The Sirkhane Darkroom Project wishes to be a beacon of hope for the war-affected children in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq by giving them a chance to learn and express themselves through the art of photography. Founded by Serbest Salih, a photographer from Kobanî, Syria, this nonprofit organization transcends political, ideological, and religious boundaries to provide free creative workshops with the primary aim of offering quality art education and empowering children, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Quality Education

By providing children affected by war with the opportunity to learn, express themselves, and engage in a creative process, the program becomes a catalyst for positive change. Beyond the technical aspects of photography, Sirkhane Darkroom nurtures resilience, fosters community, and instills a sense of empowerment.

Photo of Serbest Salih and children participating in the Sirkhane Darkroom Project. Image courtesy of SLR Lounge.

The inspiration for Sirkhane Darkroom struck Salih in 2012, at the onset of the Syrian Civil War. Witnessing the displaced and the suffering, he began documenting stories with his camera, realizing the power of photography to preserve the narratives of a community in turmoil. In 2018, Sirkhane Darkroom was born, focusing on children who had witnessed violence, poverty, and war.

Sirkhane Darkroom is a travelling initiative that spans villages in the southeast of Turkey, a few kilometers from the Syrian border. It is intentionally designed to be non-political, non-ideological, and non-religious, emphasizing instead the universal language of creativity. The program's core objective is to provide a nurturing space for children to explore photography, offering them tools to compose and develop their own photographs.

Photo of Serbest Salih and children participating in the Sirkhane Darkroom Project. Image courtesy of Indisposable Concept.

The first week of the program is dedicated to excitement and investment, where children play games, create their own rules, and set goals for the project. The following weeks delve into the fundamentals of photography, teaching children about different types of cameras, composition, and the art of visual expression. A crucial aspect of the program is giving the children the freedom to choose their subjects, allowing them to document their surroundings and express their unique perspectives.

Sirkhane Darkroom’s commitment to children extends beyond art education; it actively seeks to prolong childhood for those who have had to grow up too quickly due to harsh circumstances. Salih emphasizes their commitment to working in areas where being a child is challenging and where the innocence of childhood needs preservation. The program incorporates child safeguarding policies by facilitating access to specialized protection and other welfare services for Syrians and non-Syrian refugees in Turkey. This ensures that the children are not only learning through the program but are also protected and supported in various aspects of their lives.

Photo of a child taking a photograph as they are participating in the Sirkhane Darkroom Project. Image courtesy of Indisposable Concept.

The tangible outcomes of the program are seen in the photographs captured by the children. These images, taken through the lens of innocence, offer a profound insight into daily life, family, friends, and self-portraits. The ability of these young photographers to convey emotion and tell stories through their art challenges preconceived notions about the impact of war on children.

One distinguishing feature of Sirkhane Darkroom is its mobility. The program travels to different villages, reaching as many children as possible. Before commencing the workshops, the team engages with village leaders and gains consent from parents or guardians. This mobile approach ensures that even in remote areas, children have access to quality education and the therapeutic benefits of creative expression.

Flower Girl by Asi (12 years old), photograph taken in the Sirkhane Darkroom project with the caption “My mother named my sister after a flower because there were always flowers growing in front of our house. That’s why I took my sister there and photographed her. A photo with flowers”. Image courtesy of It’s Nice That. 

Adapting to challenges, especially those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sirkhane Darkroom has embraced online workshops. Through video calls and messaging apps, the program continues to reach children, offering them hope and creative engagement during these difficult times. Additionally, plans are underway to create a Sirkhane Caravan, equipped with a darkroom, to further extend the reach of the workshops.

Looking ahead, Salih envisions empowering older children with the tools to continue the project independently in their towns, ensuring a ripple effect for future generations. Collaborations with experienced photographers and the exploration of creating their own 35mm film are underway, demonstrating a commitment to sustained growth and impact. 

My Friend by Ishak (8 years old), photograph taken in the Sirkhane Darkroom project. Image courtesy of It’s Nice That. 

In a world often marred by conflict and displacement, Sirkhane Darkroom stands as a testament to the transformative power of art and education, offering a glimmer of hope and healing through the eyes of resilient children-turned-photographers.

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