Why No Photos?

Dear Prospective Volunteer,

"Why no photos?"

We get this question a lot, and we understand why. The short answer is: That isn’t why we’re here.

Volunteering in a refugee camp is an intensely personal and powerful experience, full of moments and faces you never want to forget. We also know that many volunteers feel a responsibility to tell the story, to be a voice, or to document the situation.

At The Schoolbox Project, however, we believe that sometimes there is no story to tell —there is only work to be done. Our reasoning behind our strict no photo policy can be organized into three categories:

I. Presence

We are committed to cultivating real connections and relationships with the children we serve. Trauma-informed care is never about technique, it’s always about relationship. Every single moment is an opportunity to build trust, and to notice what a child needs. A screen between two people is a barrier to this level of engagement. Asking children to smile, perform, or to be a camera-ready version of themselves can be a burden. Offering children complete presence and freedom to be and do whatever they would be and do naturally, without being documented, is a gift. When a volunteer (a person in a position of power) asks a children to pose with their donations or aid, a child can feel obligated, or feel that the aid is contingent on their compliance. While no volunteer or donor would want this, it is a common unintended consequence.

II. Safety

Sometimes, amongst all the laughter and play, it’s easy to forget that these families are actually fleeing war and extreme violence. Did you know that images taken on many digital cameras and cell phones capture not only the picture, but metadata ranging from the make of the camera to the exact coordinates of where the image was taken? Over 10,000 children have gone missing after arriving in Europe as refugees. Predators and traffickers are in the camps, and they are online. This is a fact. They are skilled and they are relentless when it comes to taking advantage of vulnerable children in a vulnerable situation. This risk is real, the risk is present, and the risk is always close. The Schoolbox Project’s core belief when it comes to safeguarding and preventing trafficking is “Not one more.” There is simply no photo precious enough to risk harm to a child so it can then be shared and with people who are not at risk.

III. Responsibility

We believe we have a responsibility to continue asking “Is this for us, or is it for them?” The purpose of our volunteerism (NOT voluntourisum) is to serve and to ease suffering. Does taking and posting photos of vulnerable children contribute to this outcome? If it does not, who and what is it for? For me? For friends and family? For donors? For Instagram? If we allow the question of whom we actually serve to be our guide, we will continuously improve the quality of care we provide. A helpful way to think of our programs is as an emotional emergency room. Therefore, for a child in our care, anything that is not contributing to the healing and well-being of that child is inappropriate. We are asking for your help to create just one small bubble in which children who have seen and survived the unthinkable can be completely free from cameras and documentation of their suffering. There are many, many people who are dedicating their lives to the telling these stories. But not us. That is not our purpose.

Taking photos of people to post online at a soup kitchen would feel like an exploitation of suffering. Snapping pictures when you come across a car accident would similarly suggest a disregard for the victims. It's no different in a refugee camp. The youngest victims of war and ethnic cleansing are displaced and live in near constant fear. We are committed to easing their suffering, and not taking photos is one small way we further our mission. 


Belle Sweeney

Executive Director