Nasir from the series ‘Children of War’ // ©Toby Binder
The Story behind the Portrait
For several years now, I have been working with an aid organisation based in Germany providing medical care for children from war zones and other places of crisis for when this aid is impossible to obtain in their home countries. In war zones, medical care often breaks down completely. This means that for a large part of the population treatment is no longer possible and even years after a conflict, complicated operations cannot be carried out. Qualified staff and infrastructure are lacking and for patients this can simply mean death.
I have seen and documented these situations in post-war countries such as Sierra Leone, and conflict areas such as the eastern Congo and Afghanistan. War also affects 415 million children worldwide and, for the sick and injured among them, medical treatment abroad is often the only chance for survival.
With the assistance of the Friedensdorf International NGO, between 300 and 400 children arrive in Germany each year, coming mainly from Afghanistan and Angola at the present time. On my very first assignment with the organisation, I met and photographed nine-year old Nasir on his arrival at Düsseldorf airport. I was immediately captivated by the way he seemed to be looking towards his future during this time when he was far away from his home and parents. This was a time in his life full of uncertainty but one that he approached with surprising strength and confidence. For myself, after all these years photographing stories such as Nasir’s, the qualities that children such as him display continue to both fascinate and ground me. They are severely injured and without family here, but they never complain about their fate. The children are grateful for the help they have received, they are curious, open-minded and help each other whenever possible. These children are from all different nations, religions and ages, who are now all living together, their similar injuries being the shared feature amongst them. And this welds them together, friendships often develop, and in these difficult circumstances it is common to find that Afghan children not only learn to speak German but also Portuguese.
Nasir came in with a severe inflammation of the bones, which could have led to amputation or even his death in Afghanistan. In Europe, the treatment is comparatively simple, although it is not done very often because treatment typically takes place at a much earlier stage. Nasir was treated successfully and was able to go back home to Afghanistan after only six months.
I usually follow the children’s lives for more than a year after their arrival until they return home. This often includes them undergoing several operations, followed by rehabilitation during their stay in the ‘peace village’ (the translation of Friedensdorf) . To see how the children recover and develop during this time is always a significant experience and it is a privilege to be part of that. When I accompanied Nasir and other children back home to Afghanistan last year, witnessing the moment when their parents took them into their arms has to be one of the most moving moments in my life.
After all these years photographing stories such as Nasir’s, the qualities that children such as him display, continue to both fascinate and ground me
Toby Binder was born 1977 in Esslingen, Germany and studied at the Stuttgart Academy of Art and Design. His photography focuses on social, environmental and political topics. Based between Argentina and Germany, he works both on assignments and personal long-term projects. He is mostly interested in topics of post-war and crisis situations as well as in the daily life of people.
His work has been recognised and awarded internationally including LensCulture Streetphotography Award (2020), Gomma Grant (2019), Sony World Photography Awards (2017 & 2019), Zeke Award (2019), Felix-Schoeller-Award (2019), the Nannen-Preis (2017) and the Philip Jones-Griffiths Award (2018). In 2017 he also received an Honourable Mention at the UNICEF Photo of the Year.
He is member of Anzenberger Agency and represented by Fotogloria. His work is published by Stern, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Washington Post, die Zeit, Zeit Magazin, Greenpeace Magazin, Amnesty Journal, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and others.
In 2019 Toby’s first photo book “Wee Muckers – Youth of Belfast“ was published by Kehrer.
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