Refugee families featured in new photo exhibition

This fall, an internationally recognized photo exhibit, "They Have Names," will kick off on Nov. 3, showcasing the children of Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees at numerous venues throughout University Park campus and State College, Pennsylvania.

The exhibit, which focuses on the theme of “human commonality,” highlights the personalities of some of the “new kids in Berlin” in stark 20” x 30” photographs. The project was jointly created by German photographer Daniel Sonnentag and Penny Eifrig, a Lemont resident and local owner of Eifrig Publishing, along with her daughter, Saede Eifrig, a 2017 State College Area High School graduate, who met while volunteering at the ICC Refugee Camp in Berlin, Germany, over the past two years. The trio recently won the Order of Malta Refugee Aid Medal for their work with refugee families in Berlin and their efforts toward refugee support and awareness. 

The month-long exhibition will commence at a reception at 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3, at Webster’s Bookstore Café with a brief talk by Sonnentag and Eifrig, followed by a walking tour of the poster-size photos at over twenty locations around town and campus. The event is open to all students, faculty, staff and local residents and will run through the end of the year.

The "They Have Names" photo tour has already won acclaim after debuting at REFO Moabit in Berlin, Germany, and at a joint exhibit at the Goethe Institute and the Jerusalem Fund-Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. In addition to a website, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, a photo exhibition catalog will be made available at the State College event. In addition, "They Have Names" will publish a coffee table book, TANZ (Dance), in 2018, featuring additional photos of the children dancing with volunteers from the Berlin State Ballet, which provided the initial incentive for Sonnentag to become involved at the refugee camp. 

Eifrig explained that the State College exhibit is supported by the local Centre Country Refugee Welcome Committee (CCRWC), which had planned to bring a refugee family to Centre County last year. “Unfortunately, we likely will not be able to welcome a family in 2017 due to the new immigration restrictions,” she stated. “But it is great to see our small community adjust to this hurdle and find a different way to come together to help out. So now we’re supporting efforts in Berlin to reunite Syrian families in Berlin instead. And by holding the exhibit in town and on campus, in public spaces throughout the community, we are also providing a chance for people in the middle of Pennsylvania to discover that these faraway children and families are actually a lot more like you and me than might be expected."

According to Eifrig, she and her family – who live in Germany several months of each year – began volunteering with children at camps in Berlin during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in early winter of 2015 when over a thousand refugees were pouring into Berlin each day.

“With over 200 kids living at the camp at one point, the caretakers would not have been able to take the children out to the park, on excursions, or even open the camp play area without volunteers,” she stated. “So I knew we were needed. Once the children realized we would keep coming back and they developed a sense of safety and belonging, they just seemed more and more like my own kids—with good and bad days, with acts of frustration and anger, and acts of incredible kindness, too.”

Eifrig adds that while it may have initially seemed that the direction of aid was from them to the kids at the camp, in fact it was really the other way around: “The opportunity to get to know and care about the kids and their parents provided me and my family with so much love and positivity during a period when it seemed like the world was being inundated with so much hate and negativity. It really uplifted us. We all found new family there.”

Exhibit locations in town and on campus include: State College Municipal Building, Webster’s Bookstore and Café, Schlow Centre Region Library, the HUB-Robeson Center at Penn State, Art Alliance Gallery Downtown, Foxdale Village, Appalachian Outdoors, Studio 2 Photography, Rapid Transit, Amazon campus, Woodrings Floral, the Growing Tree, Nittany Valley Optical, Connections, McLanahan’s, Singing on Stage, the Corner Room, Bill Pickles’ Taproom, Chumleys, the Downtown Improvement District, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County, the State College Presbyterian Church, Panorama Village, the Delta Program, HUB-Robeson Center and Walker Building (part of the Critical Futures Visual Archive at the “Envisioning the Future of Critical Geographies” conference).

Last Updated October 31, 2017