By Joseph Tunney
Friday February 19, 2021
'I want people to realize what they're going through and maybe find ways to support them'
Photographer Faisa Omer turned her lens on young people living in parts of Ottawa that have been affected most acutely by the pandemic. (Faisa Omer)
A new project from the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre is hoping to reframe people's view of COVID-19 in the nation's capital, and the lives the virus affects most.
Photographer Faisa Omer profiled young people from neighbourhoods in Ottawa's southeast, which includes some of the city's hardest-hit areas in terms of cases per capita.The project, titled It's Different For Us, hopes to give voice to these young people, as well as highlight how pre-existing racial inequalities shaped the experience of the pandemic for those living in these neighbourhoods.
"Sometimes it's kind of glossed over that people are suffering. People are having a really hard time, especially this community, because this is the hardest-hit area in Ottawa," Omer said by phone on Tuesday. "So I want people to realize what they're going through and maybe find ways to support them."
The photographer was struck by the optimism of some of the young people, all between the ages of 16 of 21, some of whom had found their first jobs during the pandemic.
Two photos, accompanied by quotes from the project's participants, will be posted on social media daily until Feb. 26. (Faisa Omer)
But through the course of her conversations, Omer also saw their frustration rise to the surface.
"My family has been impacted because of the pandemic; my mom had to stop working," one person is quoted as saying. "For that, I felt like I had to work. That added more pressure to my schooling."
"I used to have a job at the university. It got cut because of COVID," another participant said. "I went through hundreds of job applications before at least one called me back."
"I don't have a lot of support," said a third.
Young people often 'an easy target'
Urge Ibrahim, health promoter for youth at the centre, said she hopes the project demonstrates the humanity of these young people – who she believes are the first to be blamed for perceived reckless behaviour.
"Rumors that youth are the cause of the spread in the south end [made them] an easy target," Ibrahim said.
"We felt it was really important to connect with youth in the community to kind of hear their stories," she continued. "And to hear why the pandemic is very impactful for them."
After the success of Omer's first project, Portraits of Black Somali Youth from Ritchie, which looks at the lives of Black men in Ottawa's west end, she was eager to turn her lens on other topical issues to bring them into focus.
She said it was "gut-wrenching" to hear the stories of these young people, many of whom work in Ottawa's essential sectors, and feels the divides and disparities deepened by the pandemic could have been predicted.
"It's just interesting to ... talk to the youth first-hand from this community, hear their frustrations," Omer said. "Hopefully, the rest of the city can kind of hear them as well."