© Nicole Tung for The VII Foundation. Western Mosul, Iraq, November 2018. Schoolgirls arriving at a recently reopened school. For many students, this is the first time they have been able to attend school in years.
Nicole Tung, one of the leading war photographers of her generation, joins Ron Haviv, VII Foundation co-director and contributor to Imagine: Reflections on Peace, an extensive project examining post-conflict societies produced by the VII Foundation. Nicole traveled through towns in Syria and Iraq as they were emerging from their war against ISIS to start the slow, painful, and often fragile process of rebuilding. She writes:
“To step into the wake of the war against ISIS was to enter a dystopian world. As the circle closed in on the terrorist military group, first in Mosul, then in Raqqa, and then in their last redoubt in Baghouz, I traveled between newly liberated villages and cities. I went to document that vital moment between the end of a conflict and peace—the space where life begins to emerge. At first, everything seemed a blur of rubble, like a dark, smudgy water color of a never-ending nightmare about war and how it forever mutilates lives.
“But, very quickly, the streets buzzed back to life. I witnessed civilians, so utterly traumatized, do the only thing they knew how to do: go on and survive. It was dark, yet remarkable, to see the cautious hope among people who had lost everything. They know: peace is so incredibly fragile. Unless the marginalization of peoples in each country is addressed, unless resolution is brought to disputed territories, unless the systematic corruption that hinders everything from rebuilding to job creation is ended, peace can once again unravel with astonishing speed.” — Excerpted from Imagine: Reflections on Peace/VII Foundation.