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These Extremely Talented Children Are All Refugees From Syria

A British photographer follows a chess player, a speed reader, a poet, and three rapping brothers — all children who have fled the war in Syria.

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British photographer Tabitha Ross has spent nearly a decade working in the Middle East, the better part of which she spent documenting the lives of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Her latest work, Syria's Got Talent, focuses on a group of gifted Syrian refugee children in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, which she says is a way of showing the potential lost by many young Syrians affected by the war.

"There are over a million Syrian refugee children out of school, each with their own unique gifts and talents," Ross said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. "We want to show the importance of education for children affected by conflict like in Syria."

Ross's photo essay was created in collaboration with the A World at School campaign and the charity TheirWorld.

Last week, they launched a petition asking people to call on world leaders to get 1 million Syrian children into school this year, so they can not only learn, but also channel some of the trauma they have been through.

Below are photographs and short profiles of the children Ross interviewed — a chess player, a speed reader, a poet, a mathematics whiz, footballers, and three brothers who rap.

Lana Hourieh, 12, and her brother Abdulsalmouh were taught chess by their uncle when they were younger, and it has since become their passion. When Lana went back to school after fleeing her home, her teachers noticed her talent for chess and entered her in a competition — she promptly won.

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While school has helped Lana get her talent recognized, Abdulsalmouh said chess also helped them achieve in the classroom: "In school, for example in maths, you have to think very hard, and chess has helped us with that."

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Khawla Ghaysaniya's favorite writer is the 15th-century Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi, whose work, she said, inspired her to start writing her own poems: "His poems are so beautiful. We used to have his collected works at home in Syria. I used to read it, and it inspired me to start writing my own poetry, and then I found I was good at it." She said her love of poetry has motivated her to fight for her education even when things have been tough.

Nearly 1.4 million of the Syrian children living as refugees in neighboring countries are affected by the war and more than half of them lack access to education, according to Ross.

"Children who are not in school are at risk of getting trapped into child labour, early marriage, and exploitation," she said.

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Daham Nawasara entered a regional competition to read 50 books over the academic year, despite missing nearly a year of school when his family fled Syria. His passion for reading and the extraordinary things he has experienced growing up during the war have inspired him to take up writing. "My dream is to become a writer, or an author of a very famous book," he said. "I like writing stories, true stories about my life or fictional ones about imaginary people, about events that have affected me or set anywhere in the world."

Ahmad, 14, wants to use his skills in mathematics to become an engineer when he grows up, so he can help rebuild Syria. He spent over a year out of school, working first in a petrol station then in a store to help support his family. He is currently in a lower grade than his age range because of the time he's missed, but he is determined to follow through and achieve his dream.

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Hala al-Naisa taught herself Bollywood dancing and can even sing in Hindi, something no one else in her community can do. Her mother said she was drawn to Bollywood dancing at a very young age after seeing it on television one day. Hala knows dozens of songs and from her dancing you would think she had grown up taking lessons in Mumbai.

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When Haytham and Jawad Mash-Hadan play football, it is nothing like watching ordinary people kicking around a ball. The boys missed three years of school upon coming to Lebanon, but are now back in the classroom – and the playing field – where their skills shine. Sons of a former footballer in Syria, both boys want to play professionally like their father when they grow up. "Whenever anyone sees them playing, they tell me that they should become professionals, they are very talented," their father said.

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Samir, Abdulrahman, and Mohammed, who perform under the name "Fire Rap", said they have two dreams: return to Syria, and become famous rap artists. They were out of school for over two years, but Samir said that being used to learning long and complicated raps helped him when he returned to the classroom because he was used to memorizing things.

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Read the lyrics from one of their songs (translated from Arabic):

Make the sky your limit, don't make it a ceiling,
All the ideas in the world started with a letter,
Live in this life the way you want and be comfortable,
Don't ever stop to regret the past,
Live the way you want and keep your thoughts free,
With a smile and strength we will shape tomorrow,
Losing doesn't mean failure, keep going and continue,
To know sweetness, you need to try bitter,
Arabic rap is my art,
Shake your head with the best when you hear me,
Arabic rap is my art,
My thoughts will spread forth and no one can stop them.

A World at School recently published a short film on the Karbouj brothers, in which you can see them rapping.

View this video on YouTube

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Matt Tucker is the UK Picture Editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Tucker at matthew.tucker@buzzfeed.com.

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