“Love me or kill me”

The Moria Refugee camp off the shores of Lesvos is an unfamiliar place, although to many of us, it may have become more familiar since the increased influx of refugees began to make their way to the shores of Greece at the beginning of the summer.

Yet there’s a hidden reality on the camp site, that of the efforts of numerous independent volunteers who are striving to assist authorities and NGOs within the ‘Hills of Moria’ as they call it, a camp set aside as a detention centre to process refugee registration and continuation of their journey to Athens.

Here, one will encounter individuals, backed by substantial sponsors, or not, involved in distributing dry clothes to people upon arrival, passing on information to them as regards their registration process, finding them shelter in tents, providing food and warm tea, as well as medical help, and any accommodation that makes their transit stay a little more human.

Conditions on the ground are anything but satisfactory and the efforts being witnessed in the past couple of weeks are substantial and predominantly revolve around the infrastructure and the coordination of the camp itself.

Within these aspirations however, there are initiatives that divert from the purely practical and aim at the more humane side, notably a kids’ corner tent that provides a breath of fresh air for children and parents alike.

Named ‘Children’s Art and Play Moria’, the initiative was driven by Anastasia Victoria, a 24-year-old from the UK who has been working on bringing arts activities to children in refugee camps in the East Med since 2012.

Sitting next to 13-year-old Farhad from Afghanistan whilst he draws a portrait of himself standing on a boat in the Aegean Sea, Anastasia recalls her first experience as a volunteer in Jordan, three years ago.

“I went to the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan where I had a friend there that was working for the UN … he spoke to some people and I was allowed in. I began by just playing with children in the street and eventually taught a couple of lessons in the school,” says Anastasia.

“Then I went to Israel, on the West Bank, brought a lot of art materials and worked with Palestinian orphan refugees. We created big murals and taught them how to paint… that’s how it all started,” she explained.

Having been teaching art to kids on and off for the past four years, Anastasia is keen on working with children with special needs and arrived on the island almost a month ago.

“I’d been back and forth to Molyvos and Moria (on the north front of Lesvos where most boats reach the shore) for three weeks, I wanted to come to Moria because I knew it was the camp that was the most in need.

“There were no activities for children when I arrived, kids were just roaming free and playing with fires.”

Today one will find a tent decorated with children’s art works stuck on its interior, party balloons making their way out of the tent and numerous children bringing colour to white sheets of paper, depicting straightforward images of the journey that affirms their reality.

“With art you don’t need a language, it’s straightforward, they draw what they like,” said Anastasia; yet on a couple of occasions volunteer translators put words to images.

Yesterday a little girl had written on her piece of paper, and we were intrigued as to what it said. With the help of a translator the words inscribed were conveyed as saying: “Love me or kill me”.

“What do you say to a child that says that?” Anastasia asks me as she attests that 90% of children she has worked with have drawn boats…

“A lot of them draw their houses, obviously they’ve left their houses back home so it’s fresh in their minds,” she adds. Yet it’s obvious that the moments of happiness and the break from reality provided through this initiative are tangible and a challenge that cannot be excluded from such camps.

To this end, Anastasia has, on some days, had the word ‘Happy’ translated into various languages and strives to encourage them to draw something that makes them happy.

“Some of them drew self portraits; it was nice to think that they themselves make themselves happy,” said Anastasia.

“They always come and say goodbye to us which is really important, it makes us feel that, for a moment, we were important in their lives and we contributed to their journey.”

Anastasia will return to the UK, but for Moria’s sake, a family which moved to Greece permanently 10 years ago will continue to manage ‘Children’s Art and Play Moria’ until Anastasia’s return next year.

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