Sharing the dreams of refugees with the world through photography

Image by Yousif Al Shewaili / Witness Change for OSF

Refugee stories have often been told by outsiders. Yousif, a young man from Iraq is part of 1000 Dreams, a global movement to change the narrative of the refugee experience through photography and storytelling.

This initiative, launching on World Refugee Day (20 June), counters prevailing narratives by supporting refugees to tell their own stories - their strengths, their challenges, their dreams - for themselves.

Read Yousif's blog to learn more about 1000 Dreams, and check out some of the photos and stories gathered by young refugees participating in this project. 


I was born in a country that many people around the world only associate with war. But to me it has always been so much more than that: I used to play soccer in the national team, remembering the moment when I was awarded the best goalkeeper still fills my heart with joy. Or thinking of the times when I used to work at my father’s shop, selling fresh tomatoes, local sweets, and clothes. Iraq used to be my home until it became so dangerous that I had no choice but to seek refuge.

I was still a minor when I was forced to leave. At that time, I was still full of hope, dreams, and ambitions, looking forward to a brighter future. But when I arrived in Greece, I had to realize that it did not turn out to be a safe place for me either. Instead of being the fulfillment of my dreams, arriving in Europe was a nightmare. And not just for myself but for thousands of others.

Zahra Gardi  / Witness Change for OSF
“Most nights before bed or when I am alone, I think about my second son in Iran. I am physically here, but my soul was left in Iran.” Roghaia Mohammadi, Greece.

Moria refugee camp is like a prison, mental torture, infamously called hell on earth. For the thousands of people living there, access to medical care is very limited, and people are cueing up for a piece of old bread for hours, waiting in the sun. Basic human rights like education and sufficient amounts of water are not met – in Europe, the place where human rights were founded.

Truthfully, it was an extremely hard time for me. But instead of giving up, I decided to put my eye behind my camera again. I started to capture the reality of the camps, aiming to tell the stories of the people, the horrors of Moria, but also the beautiful moments. True stories, told by the people themselves.

You can do your part to amplify the voices even more by listening to the stories, and by sharing them. We can change the perspective. We just have to start!
Mahmoud Jabbie / Witness Change for OSF
“I want to finish my school,” says Mohamed who had a “really difficult” journey from his home in the Gambia. Now in Greece, where he is seeking asylum, he says, “I'm blessed to be here,” in a country where he can “become a better person tomorrow.”

Showing the dreams of the people around me became my driving force. The pictures became a light for all of us. Finally, the perspective changed from ´the refugees’ to ‘us’. The people from the camp could speak up for themselves, using the pictures to amplify their voices.

In places like Moria, you do not only find the worst sides of humanity but also, its best parts. One example is the big solidarity within the camp, but also the international support. I had the honour - as part of the 1000 dreams workshop- to learn from and with some of the most talented photographers of the world, who are dedicating their time to sharing their knowledge with young talents from the camp.

Mahdiyh Haidari / Witness Change for OSF
“Because my beloved husband was beside me I was able to overcome [the hardships] and become stronger.” Aram fled Iran and the abusive family that disapproved of the man she loved. Although now together and safe in Greece, her mental health has suffered.

Over the months and years that I was living on the Greek island Lesbos I took many pictures, and in this exhibition, I want to share some of them with you. You will be able to see what it means to be a refugee, but more importantly that we are humans first. That we are individuals full of hopes and dreams.

I want to tell our stories to the world, to depict our suffering, without taking away from our dignity. And you can do your part to amplify the voices even more by listening to the stories, and by sharing them. We can change the perspective. We just have to start!

Asif & Shawiz Tamimi  / Witness Change for OSF
“I try to think positively,” says Roholah. “If we get depressed, no one can give hope to our children.” Roholah and his young family are seeking asylum in Greece.
Visual arts