World Refugee Day commemorates the millions of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world and the communities that welcome them. The National Geographic Society has partnered with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to host a free event at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Thursday, June 20, to reflect on the strength of these refugees who exhibit resilience and optimism despite the turmoil and hardships they’ve endured.
The event will take place from 5:15–6:00 p.m. with welcome remarks from UNHCR Regional Representative Matt Reynolds and National Geographic Society Chief Storytelling Officer Kaitlin Yarnall. Following remarks, UNHCR spokesperson Chris Boian and National Geographic photographer Robin Hammond will moderate a pre-performance conversation with three refugee youth that participated in National Geographic’s Photo Camp program; Sartre Ndebaneza from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haneen Alsaad from Iraq, and Mohamad Faiz Bin Kamal Ahmad from Malaysia. The conversation will provide insight into the students’ experiences at the camp learning how to use photography to share their stories of resilience, their hopes for their futures and the connections they made to their new communities.
National Geographic Photo Camp aims to amplify the voices of at-risk and refugee youth in their late teens and early 20s. Since the program’s founding in 2003, National Geographic has conducted more than 95 Photo Camps in more than 24 countries. During the weeklong program, world-class National Geographic photographers teach the students how to use photography to tell their own stories and explore the world around them. The program helps students realize that their stories are an integral part of our shared human journey and that photography is a powerful form of expression and connection.
Throughout the week leading up to World Refugee Day, National Geographic is holding its first-ever Master’s Photo Camp specifically for past refugee participants. During the Master’s Photo Camp, students will build upon the skills they learned during their first Photo Camp experience by focusing on more advanced technical photography skills, including studio photography and lighting, lighting on location, storytelling and writing, and portraiture. National Geographic worked with the Refugee Youth Project in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica, New York, to bring together refugees who have resettled in the United States. These young men and women represent diverse background coming from nine countries: Iraq, Myanmar, Bhutan, Yemen, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Syria and Ukraine. The camp will be taught by renowned National Geographic photographers Robin Hammond, Dominic Bracco II and Lynn Johnson.
The resilience, tenacity and perseverance of the Photo Camp students and their ability to convey their experiences through a camera lens never ceases to amaze me. We’re honored to be a part of UNHCR and the Kennedy Center’s annual World Refugee Day event to commemorate these remarkable refugees who have important stories to tell.Kaitlin Yarnall, Chief Storytelling Officer at the National Geographic Society
Following the pre-performance discussion, there will be a live performance from 6:00–7:00 p.m. by Alsarah & the Nubatones, an internationally acclaimed Brooklyn-based group whose members have their own experience with forced displacement. A refugee herself, Alsarah was born in Sudan, relocated to Yemen and abruptly moved to the United States where she has found home. Alsarah & the Nubatones’ music features refugee themes including songs of displacement and returning home, as well as the cultural influences of Sudan and Egypt. Their unique “East-African retro-pop” sound attracts a diverse audience, proving over and over that soul crosses all cultural and linguistic barriers. The event will be available via livestream on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage website, Facebook and YouTube.
Additionally, event attendees will be invited to view the National Geographic Photo Camp exhibition on display in the Kennedy Center’s Hall of States and Hall of Nations. The exhibition, which is closing on June 20, is part of the Kennedy Center’s season-long exploration of The Human Journey with programming that investigates the powerful experiences of migration, exploration, identity and resilience through the lenses of the performing arts, science and visual art. To learn more about Photo Camp visit natgeo.org/photocamp and to learn more about the free event visit the Millennium Stage website. Join the conversation on Facebook at @UNHCR, @KennedyCenter and @InsideNatGeo.