Uh oh, you are using an old web browser that we no longer support. Some of this website's features may not work correctly because of this. Learn about updating to a more modern browser here.

Skip To Content

Syrian refugees tell their story through the camera lens to mark ten years since the Syrian war began

Renowned photographer Pixie Levinson and Arsenal player Héctor Bellerín front creative project with children from Arsenal and Save the Children’s Coaching for Life programme.

Download all high-res images and read more about the children’s stories here.

To mark ten years since the devastating war in Syria began, and one year since the Coronavirus pandemic started, an exclusive photography project run by Save the Children and The Arsenal Foundation has documented the lives of young Syrian refugees living in Za’atari Refugee Camp.

Spearheaded by renowned photographer Pixie Levinson and Arsenal player Héctor Bellerín - who is also a passionate photographer - the project donated instax cameras to Syrian refugee children so they could tell their own story through the camera lens. The results are a poignant testimony to the resilience and creativity of children - even in the most adverse of circumstances.

The pioneering Coaching for Life programme has supported the physical and mental wellbeing of children affected by war and conflict through bespoke football sessions in the camp since 2018. But with football pitches shut and Za’atari in lockdown, the participants swapped footballs for cameras to take part in this imaginative project.

Through photography, the young refugees were given a platform to tell the stories that are important to them. Pixie and Save the Children developed a toolkit to help the children express themselves through the creative medium - highlighting what life is really like in the camp during lockdown, what they miss from their homes in Syria, how Save the Children and Arsenal have supported their mental health and their hopes and dreams for the future.

At the end of the project, Héctor and Pixie curated a collection of their favourite photographs to mark ten years since the war in Syria began on 15th March 2011.

Héctor Bellerín said: “Sometimes as humans it’s really hard to communicate the feelings we have inside and it’s easier to express them in a creative way. Photography was something that took me away when I couldn’t play football in the first few months of lockdown and I think it helps us open up and connect with people in a different way. It’s inspiring to have these young people as part of the Arsenal family and to read their stories. I am so proud that we can continue to support them.”

Pixie Levinson said: “Photography has always given me an outlet to express myself – in good times and bad. Photos capture a moment, but what the children in Za’atari have managed to capture goes much deeper. Their photos tell so many stories - losing loved ones, leaving their beloved homes, treacherous journeys and years of living in a refugee camp. The strength and power these children have exuded through the camera lens is awe-inspiring. It’s been an honour to work on this photography project and give them the chance to share their stories with the world.”

Yara* is 17 years old and fled her home in Syria eight years ago: “I felt lost, unsafe and sad leaving my homeland. I have left everything beautiful behind and I miss my friends and family. The most difficult thing about living in Za’atari is feeling alienated, but football and photography have helped me feel less alone. Coaching for Life has taught me patience and teamwork. I love making decisions as a team - we are one soul. Also, the photography project has allowed me to express myself - the photograph I took of the flower represents my hope for the future, because every time the flower falls it springs up again. One day, I hope to become a journalist to show people the authentic stories behind the news.”

For almost ten years, children have been caught in the crossfire of the brutal war in Syria, witnessing horrors that no child should ever see. Za’atari is one of the world’s largest refugee camps and hosts nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees. More than half of its population are children, and many have been living there ever since the camp was formed in 2012.

Coaching for Life has combined over 100 years of Save the Children’s child protection expertise with almost 40 years of Arsenal’s Sports for Change experience to create an innovative coaching programme.  Its growing evidence base shows how the project’s bespoke football coaching sessions can directly support children’s mental health and wellbeing, even in some of the most deprived areas of the world.

The coaching sessions have been more important than ever in the past year as children living in the camp, who’ve already had their lives upended by conflict and displacement, faced yet more uncertainty because of the Coronavirus pandemic - disrupting their education and family livelihoods. Save the Children staff in the camp reported that many children were withdrawn, lonely and stressed during lockdown, with many stating that they missed exercise and playing with friends.

The Coaching for Life programme consists of six ‘football for resilience’ coaching modules which run over 20-week cycles. Throughout lockdown these modules have been delivered remotely through virtual groups. The sessions address issues such as managing emotions, learning how to communicate, decision making, self-esteem and conflict management. Through football, girls and boys develop these skills as well as being able to voice their opinions, take action on issues that affect them and learn that girls and boys are equal.

To find out more about this life-changing programme and help build a better future for children, visit https://stories.savethechildren.org.uk/coaching-for-life/


Notes to editor:

*name changed to protect identity

About Coaching for Life:

Coaching for Life is a ground-breaking programme, co-created by Save the Children and The Arsenal Foundation. Based on robust evidence and combined expertise, it improves the mental and physical health of children living in some of the world’s toughest places. Through bespoke football coaching sessions, girls and boys tackle issues such as managing emotions, decision-making, self-esteem, gender equality and voicing opinions.

The programme has already changed the lives of thousands of children in Jordan - home to millions of Syrian refugees - and in Indonesia’s city slums, where children are at high risk of exploitation and violence.

Together, Save the Children and The Arsenal Foundation are standing side by side with children and the goal is clear: give them the tools to rebuild their lives and coach them towards a better future.

Save the Children's Syria Crisis Appeal

More on Save the Children's partnership with Arsenal