Creativity · Women's empowerment

This powerful photo series shows why we should make young girls education a priority

Vincent Tremeau is a photographer based in Dakar, Senegal. His work focuses on raising awareness around humanistic issues across the globe. His ongoing series of portraits – One Day, I Will, asks displaced girls living in refugee camps a single question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?The result shows us why we should make women’s empowerment a priority and promote young girls education.

The beginning

The photo series documents what we hear about too less: the hopes and aspirations of girls, trapped in crises. However, the stories that are being told are not only a reflection of hope. They also make you think a little bit.

Back in 2014, the photographer Vincent Tremeau was creating a story about internally displaced people in the Central African Republic. By that time the country had been destroyed by a civil war that had already started in December 2012. Thousands were killed and a quarter of the country’s population was displaced.

There he met the children that later would play the leading roles in his photo series. As a way to play a game, the photographer asked each child between six and eighteen years old to build a costume designed after their chosen profession.

With the help of accessories and props of what they could find in their immediate surroundings, the girls featured in the pictures have dressed up to show and explain who they want to be when they grow up.

To explain the process, Vincent Tremeau told BuzzFeed.News:

“I remember a girl who started crying as she told me her story. So I began to think of how I could tell the stories of these children in a way that would focus on possibilities for their future rather than trauma of the past and daily survival. I came up with an assignment for these children: Find or make a costume that will represent what you want to be when you grow up, and I will take a portrait of you in it. At that time, I had no idea whether this would work, but it would at least be fun.” […]

Vincent Tremeau interviewed by BuzzFeed.News.

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From girls in The African Republic to all around the world

As a result, the answers to that single question ranges between doctor, teacher, soldier, et cetera. By capturing the dreams, ambitions and goals for the future of those young girls from his travels, Tremeau has created a powerful series covering a very diverse range of portraits.

Presented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there is a special exhibition of Tremeau’s work at this year’s Photoville festival in New York City. Go see it, if you feel like it!

Tremeau discusses his experience in meeting and photographing these incredible young girls with BuzzFeed.News:

” […] The originality of what the children came up with amazed me, especially because they were able to express so much with practically nothing. I became curious about what results I would get elsewhere. So I started replicating this idea while on assignment in other countries affected by a crisis. In Democratic Republic of Congo, in Niger, in Iraq, and so on. As of today, 20 nationalities are represented in the One Day, I Will project. The children’s choices reflect their everyday experience: who they saw around them, what their parents did, who had directly influenced their lives. Many are pragmatic, some more aspirational.”

Vincent Tremeau interviewed by BuzzFeed.News.

Future dreams

Lorand Hadaya, 13, from Syria, wants to be a break dancer.

One day I Will - Breakdancer - girls education
“People tell me that breakdancing is just for boys, but it doesn’t make sense, as I am much better at it than any of them. My friend Bellal is fifteen, and she dyed her hair blue to rebel against everybody else. We laugh a lot together and talk about the fact that if we keep this up, no boys will want to marry us and we can be free forever. Two of my friends had to get married this year. […]” (By Vincent Tremeau presented by UNOCHA)

Halaz Khaled Ibrahim, 14, from Syria, wants to be a lawyer.

One Day I Will - Lawyer - girls education
“I’m not going to become just any kind of lawyer — I’m going to become a human rights lawyer, and I’ll work for free to defend anyone who’s facing problems during wars and conflicts.” (By Vincent Tremeau presented by UNOCHA)

Zuha Yunis, 10, from Iraq, wants to be an artist.

One Day I Will - artist - girls education
“I do art nearly every day in the camp. I like drawing flowers and houses the most. But when I’m an artist, I won’t sell my paintings. I’ll just hang them in my house. My mum says it’s just as important to be happy as it is to make money. She says my artwork will make other people happy too. That’s why she hangs my pictures in our tent, to make it prettier.” (By Vincent Tremeau presented by UNOCHA)

Dina Khalid, 11, from Mosul, Iraq, wants to be an engineer.

One Day I Will - Engineer
“Daesh is destroying Iraq, so I want a job that lets me build it back again. I had my own bedroom in my old house, before it got burned down. These days, there are 11 of us in one tent. I don’t know if you have tried, but it is really hard to fit 11 people in one tent.” (By Vincent Tremeau presented by UNOCHA)

Habiba, 13, from Nigeria, wants to be a journalist.

One Day I Will - Journalist - girls education
“I would like to be a journalist when I grow up, because I want to inform people on the things that are happening around the world.” (By Vincent Tremeau presented by UNOCHA)

Ahlam Fardous, 12, from Iraq, wants to be a dentist.

One Day I Will - Dentist - girls education
“I want to be a dentist to help people when they are in pain.”  (By Vincent Tremeau, presented by UNOCHA)

Otpika Pandey, 18, from Nepal, wants to be an accountant.

One Day I Will - accountant - girls education
“School is my whole life. I worked so hard to be able to stay in school. I had to stand up to my parents and convince them that I could pay for my school fees by setting up a small business to make handicrafts and baskets.
It’s not complicated why girls are made to drop out of school. It’s just about money. People don’t have enough food to eat three times a day, so if you have a daughter, you’re going to want to find her a husband as soon as possible because that means you won’t have to feed her anymore.” (

By Vincent Tremeau, presented by UNOCHA)

Sarita Tharu, 16, from Bankaffa, Nepal, wants to be a civil engineer.

One Day I Will - Civil Engineer
“I want to become an engineer. I want to be in charge of my own life and not have anyone else make decisions for me. I’m no less capable than a man, but many people her disapprove of women working so I have a lot of challenges to overcome.” (By Vincent Tremeau, presented by UNOCHA)

Khadija Kaku, 15, from Nigeria, wants to be a computer scientist.

One Day I Will - Computer scientist
 “I want to work in IT to learn and share knowledge. I was born in a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria with no school and no clean drinking water. What I have learned is that with the Internet, even if you don’t know something, somebody in the world has what you need. It is the best way to share knowledge.” (By Vincent Tremeau, presented by UNOCHA)

Photoville NYC is a free outdoor photo festival located in Brooklyn Bridge Park from Sept. 12–22.

The importance of girls education

When it comes to girls education, there are some striking facts: 1 out of every 70 people in the world lives in a humanitarian crisis, and women and girls are disproportionately affected. This exhibit documents their hopes and dreams, beautifully.

Standing at the intersection of art and documentary, these photographs capture in a unique way the challenges these girls face, as they repeatedly bring up concerns which are often way beyond their age.

It is also a call to strengthen our action to better protect children as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And we better protect young girls as well. Girls are in a worse position than young boys, especially when it comes to young girls trapped in crises.

In those settings, girls are often kept away from school for safety reasons. They are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. Not only for safety reasons, but also for reasons to nuture the family.

It’s also estimated that at least 1 in 5 women refugees has experienced sexual violence. The rates of sexual violence against women and girls in those settings are higher than with boys and men.

This harsh reality for women and girls rarely makes headlines.

But research shows that if we as a global community make young girls education a priority, there will change a lot.

Conclusion

What you want to become when you grow older is a question that we all heard before at some point in our lives. Most of us find that question difficult to answer. However, it is even harder to answer if your environment is one of conflict, forced displacement or humanitarian crisis.

By tapping into each of their visions for the future, the series provides us a unique glimpse into their current circumstances and challenges, and how they can shape the future.

The series also reminds me of a shared humanity. That there is more that unites us that divides us. I love the way those kids all have their own dreams and aspirations, but it also made me wondering how these desires and aspirations are so much different from the ones of children in the West.

It also shows the importance of girls education, since girls in conflict situations are more critical and research shows that girls education can help them overcome poverty.

What strikes you when you read all those girls’ stories? Let me know in the comment section below!

Head over to these blogs about the importance of women’s empowerment and girls education.

Lisanne Swart granted permission to use these photographs by Vincent Tremeau.

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