Facing The Street and Making New Friends

In July, the Apis Institute organized another digital storytelling workshop for youth workers from around Europe designed to provide them with new tools of empowerment of vulnerable groups – by telling their stories through video and photo stories. Facing the Street training was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, this time. We had participants from eight countries. Eleven of them, again a very diverse group in terms of their knowledge of photography, joined the photo workshop. This second time around I noticed that I still wasn’t entirely confident in what I said in Belgrade, but I trusted and believed in my participants’ abilities. Even those they still didn’t know they had. But I did.

It’s not a competition and it’s not imperative that the story they eventually produce is top level. We’re not just telling stories of people in various hardships of inclusion or exclusion from society. We’re creating new ones, too. We’re bringing our subjects back to light, including them, making them visible again, maing them matter, to us and to the society. As we photograph the chapters in their usual day, our visit is in fact a new chapter that will not be recorded or documented, but it will leave a significant fingerprint on their lives. By being true to them, being their friends who understand them sincerely, not for the sake of the story, and by developing a true and lasting relationship, we are giving them something that seems self-evident to us, but in their lives, it is rare. Somewhere to belong. A friend. Acknowledgement of their lives. Some of them may be too young to comprehend their lives in this way, but they do feel it, even if they can’t explain it in words. They feel that they are different, treated differently, that their lives are not entirely “normal”, and that they perhaps do not fit in.

I guess being on the brink of society, different and not fitting in, will in most cases urge the person to compensate and find a place to belong. Some find that compensation and self-realization in work, others try to express themselves through art, and some find friends in the only communities that take them – and that might even be drug addicts. It’s human nature to search for self-realization. And it can take a wrong turn when society excludes you.

There’s one most important advice I give to my participants at the workshop. “Primarily, you’re not going there for the story. You’re going there to make a new friend.” And that advice really sticks with such big-hearted people. The bonds they knit did not only produce the emotional and strong moments they captured with their cameras. As they documented the chapters in their friend’s daily life, they wrote a new one. They played soccer, climbed mountains, took daytrips, had lunch with their families, made bread and friends for life. They cried when they parted and they hugged when they reunited at the opening of the exhibition.

We’re not supposed to just take, that’s selfish. The storytelling of our kind is generally aimed at giving something back, but our reach and effect is limited. Which is why adding this deep personal aspect is fulfilling for all. It feels good. And it comes natural to people who come to our training.

Just like in Belgrade, many of the participants have never handled a camera before. Some of them wanted to get drunk and run away before showing their stories to me after their assignment. But I knew they had the story. If you make a connection, there’s no way you can go wrong. Which is why now I can honestly say that my words in Belgrade were spot on. I truly believe the best photo stories come from the heart.

The exhibition on display in Atrij ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana (Novi trg 2) is a very strong testimony of my beliefs. It is powerful, compelling and important not just for its power of inclusion, but for its role in giving the voice to people who want to be heard and be part of the society in an equal way. As pure quality of documentary photography is concerned it is dificult to believe that someone who has never handled a camera before can produce work at such level in just one day after a day of theoretical training and a lot of inspiration. You have to see it to believe it. And it is a treat to see these first time authors on par with a couple of experienced documentary photographers that participated as well. So if you have the opportunity to see it, go for it!

But the photo group was not the only one doing an amazing job. The video workshop lead by Romana Zajec and assisted by Yulia Molina and Borut Dolenec also produced some very important stories and with very compelling styles and approaches, seen on the big screen at the opening.

As for the workshop itself, it was quite a week. The photo group had a small lecture room in our Tropical Paradise (it’s how we called our hostel during the hottest days of summer), and the project manager Ivana Stanojev had a huge “office” next door. She’d call people in when she needed anything done. Her desk was in the middle of this big colorless room, mostly empty but big enough to play football in. It had an air of socialist or communist corporate manager office/interrogation room, huge with only a desk and two chairs. All she needed was a lamp she could shine in a person’s face sitting opposite to her. It felt like you’re going there to get fired. That was really funny, but totally unintended. Or was it?😉 (No, in fact Ivana is a very good manager and very kind and friendly and hasn’t chewed off anyone’s head yet. As far as we know.😀 )

When we worked, we worked hard and seriously. And then there was relaxation time. After 30 hours of not sleeping, the idea of fun gets really scewed. Like watching He-Man sing Heyeayea for 10 hours or the emperor in the Gladiator repeating “and again” to Maximus for 10 hours, or moving like retards to the song What is Love – yes, one does go a little (or a lot) bananas after not sleeping for two days. But preparing everything for print was easier for me this time, because that was done by my assistant Nejc Balantič, one of my participants, who is also someone who thinks sleep is for pussies.😀 Nevertheless, everyone did an amazing job. The organizers and all the coordinators, all the assistants and of course the paticipants. Oh, and by the way, thanks to Tarmorazzo, a teacher-turned-paparazzo from Estonia😀 , the official form of addressing me at these workshops is now “my grandmaster”.😀😀

Don’t forget, the exhibition is open until August 24 in Atrij ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana (Novi trg 2)! But here is a preview of the stories in the order you will see them at the exhibition.

Searching for Equilibrium by Maryna Manchenko Ever since Ana found out about her epilepsy, her life divided into two parts – before and after. She remembers being very bright and over-achieving in primary school, but the sickness brought problems with focus, self-esteem and ambitions. It changed all the relationships in her life: with classmates, with friends, with family and the most important one - with herself. Studying became harder, as well as connecting to people and keeping up with the world around her. Overpowered by stress, that made her attacks more frequent, she dropped out of high school to stay at home with her family. Now she’s 19 years old. She’s living quite a structured, organized life with her father, older brother and the cat named Jackie. Every day she wakes up early to work out, then takes a bus to Ljubljana - to attend the center for young adults. There she can dedicate herself to things that inspire her – painting and drawing. She loves mixing paints, listening to music, searching for inspiration in pictures and movies; she loves Frida, Mick Jagger, dream catchers and mandalas. On weekends she spends time with her father Renato, who works as an engine driver. Every Saturday morning they follow their own little ritual – first going to a supermarket to buy groceries for a week, then taking a coffee in a coffee shop terrace and speaking for hours. She is considering coming back to school to make her father proud, as he works so hard for their family. But she’s also having doubts. Going back can bring a lot of stress, and she’s scared that she might be not ready to handle it. Right now she’s focusing on finding her equilibrium and practicing arts that she enjoys so much.
Searching for Equilibrium by Maryna Manchenko
Ever since Ana found out about her epilepsy, her life divided into two parts – before and after. She remembers being very bright and over-achieving in primary school, but the sickness brought problems with focus, self-esteem and ambitions. It changed all the relationships in her life: with classmates, with friends, with family and the most important one – with herself. Studying became harder, as well as connecting to people and keeping up with the world around her. Overpowered by stress, that made her attacks more frequent, she dropped out of high school to stay at home with her family. Now she’s 19 years old. She’s living quite a structured, organized life with her father, older brother and the cat named Jackie. Every day she wakes up early to work out, then takes a bus to Ljubljana – to attend the center for young adults. There she can dedicate herself to things that inspire her – painting and drawing. She loves mixing paints, listening to music, searching for inspiration in pictures and movies; she loves Frida, Mick Jagger, dream catchers and mandalas. On weekends she spends time with her father Renato, who works as an engine driver. Every Saturday morning they follow their own little ritual – first going to a supermarket to buy groceries for a week, then taking a coffee in a coffee shop terrace and speaking for hours. She is considering coming back to school to make her father proud, as he works so hard for their family. But she’s also having doubts. Going back can bring a lot of stress, and she’s scared that she might be not ready to handle it. Right now she’s focusing on finding her equilibrium and practicing arts that she enjoys so much.

The Wrong Stop by Nuno Silva Ramin left his country at the age of twenty. He and his older brother managed to get fake passports, so they could get out of Iran. While growing up in Iran, Ramin always had a special talent for football. On several occasions he even played for the youth national team. When he left, Slovenia was not part of his plan, but it came in the middle of his way. Ramin was caught in Ljubljana’s airport and had to apply for refugee status. As a refugee, Ramin was moved to Ljubljana’s asylum, a place that he recalls as being similar to a prison. Without being able to do many activities or leaving at his own will, Ramin started learning Slovenian and English. In this way, he was able to obtain a degree at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. During the recent refugee crisis, Ramin started working as a translator, helping those who found that language was one of the most difficult barriers to cross.
The Wrong Stop by Nuno Silva
Ramin left his country at the age of twenty. He and his older brother managed to get fake passports, so they could get out of Iran. While growing up in Iran, Ramin always had a special talent for football. On several occasions he even played for the youth national team. When he left, Slovenia was not part of his plan, but it came in the middle of his way. Ramin was caught in Ljubljana’s airport and had to apply for refugee status. As a refugee, Ramin was moved to Ljubljana’s asylum, a place that he recalls as being similar to a prison. Without being able to do many activities or leaving at his own will, Ramin started learning Slovenian and English. In this way, he was able to obtain a degree at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. During the recent refugee crisis, Ramin started working as a translator, helping those who found that language was one of the most difficult barriers to cross.

Punk is Here to Stay by Amalia Manolopoulou You will find me if you want me in the garden unless it's pouring down with rain You will find me waiting through spring and summer You will find me waiting waiting for the fall You will find me waiting for the apples to ripen You will find me waiting for them to fall You will find me by the banks of all four rivers You will find me at the spring of consciousness You will find me if you want me in the garden unless it's pouring down with rain... (A story about a formerly homeless man on a tour of all the places in Ljubljana where the homeless sleep, hang out etc.)
Punk is Here to Stay by Amalia Manolopoulou
You will find me if you want me in the garden
unless it’s pouring down with rain
You will find me waiting through spring and summer
You will find me waiting waiting for the fall
You will find me waiting for the apples to ripen
You will find me waiting for them to fall
You will find me by the banks of all four rivers
You will find me at the spring of consciousness
You will find me if you want me in the garden
unless it’s pouring down with rain…
(A story about a formerly homeless man on a tour of all the places in Ljubljana where the homeless sleep, hang out etc.)

Fourty-four steps by Emanuele Donazza Anže is a 30 years old guy who lives in Ljubljana. He works as a baker and he loves rock music. His story is about him facing the past, the loss of parents and the challenges of the so-called Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD). FASD are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol throughout the pregnancy; problems may include many difficulties and while they vary from one person to another, the damage is often permanent. The first time I met Anže he told me that to get to his apartment we should have climbed 44 steps. It immediately occurred to me that this would have been the title of his story. We shared a meaningful time together, going through memories, daily events and prospects for the future.
Fourty-four steps by Emanuele Donazza
Anže is a 30 years old guy who lives in Ljubljana. He works as a baker and he loves rock music. His story is about him facing the past, the loss of parents and the challenges of the so-called Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD). FASD are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol throughout the pregnancy; problems may include many difficulties and while they vary from one person to another, the damage is often permanent. The first time I met Anže he told me that to get to his apartment we should have climbed 44 steps. It immediately occurred to me that this would have been the title of his story. We shared a meaningful time together, going through memories, daily events and prospects for the future.

Living a Full and Active Life by Ginta Salmina Tanja Kodrič is a 27 year old girl who lives in Maribor, Slovenia. When she was 17, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and in the process of recovery they had to amputate her left leg above the knee. Even 10 years after the illness and amputation, Tanja is learning to live a different life with different dreams. She has good days and bad days, ups and downs, excruciating pain and never ending searching for strength to cope with depression. Despite all the difficulties she is facing, she is full with energy and willingness to raise voice to change the conditions for others who are in a similar situation. Tanja wants to make this world a better place for everyone. She studied Psychology at the Faculty of Arts in Maribor and a year ago she set up Association “Društvo Kinesis”. She wants to provide special programs that will help prepare people to be able to face similar situations and support them to adapt new life and challenges. And most important – Tanja wishes to INSPIRE others.
Living a Full and Active Life by Ginta Salmina
Tanja Kodrič is a 27 year old girl who lives in Maribor, Slovenia. When she was 17, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and in the process of recovery they had to amputate her left leg above the knee. Even 10 years after the illness and amputation, Tanja is learning to live a different life with different dreams. She has good days and bad days, ups and downs, excruciating pain and never ending searching for strength to cope with depression. Despite all the difficulties she is facing, she is full with energy and willingness to raise voice to change the conditions for others who are in a similar situation. Tanja wants to make this world a better place for everyone. She studied Psychology at the Faculty of Arts in Maribor and a year ago she set up Association “Društvo Kinesis”. She wants to provide special programs that will help prepare people to be able to face similar situations and support them to adapt new life and challenges. And most important – Tanja wishes to INSPIRE others.

Without a Label by Nejc Balantič For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow. (Hermann Hesse, Trees: Reflections and Poems]
Without a Label by Nejc Balantič
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
(Hermann Hesse, Trees: Reflections and Poems]

Traces by Konstantinos Chatzis This is the story about Eva (19 years old) and her younger sister Sergeja (17 years old), who are connected with a strong and unique bond. Eva faces learning difficulties and for that reason, she moved from her village to Ljubljana’s Special Educational Center Janec Levec, where she lives and attends a program for pastry making in a nearby educational center. Sergeja also attends the same program, following her sister’s path. She faced bullying for 9 years during elementary school. Today she is strong and confident, in a way that she could never hurt or be mean to anyone. During the summer, the Center operates as a hostel and it employs its pupils as part of their social inclusion program. Both girls, as they proved to be very responsible and devoted youngsters, got the chance to work during the summer in the hostel. In that period, Eva and Sergeja, who are from a community near Borovnica, have to wake up at 4am in order to be at the hostel on time. These two sisters love teasing each other and this is one way to stop when they fight. They find happiness in painting, having coffee at the river park and dreaming of passing the driving license.
Traces by Konstantinos Chatzis
This is the story about Eva (19 years old) and her younger sister Sergeja (17 years old), who are connected with a strong and unique bond. Eva faces learning difficulties and for that reason, she moved from her village to Ljubljana’s Special Educational Center Janec Levec, where she lives and attends a program for pastry making in a nearby educational center. Sergeja also attends the same program, following her sister’s path. She faced bullying for 9 years during elementary school. Today she is strong and confident, in a way that she could never hurt or be mean to anyone. During the summer, the Center operates as a hostel and it employs its pupils as part of their social inclusion program. Both girls, as they proved to be very responsible and devoted youngsters, got the chance to work during the summer in the hostel. In that period, Eva and Sergeja, who are from a community near Borovnica, have to wake up at 4am in order to be at the hostel on time. These two sisters love teasing each other and this is one way to stop when they fight. They find happiness in painting, having coffee at the river park and dreaming of passing the driving license.

Ljubljana Through His Eyes by Lola Ott Vili is 18 and throughout the year he lives in the Special Education Center Janez Levec. In the summer, Center operates as a hostel and it employs 15 young people from the Center, as part of their social inclusion programme. During those 2 months Vili works as a janitor. He studies to be a baker, but he has learning difficulties. It might be due to the fact that he is color blind and his right eye’s vision is deterioting each year. An operation is too expensive, but Vili found a way to be independent, by relying on his manual skills to bake. He is a night owl so working in a bakery fits his sleeping habits. Hostel guests and his collegues enjoy his caring and joyful company.
Ljubljana Through His Eyes by Lola Ott
Vili is 18 and throughout the year he lives in the Special Education Center Janez Levec. In the summer, Center operates as a hostel and it employs 15 young people from the Center, as part of their social inclusion programme. During those 2 months Vili works as a janitor. He studies to be a baker, but he has learning difficulties. It might be due to the fact that he is color blind and his right eye’s vision is deterioting each year. An operation is too expensive, but Vili found a way to be independent, by relying on his manual skills to bake. He is a night owl so working in a bakery fits his sleeping habits. Hostel guests and his collegues enjoy his caring and joyful company.

One Word a Day by Paula Romero Garcia Ibrahim arrived in Slovenia one and a half year ago with his family. They are Syrian refugees. They are from Aleppo, one of the cities where the war washed away buildings and people. When they ran away from the war and looked for a better life, they first reached Istanbul. The road from his hometown to Istanbul was difficult. Every 20 kilometres the bus stopped at police checkpoints, as he explained. They had to show all their papers and strip off their clothes as they were perceived as dangerous and unreliable. He stayed in Istanbul for five months. After that, somehow following the steps of other members of his family, he arrived to Slovenia. From the first moment he knew it'd be a challenge: learning new language and adapting to a new country. He worked hard to fit in his new life. After a while, he started to volunteer as a translator at the border during the refugee crisis, and later he even got a paid job as a translator helping with Arabic translations in hospitals, borders, and when needed. In the near future he will have to face other challenges as he will start studying IT; he dreams of having a job in that field. Here is his story.
One Word a Day by Paula Romero Garcia
Ibrahim arrived in Slovenia one and a half year ago with his family. They are Syrian refugees. They are from Aleppo, one of the cities where the war washed away buildings and people. When they ran away from the war and looked for a better life, they first reached Istanbul. The road from his hometown to Istanbul was difficult. Every 20 kilometres the bus stopped at police checkpoints, as he explained. They had to show all their papers and strip off their clothes as they were perceived as dangerous and unreliable. He stayed in Istanbul for five months. After that, somehow following the steps of other members of his family, he arrived to Slovenia. From the first moment he knew it’d be a challenge: learning new language and adapting to a new country. He worked hard to fit in his new life. After a while, he started to volunteer as a translator at the border during the refugee crisis, and later he even got a paid job as a translator helping with Arabic translations in hospitals, borders, and when needed. In the near future he will have to face other challenges as he will start studying IT; he dreams of having a job in that field. Here is his story.

Happiness Comes from Within by Vaike Lohk A man’s life is not a direct flight from point A to point B where destination, as well as proper measures and altitudes, have been allocated. We go through various moments and feelings while travelling through our lives. This ride can be quite bumpy for some, especially during our teen years. No one knows this better than Robert who couldn’t quite comprehend the new “flight” information and powerful feelings. He decided to search for a way to ease the pain he felt by rites of passage and he found drugs. These take you higher in your journey and Robert too found that drugs make it easier to endure the turbulence of life. Being high you don’t feel, you’re empty, simply being, standing still while the life travels past you in high speed, or gliding above everything not worrying about a thing. Being a user, Robert found he could help other youngsters make their journey lighter, by using drugs. Travelling through life costs money and the world of drugs has a lot of it, so Robert thought he could also have his share. His choice of travelling – the gliding – is costly and he needed it. He needed his dose, his gliding, and therefore he needed the money. His new journey as a drug dealer seemed like a logical choice at the time. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize then what all the gliding can do to people and, what’s even worse, he didn’t know where he was about to land his glider to…
Happiness Comes from Within by Vaike Lohk
A man’s life is not a direct flight from point A to point B where destination, as well as proper measures and altitudes, have been allocated. We go through various moments and feelings while travelling through our lives. This ride can be quite bumpy for some, especially during our teen years. No one knows this better than Robert who couldn’t quite comprehend the new “flight” information and powerful feelings. He decided to search for a way to ease the pain he felt by rites of passage and he found drugs. These take you higher in your journey and Robert too found that drugs make it easier to endure the turbulence of life. Being high you don’t feel, you’re empty, simply being, standing still while the life travels past you in high speed, or gliding above everything not worrying about a thing. Being a user, Robert found he could help other youngsters make their journey lighter, by using drugs. Travelling through life costs money and the world of drugs has a lot of it, so Robert thought he could also have his share. His choice of travelling – the gliding – is costly and he needed it. He needed his dose, his gliding, and therefore he needed the money. His new journey as a drug dealer seemed like a logical choice at the time. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize then what all the gliding can do to people and, what’s even worse, he didn’t know where he was about to land his glider to…

Brighter Future by Tarmo Tonismann Edvin is a 28-year-old Bosnian who lives and works at Tržič (Slovenia) Rehabilitation Centre. His childhood wasn’t as easy as it should have been. As an only child, his parents wished him to become a farmer like them and continue the family business. He’s very skilled in farming and worked around the farm but it wasn’t quite what he wanted. He desired to become a footballer. This didn’t go well with the family and raised a lot of tensions within. Somewhere along the way, Edvin discovered that those parents he fought with, regarding farming and football, weren’t his biological parents. As a teenager, with emotions running high and wild, he found out he was adopted. He desires to find his biological parents in hope to also find the answers to the questions still haunting him. He used to be a drug addict who now wishes nothing more than being healthy again. Edvin is not a quitter, he doesn’t give up easily.
Brighter Future by Tarmo Tonismann
Edvin is a 28-year-old Bosnian who lives and works at Tržič (Slovenia) Rehabilitation Centre. His childhood wasn’t as easy as it should have been. As an only child, his parents wished him to become a farmer like them and continue the family business. He’s very skilled in farming and worked around the farm but it wasn’t quite what he wanted. He desired to become a footballer. This didn’t go well with the family and raised a lot of tensions within. Somewhere along the way, Edvin discovered that those parents he fought with, regarding farming and football, weren’t his biological parents. As a teenager, with emotions running high and wild, he found out he was adopted. He desires to find his biological parents in hope to also find the answers to the questions still haunting him.
He used to be a drug addict who now wishes nothing more than being healthy again. Edvin is not a quitter, he doesn’t give up easily.

Thank you Maryna, Nuno, Amalia, Emanuele, Ginta, Nejc, Konstantinos, Lola, Paula, Vaike and the great Tarmorazzo!

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