Kareema Hassan was at her local mosque in Toronto, Canada, for a nightly prayer called Taraweeh — camera and tripod in tow — when she captured a striking sign of the times.
It was the end of the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, in the spring of 2021. Government restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak had just partially lifted, allowing a limited number of people to enter the building. Hassan, then 19, found herself next to a Quran bookshelf that had been blocked off with yellow caution tape to prevent the spread of infection through contact with the books, and the sight struck her as a stark reminder of life’s fragility.
Students Yassir Ahmed, Safa Hassan and Samira Abdi pose with photographs they made as part of the mentorship program. Credit: Courtesy Yasin Osman
“I grew up in Regent Park in Toronto; my mom raised me by herself. There was a lot of gun violence in the neighborhood,” Osman said in a phone interview. “When I was 14, the neighborhood started getting torn down — there was a revitalization happening in the community, and I was documenting that with my mom’s cell phone.”
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After high school, Osman was working as a preschool teacher, and was tasked with taking photos of the children using a reflex camera. He enjoyed it, and started documenting the neighborhood.
“So I was thinking to myself… how can I combat some of the issues that are happening in the neighborhood because of the gun violence?” Osman said. “And arts programming wasn’t something that existed too much, especially for boys.”
Creating a family
At first, Osman focused on working with boys. He approached a group of them hanging out near a basketball court, and offered to teach them how to take better photographs with their cell phones. “Does that mean we’re going to get likes on Instagram?” they asked, and that’s how the program started.
Photographer and cartoonist Yasim Osman, who founded “Shoot for peace” in 2015, with a group of students. Credit: Courtesy Yasin Osman
Osman’s efforts soon attracted the attention of Canon, which supplied the group with reflex cameras and lenses, allowing more students to take photographs at the same time using more sophisticated equipment.
Soon after, Shoot for Peace expanded with a course designed particularly for girls, and the program has since developed into a charity that allows anybody across the globe to volunteer or contribute by sending donations and purchasing items, making the opportunity absolutely free to students. The weekly course runs each year from January to September, when a joint exhibition takes place showcasing the work of all students, who range in age from 15 to 22.
The program is highly sought-after: More than 100 applications were filed for each course last year, but classes are limited to a maximum of 10 pupils. “Those who have not been accepted still have the opportunity to come to our studio space, get to know people and hang out,” Osman said. “It’s become something that people want to attach themselves to, because it oozes positivity and love.”
“Me, myself and I” by Huda Hagi (2021). In the picture, a girl holds a flower up and the only other thing shown is her shadow, tracing a parallel with the sense of isolation felt by many during the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy Huda Hagi/Shoot for peace
Some students from early cohorts have gone on to become professional photographers or YouTubers, although for many participants, the goal is just to make new friends or acquire a new skill. “Shoot for Peace has really created a family amongst us, and youth from different neighborhoods — some of them even in conflict, probably not able to be seen together outside of our space — are friends, hanging out together, really creating a sense of community,” Osman said.
“I was speaking to one of the youth once and I asked if he wanted to become a photographer, because he was really good at it,” he said. “But he replied ‘Oh no, I don’t want to become a photographer — but I’m really happy because I’ll have this skill with me forever.'”
But don’t pin him down as a photographer and a cartoonist just yet. “A really important piece of my artistry is to be able to express how I actually feel through any medium,” he said. “Today it can be cartooning, but tomorrow it can be something else.”
Top image: “Yellow tape” by Kareema Hassan (2021). Shot at the end of Ramadan 2021 as coronavirus restrictions were partially lifted in Toronto, it’s meant as a reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of showing gratitude for the places, people and things we love.