First Day of Refugee Camp: Friendship Bracelets

Today I had no idea what I was doing. I was the new kid, plopped into a place where there are systems and norms that I didn’t know. So mostly I tried to watch and learn.

Watching and learning was fun until I needed to participate and realized I have good intentions but limited ability.

Take, for example, this friendship bracelet. Another volunteer in my group brought some thread to teach the kids how to make bracelets. It was one of those things where you see someone do it and think it looks easy, then you realize you have no idea how to replicate it. Most of the younger kids fell into this category, so I was in good company.

Mustafa really wanted me to make his bracelet. “My friend! My friend! You, you!” And then he’d point at me, then point at his bracelet-in-making, then point at me again and say “You!”

And I’d pretend to be a very good teacher who was empowering her student. “No, no, no… you! YOU do it!” and then he’d try and get confused and look to me to help, so I’d try too, then get confused and look back at him. It was a pathetic little circle of helplessness. So I promised I’d go learn how to do it and then come back and teach him.

All the kids had bracelet-making stations taped to the ground, all the way down the sidewalk. And they were all giving it the ol’ college try. Even the really young kids were totally focused and devoted to making a masterpiece. But inevitably one would ask me for help, and then I’d mess up their bracelets, and then I’d promise to go learn how to do it and come back to help.


I finally made my way down the sidewalk to the volunteer with all the skills. I watched, thought it looked easy, then went back and messed up another bracelet. On my third time watching, divine intervention took over and I finally got it. I tied about three awesome knots, then I lost my knack and decided to screw perfection and go for wild abandon.

I found Mustafa, who kept looping and tying a slightly different way each time. After each knot I’d give him a high five and he’d look quite proud of himself. That was my favorite part.

In the end he got a colorful thing that wrapped around his wrist and he felt good about it.

The older kid next to us kept his head down and his focus sharp, and when the bracelet got close to done and it got harder to knot, he let me hold down the ends so he could finish his work.

Then he let me tie it on his wrist.

When I did, he looked completely in love with it. You can fall in love with it too, right here in this picture.


But after lunch I found him walking around, bare-wristed.

“Where is your bracelet?” I asked, holding up his arm.

“Sister,” he said, with just about the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

–> Learn more about my volunteer trip to help refugees in Greece, and how you can help, too:…


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