This is Mariam. She is fourteen years old and loves to take photos with her phone. However, on the surface most people only see her as one thing: a refugee. When I met with Mariam for the first time last November, she and her family had been in Berlin for almost a year, having moved between multiple refugee shelters. They had fled the violence in Iraq, including the threat that the so-called Islamic State posed to their safety. Mariam defines herself as both a Christian and a Muslim, and uses religion to guide her through life. The first impression you get of her is one of liveliness and happiness. She is often dressed very colorfully, and as you can see from this photo of her, she is also camera shy.

Mariam lives in a refugee shelter in Kreuzberg, Berlin, together with her brother, mother and step-father. I started volunteering at the shelter in September 2016. For a long time, the volunteer work I did involved simple jobs, like serving food or taking care of children. However, in the Kreuzberg shelter, I wanted to make an impact. In collaboration with the organizers of the shelter, I initiated a photography workshop that was intended to give refugees around my age a creative voice. Luckily for me, someone took interest: Mariam. Over various occasions, she used this project to show us who she is and how she sees her new life in Berlin.

In each of the following pictures, only a selection out of all the photos she took, we glimpse into the life of someone who is not just a statistic in the media, but an individual with hope and happiness. I hope you enjoy seeing these photos as much as I enjoyed being there when they were taken.

The comments to each picture are from Mariam personally. They were originally drafted in German, which Mariam is still in the early stages of learning, and then translated into English. These comments give an insight into why she took these photos and what they express about her.

Moritz Reuter, IB 13, 2017

Mariam’s Pictures 1

I was inspired by another artist to take this picture, because I saw his picture and I said to myself, ‘I also want to make a photo like that!’ I like the theme of the photo and I’m very happy with how the colors and the structure of the photo turned out.

Mariam’s Pictures 2

The idyllic landscape was my inspiration for this photo. For me, the harmony between the leaves and the tree is the most beautiful thing about the picture.

Mariam’s Pictures 3

In this picture I am experimenting a little bit with the birds-eye perspective, because I thought it was funny how my friend looked when I looked down on her.

Mariam’s Pictures 4

My background is important for this photo. I am very religious, I am both a Muslim and a Christian and my belief in God is what I wanted to bring into this photo. I think it is great how the tips of the towers seem to stick out into the sky; it illustrates that feeling of divine spirit that I was trying to bring out.

Mariam’s Pictures 5

In the bottom left corner, out of the reach of the camera (so it’s not in the photo) used to stand an ice cream truck’ every day in the summer. At that ice cream truck everyone would take photos of the scenery with their cameras so that also what I wanted to do. I used to sit at the shores of the river opposite the big boat and just dangle my feet into the water and let everything sink in. I always like to come back here because I have such fond memories of this place and that’s what I wanted to bring into this photo.

Mariam’s Pictures 6

I used to live in Bagdad, before my family had to flee the war. In the top half of this picture is the flag of Iraq which I painted myself. The Arabic that’s written on it reads, Allahu Akbar which roughly translates to God is great.

Mariam’s Pictures 7

This picture is the counterpart to the picture I took of my friend. It shows me climbing in my favorite tree. Before I moved to the refugee shelter I am currently living in, I used to live close to this park. I would always come and climb this tree because it’s really fun to climb.

Welcome to NMS

Nelson Mandela School is a diverse and inclusive international bilingual state school, teaching from grade 1 to 13. Students in the final year can graduate with either the bilingual Abitur or the International Baccalaureate (IB).
NMS is among the Berlin schools which regularly achieve top average Abitur grades. 

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08.05.2021 Nelson-Mandela-Schule · Staatliche Internationale Schule Berlin | Nelson Mandela School · State International School Berlin