Photographer Angie Smith opens a window into the lives of some of the thousands of refugees from around the world who now call themselves “Idahoans” with intimate portraits from her project “Stronger Shines The Light Inside.” Los-Angeles based Smith has spent two years in Idaho chronicling the lives of refugees. She shared some of her photos and their accompanying stories with 500 Pens.
“Life on the camp is very hard. If you’re someone who doesn’t have hope and you don’t believe that there is God then definitely you can’t stay. During those days there was too much killing going on. The local people would come at night with guns, start shooting people, killing — at times they won’t take anything, they will just come, they kill you and they go.”
“My kids are the ones who keep me going. If I can see them laughing every day, I don’t think of anything else, I just feel happy, I feel thankful. Both he and my daughter have passed through a hard life. I’ve seen a hard life through them.”
Paw Lah Tse and Paw Lah Htoo are from Burma.
“We were born in Burma. We left when were thirteen because of persecution. The Burmese military burned down our houses. We were hiding in the jungle.”
“We were in a refugee camp in Thailand for thirteen years with our father and our brother. Our mother passed away when we were six years old. She was sick, we could not prevent it from getting worse.”
“Life in the camp was hard because you cannot go outside of the camp. And the food they were giving to us was decreasing. We were hungry sometimes. There is no way of making money and buy food, so it was hard.”
“When we found out we were coming here we were happy, and at the same time we were worried because we didn’t know the language and the environment and the culture.”
Ali is from Iraq and Hesham is from Syria.
Ali: “I am from Iraq. When I have fighting in my country, I go to Syria for eight years, and in Syria, they have fighting too, like in Iraq. And I go to Turkey, I stay like year and a half then I come to the U.S.”
“I remember a lot. I saw a lot, killing people, people run away, people die. Yes, friends, my friends. Lots. I saw them die and I run away because they want to kill me too. I was in the street, I was walking and they shoot us and they run. Another person died. I was fourteen years old. That happened many times, but I was with my family. When we had to change the place, it was very bad. When we moved they tried to kill us.”
“Sometimes it makes me angry. Sometimes I stay quiet. I didn’t talk about it with my family because I don’t want them to feel bad. I want to make everyone feel happy. I want to forget, I am trying. I want to make friends, good friends. Like friends I lost in Syria.”
Hesham: “I have hard memories. The war start and they start demolishing my home in my country. And they took my dad. They took him to jail for two days but he didn’t do anything. He went to the work, everyone in my city they told him ‘don’t go today,’ but he went to the work and when he got there, they took him.”
“We learn a lot from American, like when they feel sadness, they do a sport, they go to the parks. They do anything to forget the sadness and we do the same thing with them. Every time when we see American, we see a smile on their face—that makes us relax. When you see American here, he say ‘Welcome,’ he say ‘Have a good day for you.’ This word make you relax.”
Muga is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I left the Congo when I was five years old and we moved to Rwanda. That’s where we lived for seven years before we came here. You don’t just expect to wake up in the morning and still be alive. Some people will be sleeping and you wake up the next morning and they are gone. Or they might be sleeping and in the middle of the night, fires all over their house. It was not a safe place at all. Hunger was all over, people killing each other.”
“When I got here, everything was really different from what I experienced in Africa… The language was the most difficult. We had to go to doctors appointments and we didn’t have transportation. I mean, we had to be there but when you don’t have transportation— I mean, there was a bus but if we don’t know how to use it, we can’t get there. We started getting used to providing for ourselves and not relying on the neighbors. We thanked them and realized we can’t depend on them so we provided for ourselves and got used to things we didn’t know.”
Abdullah is from Iraq.
“I don’t remember not feeling scared. First time I felt real fear was in Baghdad when we were moving with my family, we were walking to the bus to move to another city. I turned around and looked back at our city. The whole place was dark and the end of the sky you could see the sky turn red and yellow because of fire and explosions.”
“The year before I moved here there was no money, no safety. In the last year my dad always pretended that he wasn’t hungry but it was because he didn’t want to finish the food. We couldn’t afford water. Here when somebody gets bullied, they’re bullied about their religion, they’re bullied about their color — back there would they bully me about how we lost the war, how we are poor.”
“I feel like I still have to settle down, be more part of the community, and it’s just a matter of time. I’m probably going to college and after that I’m probably going to do journalism or be a doctor, then people will understand it doesn’t matter where this person is from.”
About Angie Smith: After graduating from Bard College, photographer Angie Smith moved to New York City and worked in the photo departments of several magazines. She is based in Los Angeles in between travel assignments and teaching workshops for National Geographic around the world.
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