Through Hala's Eyes
UPDATE: coming January 2023
As Hala Gul nears the Syrian border with her family, Turkish soldiers chase and threaten them with machine guns if they refuse to stop and turn back. The blanket keeping Hala warm suddenly catches in the barbed-wire fence as they reach the border, seemingly a harrowing end to a days-long journey from Aleppo. After a moment of struggle, the worn blanket tears free and the family of six escapes through a hole in the wall separating their old country from what is to be their new one.
It's 2014, and Hala is just three months old.
Today, Hala is five and lives with her family in their adopted city of Gaziantep, Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border. Along with her father, mother, two brothers and sister, she now resides in a community enveloped by olive groves and pistachio orchards instead of army tanks and front lines.
In 2011, Abu Mahmoud, Hala’s father, was captured, imprisoned, and violently tortured by Bashar al-Assad and his regime for peaceful protesting in Aleppo. As a result, he has near-constant nightmares and both emotional and physical scars from the brutality he endured.
Hala suffers from complicated ocular conditions including congenital glaucoma and cataracts allowing her to see only inches from her face. Two of Hala’s older siblings, Sabiha, 17, and Bashir, 15, also have severe physical disabilities. The children's medical expenses deplete any money the Turkish government gives to the family as “guests” of the country.
Despite the torture and oppression Hala's father endured at the hands of his own country, his children's struggles plague him most:
“This is what keeps me up at night,” he says. “It opens the scars on my heart and makes them itch.”
While the Gul family grapples with the misfortune of their circumstance, Hala’s vivacious and radiant spirit is a guiding light in their pursuit of peace.
Over the last year, I’ve spent time with Hala and her family in their home and throughout the Anatolian countryside documenting their daily lives, hearing of their past, and speaking of hopes for their future.
This ongoing project explores the realities of what being a refugee today looks like through the lens of a fearless young girl who has already lived a remarkable life.