Creating a UNICEF interactive documentary

One of the classes featured in UNICEF's interactive documentary "Imagine a School"

The conversation about Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis usually begins with some big and unprecedented numbers.

  • 1 in 4 four people in Lebanon are refugees (1.5 million refugees in a country of roughly six million people)
  • Half of the refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict are children
  • And half of all registered Syrian refugee children aren’t currently in school. (187,427 school aged children)

These numbers clearly identify that there is a problem, but they don’t do much to foster understanding of the men, women and children behind these statistics and the real challenges these children and their families face.

When UNICEF Lebanon came to us with their “Imagine A School” project, hoping to tell the incredible stories of children struggling to receive an education, we knew we wanted to do more than portraying these children as just another number.  

While it might be difficult for some people to relate to the daily struggles and extreme hardship impacting Syrian refugees in Lebanon, we tried to flush out one area where many people around the world have experienced some level of struggle, difficulty or fear: school. We thought that people might identify with refugee children if we pointed out potential similarities in their experiences.  

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Our first challenge was how to link up each refugee child’s story — out of more than 19 different stories — with the right user to best reflect their similarities. In the end, we decided to take an interactive documentary approach, drawing inspiration from projects like The And. Each user is matched with a class made up of children who faced similar challenges, albeit in a completely different context.

Once matched, we wanted the rest of the story to be very focused on the children’s stories — seeing and hearing directly from them. Facts are interspersed throughout, but we didn’t want to be too heavy- handed.

There is plenty of information in the Q&A to get up to speed.

UNICEF Lebanon, in cooperation with the Lebanon government, have already done incredible work to expand the educational capacity of the country. More than 150,000 Syrian refugee children have been provided access to public schools, which now operate in two shifts (one in the morning and one in afternoon) to meet the growing demand.

But more than 187,000 children facing extreme poverty and social exclusion still lack access to education. They risk becoming a lost generation. Please consider donating to UNICEF as they take on this momentous challenge. You can donate here.

By Matt Ford

Matt is an avid experimenter of new forms of visual storytelling. He worked as a multimedia journalist for The Associated Press covering the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the Arab uprisings, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Before journalism, Matt worked in the Los Angeles film industry as a set and studio lighting technician on productions such as Spiderman 2 and The West Wing.

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