As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, I wanted to share the story of a unique woman I recently met, a lady named Susanna. I met Susanna through Lighthouse Charities, of which I’ve partnered with to create portraits of local refugee families. Susanna, her husband Ibrahim and their darling 2 children, Amos and Lea, were the first family to have been brought to my studio for this project. I knew going into the project that I would been meeting families whom have endured some of the worst experiences of survival, but it didn’t quite prepare me for what was to come.
Despite her glowing smile, you would never know that Susanna is both deaf and mute, and along with her family, had spent 28 years in a refugee camp in Congo. She and her family have only been in the US for about 9 months, and they are learning to adapt to a whole new culture, language, food, and way of life. So different is their new life, that when the family was being transported to my studio, both kids got car sick and projectile vomited because they are not used to riding in cars. Lighthouse Charities Founder Cindy, had to make an unscheduled stop to not only clean out her car, but also find replacement clothing for little Lea to wear for the photos. Little would you know that a long t-shirt from Walgreens sufficed, hiding the fact that she isn’t wearing any pants.
Once they arrived at the studio, there was a language barrier as only the father spoke a little English. The only words I know in Swahili which I picked up from a trip to Kenya, are Jambo (Hello) and Asante Sana (Thank You Very Much). I felt good that I could at least greet and thank the family for their time. The rest of the shoot involved a lot of hand gestures and pointing to help communicate to the family where to sit or stand, and to look at the camera.
Once it was clear to the family that I would be taking their portrait, I immediately saw Susanna start adjusting her headpiece. It’s universal in any country to want to look good for photos, and Susanna was no exception. We photographed the family together, as well as individual portraits. One of the joys of the whole shoot, was showing them the back of the camera where they could see their portraits in real time. Without any mutual language to communicate, and through unbelievable conditions this family has endured to get to the US, their smiles showed grace.
What I will never forget from this shoot, is showing Susanna the back of the camera of one of the family portraits. She paused for a moment, then raised both hands and placed them over her heart and slightly bowed her head. In that moment, there was no need for words to express her gratitude for the portrait and love for her family.
I would like to extend a special thank you to Cindy and Lighthouse Charities for bringing the Masozera family, and so many other families to the studio to be photographed for this ongoing project. Each family that is photographed have endured such atrocities to get to where they are now, often times only arriving in the US with the clothes on their back. Knowing they have come with nothing, especially any photos, we will be gifting an 8×10 print of their family portrait as a keepsake.
If you would like to learn more about sponsoring a family or ways you can help a local Las Vegas refugee family, please contact Lighthouse Charities.