In May of 2015, Knox County Mayor Chief of Staff Dean Rice (BA/CS ’94) captured remarkable photographic images of Syrian children during his visit to the Zaatari Refugee Camp in the Jordanian desert and with orphaned children in Amman, Jordan. In December 2015, the Knoxville Arts & Culture Alliance presented an exhibition of Rice’s photos, and discussions are ongoing about including some of his photos in a permanent exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. In addition, the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), for which Rice serves on its National Advisory Board, included a number of his Syrian orphans’ photos in its 2016 advocacy calendar.
Rice described his experience in Jordan this way, “In May of last year, through the efforts of the Syrian Emergency Task Force and the Syrian American Medical Society, I had the privilege of visiting Syrian refugees living in Jordan. I was struck by many things during my time in the Zaatari Refugee Camp on the Syrian border but was most impressed by the deep desire each person I interviewed had, not to go to Europe or the U.S., but rather to go home to Syria – a peaceful and democratic Syria. Clearly, that day will not soon come, but it is their hope and their prayer that it will one day be made real. One older man summed it up when he told me, ‘I would rather die under a single tree in a peaceful Syria than in a palace anywhere else. It is my home.’”
The purpose of Rice’s trip was to bring home photographic images and recorded interviews to help raise awareness of the refugee crisis. Rice points out that recent events have brought the crisis to the forefront though daily news reports from Europe and heated political debates in the U.S. “My hope now is for these images to help insure that the human stories of over 11,000,000 individuals, displaced in and around Syria, will not be lost in the political rhetoric. The children depicted in the exhibit represent those who will lead that nation in 20 years. How do we want them to remember us as a nation? Our actions today will shape theirs tomorrow.”
Dean Rice is an emeritus CCI Board of Visitors (BOV) member and a former BOV chair. He was CCI’s 2013 Communication Studies Alumnus of the Year and is a lecturer in the School of Communication Studies.