If your only knowledge of Somalia comes from seeing news reports in the press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s all civil unrest and political turmoil.
Despite the fact that these things do take place in Somalia, there is so much more to the country. They have the longest coastline in Africa, a rich history and a charming culture brimming with tradition and music and joy.
Yasin Osman, an award-winning photographer, photojournalist and educator from Toronto, knows this. Being a second-generation Somali migrant and a proud Muslim, he loves sharing his roots. That’s why he has documented positive aspects of Somalia for the whole world to see on his popular Instagram channel.
‘I haven’t been to Somalia since I was a child, it was my first time going back,’ Osman, speaking of a trip to his parent’s homeland, told VICE. ‘The only thing I kept thinking about while on the plane was Lido beach and the stories my mother use to tell me about it.’
‘Within the first few minutes I was there I couldn’t help but smile. Around me I saw boys playing soccer, kids dancing and mothers teaching their daughters to swim,’ he said. ‘It was more beautiful than I had envisioned.’
After his engrossing photos of the people of Somalia went viral, Osman said: ‘I think it’s because Somalis want to see Somalis being portrayed in a positive light. We want to see that love being shown, and it’s resonating with people that I’m trying to change the narrative.’
His latest venture, in which he aims to keep kids away from gangs by getting them into creative and artistic photography, spawned the viral hashtag #ShootForPeace. After taking weekly trips through his neighbourhood of Regent Park, Toronto – which struggles with unemployment and crime – the idea for the project was born.
Speaking to MTV, he said: ‘The children in this community have so much on their backs and I wanted to see them express themselves creatively and share some of that untapped emotion that is within them. Since photography was a love of mine I couldn’t think of a better medium of expression.’
As some of the kids in the neighbourhood are just trying to get by, Osman thought it was particularly important to tackle this issue. ‘I don’t know anybody who’s died from cancer,’ he told Upworthy. “I only know people who have been killed by gun violence.’ He added: ‘A few of the kids were asking me about my Instagram photos one day. They had very specific questions like “How do you blur the background?” and “How do you take a photo of a moving car?”’
So, Osman took on a group of 12 students aged between eight and 16. ‘The first week we had class, kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on the cameras,’ he recalls. ‘They wanted to shoot everything, especially the CN tower. It was very inspiring.’
With everything he touches seemingly turning into gold, we’re sure that you’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more from Osman in the coming years.
Check out a few more of Yasin’s shots below, including one of our boy Chunkz:
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Don’t forget to follow him on Instagram.