Syrian girl's imagination undaunted by war and upheaval

Lively 10-year-old reveals her dreams of becoming a model in UNHCR photography project.

Roussel, who is from Syria and has found refuge in Switzerland, loves to dance.  © UNHCR/Humans of Amsterdam and Fetching_Tigerss with some edits using a photo by Image Source Trading Ltd/Shutterstockcom

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – At first, 10-year-old Roussel did not believe her friends and cousins when they told her that her home in Syria had been destroyed. When she saw a photograph, she knew it was true.

“I felt very sad and disappointed,” she recalls.

However, even a devastating war at home and the desperate search for safety on another continent have not stopped Roussel from growing and dreaming.

Four years after she and her family fled home and found refuge in Switzerland, Roussel is busy dancing, singing, making friends, speaking French and learning to ski. She is so well-liked that she may soon become the new class president at school.

“I want to become a top model."

“I am not sure what a class president does but a lot of kids voted for me,” she says in a new photography series called the Dream Diaries. “That makes me really proud.”

The Dream Diaries features 12 refugee and asylum-seeking children in Europe who reveal their hopes and dreams from the safety of their new homes.

The series was produced by photographer Debra Barraud, her colleague Benjamin Heertje, online graphic artist Annegien Schilling, film-maker Kris Pouw and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Amid war and upheaval, Roussel often took refuge in her imagination. Switzerland, in offering her real safety, may help to make her dreams a reality.

“I want to become a top model,” says Roussel. “I also really like to create things, to let my imagination work.”

“I am very happy to have my family with me."

More than half of the world’s refugees are children and many will spend their entire childhoods away from home. However, children are resilient and with help they can find ways to cope and look forward to the future.

“When children flee their home countries they leave everything behind, except their hopes and dreams,” says Barraud, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has more than 400,000 Facebook followers. “Through the project, we saw the strength of these children and how, with the right support, they can achieve anything.”

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision-makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow the Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching Tigerss and UNHCR’s social media accounts.

Right now, the most important thing for Roussel is that her family are together.

“I am very happy to have my family with me,” she says. “I am very grateful for their support, for the fact that they are here close to me when I'm sad. I really love them and thank them for that.”

See more stories from The Dream Diaries