We are nearing the end of ’30 days 30 refugee stories’ and I want to acknowledge and sincerely thank the two photographers on this project, whose photographs and videos have added so much nuance, emotion and meaning to the stories I’ve been sharing. My daughter Saanya was with me in Greece and captured amazing images in the camps in Athens and Lesbos; my new friend George Kolotov’s professionalism and artistry shine in the incredible images he took locally and in the three videos he produced for this project. A huge, heartfelt thank you to both of you; without your images, these stories would not have the same impact.
George Kolotov, from Kyrgyzstan, came to the US about a year ago on a visa for an “alien of extraordinary abilities”, also referred to as a ‘genius visa’ or an ‘artists visa’. It’s a visa for someone who has received national and international recognition for their talents. George is a documentary photographer and filmmaker and had his own production company in Kyrgyzstan. He knew he wanted to come to the US, ever since he had a chance to visit on a State Department International Leadership Program seven years ago. George spent several months collecting the extensive documentation, recommendations, proof of employment and awards that the visa requires; by the time he finished, he had collected over 1500 pieces of paper. It was just my luck that I met him, thanks to my dear friend Luby Ismail, who knew we both had a similar passion for sharing meaningful stories. From our first meeting, George was committed to this project; and for the past six weeks, we’ve traveled together to meet extraordinary people who are starting their lives again and inspiring people trying to support them. Thank you George for sharing your talent and for always saying “YES” in your enthusiastic way to producing the videos that have helped bring these stories to thousands.
One of the best aspects of traveling to Greece to gather these stories was to share it with my girl – not simply as a mother-daughter experience, but as two storytellers, two adults each bringing our respective experiences and skills to shed a human perspective on this tragic crisis. One of my favorite images from the trip was seeing Saanya in the middle of a tight huddle of kids as she showed them their photos. The kids at the refugee camps adored her. “Hi my friend,” they would say excitedly as they ran to her for a high five and a hug, then started posing for their shots; she developed a beautiful rapport with the kids making them feel comfortable to share and to just be kids. Saanya is a rising Senior at NYU studying filmmaking, storytelling and human rights. She had the opportunity to share her images and stories about the human impact of the refugee crisis in an exhibit she produced called “In Their Words” for the NYU Gallatin Arts Festival this year.