Dear Spotlight Readers:

It is winter here in New England and it reminds me of what it must be like for refugees from Syria and other parts of the world who continue to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in rickety boats and then, during the coldest part of the year, continue their journey through the Balkans, often on foot and without shelter. Tragically, many die in rough seas during the winter crossing. Life in Syria only continues to deteriorate as world powers prefer war to peace. This week, the opposition parties pulled out of peace negotiations because Assad, backed by the much stronger Russian air force, has escalated bombing of rebel-held areas in northwest Syria, centered around Aleppo. Thousands of civilians who have managed to survive years of war are now amassing at the Turkish border with hopes of eventually making the same trek that tens of thousands of others have made in the past year.
Balkan Crossing
A 6-year -old Syrian refugee just after having crossed the sea between Turkey and Greece with her twin brother and mother. Photo by Jacobia Dahm from Journey Through the Balkans.
There has been a tremendous amount of reporting of the war, flight, arrival, resettlement, resentment, and confusion. Photographers have contributed to this dialog with extraordinary images. One photo in particular of a young boy, Aylan Kurdi, changed public opinion overnight. The New York Times even launched a new virtual reality channel to bring us a VR experience of being a refugee.
Visual storytellers will continue to document this tragic episode in human history because it is what we do. In this issue of Spotlight, Jacobia Dahm documents Syrian refugees as they travel through the Balkans. In last month's Spotlight, Margarita Mavromichalis focuses on ground zero of the migrant trail, Lesvos, Greece. It has come to the point where telling the story is necessary but is no longer sufficient. Obama has less than a year left in office. He can look at what the US did to end war in Bosnia in 1995 and what the US did not do to end genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Maybe these tragic stories will help him focus on what he can do to end this war.

We are very pleased to award Featured Photographer this month to Jan Zychlinski for his project on refugees from the South Caucasus, a part of the world that has largely been forgotten during the current crisis in the Middle East.

Glenn Ruga
SDN Founder and Director

PS. I know many of you are anxiously waiting for the winners of our recent Call for Entries to be announced. The jurors are just finishing up now and the winners will be announced by February 15.

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Photo by Jan Zychlinski from Beyond the Borders: Explorations among the refugees of the South Caucasus.
Vano (75), Lari-Lari/Georgien. Valley of the river Neskra/Svaneti. Fled from Abkhazia. In the house of extended family. 
Jan Zychlinski
February 2016 Featured Photographer of the Month
Beyond the Borders: Explorations among the refugees of the South Caucasus  

From September 2014 to February 2015, Jan Zychlinski traveled through the South Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan) to document the fate and living conditions of refugees from the conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In several previous visits to the Caucasus he encountered again and again people who had been forced to leave their villages and towns in the wake of armed conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of them still live in camps, collective centers or partly in newly built settlements away from the rest of society. 

View Exhibit >>

Jan Zychlinski Jan Zychlinski was born in the former GDR/East Germany where he studied history and German philology and, after the end of the GDR, social sciences and social work. For more than 15 years he has worked in social work, urban development in East Germany, and flood relief projects after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Since 2007, he has been a lecturer in social urban development at the Berner University of Applied Science, with additional focus on social photography.

February 2016 Spotlight

Sara May
Recovery: Life in Sierra Leone after Ebola>>
by Sara B. May/ Sierra Leone

Post-Ebola media coverage has focused upon how international relief efforts could help rebuild the ravaged Sierra Leone economy and healthcare systems. However, the heart of the story remains how Sierra Leoneans are confronting their fears of exposure to regain their sense of place within ...

Jodie Castellani
When I Go Home: Three Years with Dementia>>
by Jodie Castellani/ United States

Dementia is a global health crisis, with 46 million people affected worldwide and 132 million cases anticipated by 2050. The financial toll is estimated as 2 trillion USD by 2030. If dementia were a country, it would have the world's 18th largest economy surpassing mammoth corporations ...

Sami Siva
India's Third Gender: Transgender Women in Hindu Culture>>
by Sami Siva/ India

For a 20-year-old transgender woman Tamil, making a living depends on sex work. Social stigma and marginalization all but bars her from traditional employment and leaves her no choice but to resort to sex work and occasional performances at village festivities and funerals...

Sergio Sergio Leyva Seiglie
Neak Pradal (Cambodian boxer)>>
by Sergio Leyva Seiglie/ Cambodia

A Neak Pradal (boxer) knows the loneliness of his profession. He is familiar with the silent wait before the match, when it's just him alone with his thoughts and his heartbeat. He prays for luck, for his punches, kicks, knees and elbows to connect with his opponent, to not disappoint his trainer, to ...

An ordinary day>>
by Carla Fiorina/ India

With almost 8 million blind people, India accounts for 20% of the total blind population in the world. What's worse, 75% of the cases could have been prevented or cured. This photo essay shows an ordinary day of a tiny fraction of that figure: 150 children...

"White Skin">>
by Monia Lippi/ Viet Nam

These 30 images are part of White Skin project, a series of portraits of the scooter drivers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was especially interested in the original, colorful, modern look and individuality of some drivers. Vietnamese love to keep their white skin and even in the humid tropical heat...

Shishmaref: A Native American Struggle>>
by Nima Taradji/ United States

Shishmaref, Alaska  is a remote village of about 600 people located 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, flanked by the Chukchi Sea to the north and an inlet to the south, and it sits atop rapidly melting permafrost. The melting permafrost coupled with the rising of the sea levels due to melting...

by Madeline Cottingham/ United States

On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, between the ages of 16 and 18, from the town of Chibok. The Nigerian government has so far proven powerless in their pursuit of the militant organization that now controls most of northeastern Nigeria. None of the girls have been rescued and ...

War Landscapes>>
by Alfredo Macchi/ Afghanistan, Libya, West Bank

War Landscapes is a photo project based on an exhibition and a photobook with about 100 black and white images taken in fifteen years of work in major conflict areas of the world.  I took a lot of photos of despair, screaming and pain but for this book I chose images of landscapes, places made...

After Work>>
by Douglas MacLellan/ Canada

"After Work" is a project with Collette Broeders, an artist, and Douglas MacLellan about migrant workers in Essex County, Ontario. Broeders created video and audio files to compliment MacLellan's still digital captures. The project asks the question, what do migrant workers do after work...

by Sofia Aldinio/ United States

David and Jessica created a way of life where they work hard to maintain their independent choices, their space, and a future for their children. "Everything we accomplished feels like it takes forever," says David Koubek. "On the other hand we always have to look at the big picture...

Journey through the Balkans>>
by Jacobia Dahm/ Greece

After spending a good part of the summer of 2015 talking to Syrian refugees in Berlin about their journeys, so unimaginable in many ways, I decided to document their extraordinary passage into Europe. In late September I flew into Izmir, a large Turkish coastal city where most refugees...

Beer for Work>>
by Jasper Juinen/ Netherlands

After more than a decade out of work, because of chronic alcoholism, Fred Schiphorst finally landed a job and is determined to keep it. His workday begins unfailingly at 10 a.m. -- with two cans of beer, a down payment on a salary paid mostly in alcohol. "I'm not proud of being an alcoholic,...


Brick Workers>>
by Anja Bruehling/ India

Brick building in India is back breaking work compounded by issues of bonded labor, exploitation of the poor, and lack of education. There are over 100,000 kilns throughout India with an estimated 12.5 million to 25 million workers. India's brick industry contributes nearly $4 billion to the ...

Advisory Committee
Kristen Bernard
Lori Grinker
Steve Horn
Ed Kashi
Jeffrey D. Smith
Stephen Walker
Frank Ward
Jamie Wellford

Glenn Ruga
Founder & Director

Barbara Ayotte
Communications Director

Paula Sokolska
ZEKE Writer & Editor 

Caterina Clerici

Special Issue Editor  

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About Social Documentary Network
Social Documentary Network is a website for photographers, NGOs, journalists, editors, and students to create and explore documentary exhibits investigating critical issues facing the world today. Recent exhibits have explored oil workers in the Niger River Delta, male sex workers in India, Central American immigrant women during their journey north, and Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Greece. Click here to view all of the exhibits.