On September 22, 2015, I arrived in Lesbos, the Greek island off the Turkish mainland where migrants from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan continue to arrive in inflatable dinghies, often four to nine thousand daily. For the next three weeks, I stayed in Kara Tepe and Moria, the two refugee camps, as a volunteer for Save the Children, the international relief organization. Together with a team of twelve others, my job was to set up a “child-friendly space” in each of the camps – a place where children who had survived crossing the Aegean Sea could play.
During the first days, we’d simply choose a flat spot where no one was sleeping, pick up the empty water bottles and trash, and spread a tarp over the gravel, using rugs and a few scavenged boards to create a playing surface. (Eventually we built a shade structure.) Instantly the kids would arrive, sometimes as many as forty. I painted butterflies on faces, played soccer, drew hundreds of Crayola pictures, got covered in glitter glue, helped engineer elaborate block towers, and every once in a while looked up to observe the camp around me. What follows are mere snapshots of what I saw – any attempt to draw tidy conclusions would be as inadequate as the makeshift haven we sought to provide.