Iraqi American photographer tells the community’s stories

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By Natasha Dado Salwan Georges
DEARBORN—Salwan Georges missed six years of school while growing up as a refugee in Syria. Georges, 25, was born in Baghdad during the Gulf War. His family resettled in Syria to escape the political turmoil in Iraq, but Georges was not able to attend school because of his refugee status.
Despite the years of school he missed during his childhood, Georges is a graduate of the honors college at Oakland University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a full-time internship at the Detroit Free Press.
Georges’ documentary projects and photos have appeared in various publications. His photos include a series focusing on the thousands of Iraqi refugees who have settled in Dearborn since the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq. It was featured in both Business Insider and the Washington Post.
Georges’ family moved to the United States in 2004. Succeeding in school was difficult at first. Because he missed so much school growing up, he almost failed all of his classes at Southfield Lathrup High School.
Georges still remembers the advice his uncle gave to him on the first day of school. His uncle encouraged him to attend college— an opportunity the uncle didn’t have— and told him education could change his life.
In addition to his internship, Georges does freelance work for the Free Press. He wants to work as a photographer for the paper after he completes his internship.
“It would be a dream come to work as a photographer for the Detroit Free Press,” he said. “Everyone there encourages me and is really supportive of my work.”
Georges plans to take a series of photographs that chronicle the cultural clash young immigrants experience with their parents.
“A lot of times it is hard for immigrant parents to understand why their children want to listen to rap music or do certain things that are a part of American culture,” he said.
He also wants to highlight the struggle of immigrants and refugees who experience difficulty making ends meet when they first come here.
He would also like to go back to Iraq someday to take photos.
Georges remembers growing up in Iraq.
“Christians and Muslims in Iraq, we are all one,” he said. “We are all Iraqis. I used to go to the mosque with my Muslim friend and he used to come to the church with me.”
He said the U.S.-based Arabic satellite TV channel Alhurra interviewed him about overcoming his obstacles as a refugee and triumphing in journalism. Alhurra broadcasts in 22 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. The segment on Georges has not yet aired.
Georges said his parents, who initially discouraged him from pursuing a career in photography and wanted him to go into medicine or law, are now very supportive.
“I know doctors save people’s lives, but I can save lives with a camera by telling peoples’ stories of struggle and hardship through photographs that I hope will prompt change,” he said.