording is easier, cheaper, and less intimidating for interviewees than video recording. The interviewees felt more relaxed, because they didn't have to worry about how they looked, the cleanliness of their living space, and could have as many support people around them as they wanted. Both mediums are important and useful, but audio does provide many specific benefits for both interviewees and interviewers.
- Despite feeling less invasive and personal for the interviewee, the ways we consume audio storytelling make them feel very personal. Many of us listen to audio storytelling on our commutes, while exercising, in bed, and usually with headphones, which makes the experience feel very personal indeed.