Capturing Hope Through Her Camera in Lebanon
“I’ve had a passion for photography since I was a little girl. I was determined to one day buy my very own camera and capture everything around me. Life is too beautiful to not be frozen in time and framed.” - Ahlam
Ahlam is a 25-year-old wife and mother in the village of Yanouh - about 12 km inland from Tyre in the south of Lebanon. Her name, which means “dreams,” suits her.
After leaving school at the age of 17, she felt that she was not doing much with her life. She was frustrated by her limited options.
Southern Lebanon is a high security area. It shares a border with Israel and was the region most affected by the 2006 war. The south is also the second most impoverished area of Lebanon, after Akkar in the north.
These economic and political factors have led to many social challenges. One major issue facing Ahlam's village is an increase in young people dropping out of school, especially girls. Because of financial constraints and a conservative values in the village, many families prefer that their daughters get married or work, rather than pursue their education.
“I can’t go to university," she says, "even if I wanted to. With being married and having many responsibilities, I don’t have time to go back to school. I also don’t want to be the oldest student in the entire school.”
Fortunately for Ahlam, she married a supportive and caring husband - someone who did not merely see her as a housewife but also as a passionate dreamer with ambitions and aspirations. She says,
“My husband is my best friend. If you ask me today about marriage, I would definitely say that I got married too young. But I got lucky! So many of my friends are forced into marriages and find themselves living with strangers who crush their dreams.”
“I’ve had a passion for photography since I was a little girl. I was determined to one day buy my very own camera and capture everything around me. Life is too beautiful to not be frozen in time and framed.”
One day, through word of mouth, she heard about an organization providing free, time-flexible, certified courses. The course is a part of Anera’s Youth Empowerment Program in Lebanon. Ahlam decided to visit the offices of Al Najdeh Association, one of Anera’s local partners and training providers, and registered for the Introduction to Professional Photography course.
For six weeks, Ahlam had the time of her life,
“I would get up at sunrise, feed my daughter and then drop her off at her grandmother's house. I heard a few negative comments here and there from people in my community. About leaving my main duties and pursuing a ‘hobby’ - but I don’t care. I know what I want and my husband and parents encourage me.”
Ahlam is determined to make an artistic career for herself that can support her daughter and give her the best education possible.
After completing the introductory course, she registered for the advanced photography course. ”Why not?! How can learning more hurt me?," she asked herself. "I love this too much to simply go halfway. I want to pursue this as a career and prove to everyone around me that when you have the will, there’s always a way.”
Like all of Anera’s vocational students, Ahlam went through an apprenticeship before graduating. With Anera's assistance, she found a photography studio in a nearby village where she could intern for six weeks. The internship gave Ahlam the hands-on experience she needed to solidify her new photography skills.
A Studio of Her Own
Today, Ahlam has her own photography studio in her village Yanoah. She is considered one of the best photographers in the area and is frequently hired to photograph cultural events, birthdays, weddings, personal photo sessions, and families. Her studio is named “Lamis,” after her daughter.
Since her studio’s opening day, she has flourished professionally, attracting a growing number of customers. Before opening the studio, Ahlam and her husband wanted to have a second child but felt their finances didn’t allow it. But with the income Ahlam has been earning through her studio, she and her husband finally decided to have their second child.
“If I could give one piece of advice to young women in Lebanon, it would be this: Do not accept things as they are. Know that life is ever changing. You must fight for what you love. I chose photography because it brings me joy and serenity. When I am doing a photo shoot, for me it’s like meditating. My studio is the first step in my vision for the future. I really want to thank Anera, UNICEF and Najdeh for this life changing opportunity. Not only did it better my life, but also the lives of my children.”
The photography course is a part of Anera's youth empowerment and employability program in Lebanon (also known by the acronym ‘TVET,’ for technical and vocational education and training). Ahlam is among hundreds of youth in Lebanon benefiting from Anera’s partnership with UNICEF, with funding by the Embassies of the Netherlands and Germany in Beirut and UK AID.