15-year-old Janisha is one of the many children and young adults who took part in UNHCR’s Youth with Refugees Art Contest. Janisha’s drawing portrays her understanding of solidarity with refugees based on her experience living in Turkey’s city of Gaziantep, the city which hosts the second-largest number of refugees in Turkey after İstanbul.
Janisha says she has been aware of the concept of forced displacement and refugees starting from a time when she and her family lived in India, and this motivated her to participate in UNHCR’s drawing contest. Now, having lived in Turkey for over 6 years, Janisha sees refugees here too and she is doing everything in her power to stand with refugees. She is the junior coordinator of an integration project run at a government middle school where Turkish and refugee students study together. Although the project is now on hold due to the global pandemic, Janisha says she had an amazing experience and looks forward to continuing her part. “In one of the workshops we did, I asked a refugee girl what she would want to do if she had one wish to come true. The girl wished she could see her father alive once more,” says Janisha and adds: “As a 15-year old, I was thankful to read her answer after the workshop, because if I had read that in front of her, I would have had a very difficult time.”
This year, Janisha sent in her drawing to the UNHCR Youth with Refugees Art Contest. “Even though my drawing is not very professional, it is meant to convey the message that the virus cannot be greater than our unity. Our unity does not mean being ‘physically’ together but being mentally, morally and emotionally united. This stands true for everyone: the officials, the doctors, the teachers and the young and the old” she notes. But Janisha thinks that the most important role in this period is the one that children take on: because they are innocent, harmless and they represent our future. Explaining why she chose to draw her art the way she did, she says: “Children hold the key to our future. This virus cannot be any bigger than our unity and that is why I wanted the people to be on top of the virus, suppressing the harm day by day, by the growth of our unity. They all have a mask because taking precautions is something you should do for yourself, at the same time for the sake of others.”
Janisha is not only earning a greater understanding for refugees, but with her entry for this contest she is also learning the challenges of becoming an avid artist. In creating her drawing, Janisha admits she had a very hard time starting the sketch at first due to her newfound dedication to the art form. She notes “I really wanted to express my feelings and support to the refugees especially, and to the rest of the world.” She believes her drawing made her thoughts, feelings and support for refugees heard by some people around her at least, since she showed and explained to them what her drawing actually means. During the time she spent trying to finish her drawing, Janisha says she became a more empathetic person, especially towards refugees.
Launched in April 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR’s Youth with Refugees Art Contest aimed to spread the message that everyone counts in the fight against COVID-19, including refugees. The contest received over 2,000 entries from youth aged 12 to 25 across the globe. One in four participants were refugees or asylum-seekers. were selected, and their winning drawings were animated by a Japanese animation company; to later be shared on UNHCR’s social media accounts. With contests like these, UNHCR seeks to inspire members of younger generations, just like Janisha, to be more inclusive of people forced to flee violence and persecution.