Last week my team were invited by a local refugee-aid organisation to photograph a reunion at Toronto airport. Hanging out in the airport's arrivals lounge, five of us were geared up with our photo and film kit, waiting for hours in the hope of capturing the brief and celebratory collision of people who haven't seen each other for years. We don't know much of this man's story (I'll deliberately be vague about some details at the request of the organisation) and so I don't intend to write about the story of a refugee. Instead, I want to write about what it was like to witness a refugee reuniting with family for the first time in six years. Due to conflict in East Africa, this man has been living in Canada ever since he fled. Only recently have the efforts and fundraising of his Church (and others) led to the reality of his family being able to join him in Ontario. Last week, his wife and eight children all flew together to see him again and to begin their lives alongside him. Here's what we saw... We saw the anticipation of this man as he paced, fiddled his hands, starred at the arrivals sign and watched people coming through those automatic doors. We saw the staff of this organisation holding handmade welcome signs and we saw the man's Church friends stand beside him, provoking his excitement and keenly keeping an eye out. We saw a friend of his approach an air hostess who worked on the flight with this man's family. She told of how eager they are to see him and how the boys look so smart in their suits. At this, the father covered his face with his hands, smiling. Finally, we saw the man's children walk one by one through the arrival's doors, pulling their suitcases and waving to their father. We were privileged to see this man embrace his wife for the first time since he fled six years ago. We saw him gaze at his younger children in disbelief, rubbing their heads and pulling them close. We saw his sons meet other members of his Church and meet the organisation's staff, some of whom were overcome with tears. We saw embrace upon embrace as this family weaved in and out of each other and in and out of their suitcases to greet those who had been waiting for them for so long.
We waited a few hours to see this reunion. This man waited six years. Following that short but powerful morning I've been sorting and editing some of the footage that I took (I, rather clumsily, shot video on this occasion). Each and every editing session has left me feeling so full, so grateful and so overwhelmed by the emotions of it all. It's a reminder to me of the cause that my team work towards. This is it. This is what it's for. This is why us, four passionate rookies, travel and research and strain and strive, because we long to see hope and restoration be the final chapter of those who have been displaced by circumstances bigger than them.
Here are some stills taken from my film reel. They tell the story better than I do.