In March of 2018, Justen Ahren left the Vineyard for another small Island, over 4,000 miles away. He spent two weeks on the isle of Lesbos, Greece volunteering with the refugee aid organization, A Drop In The Ocean. This experience became the culmination of an art project he started somewhat inadvertently years earlier, the results of which debut on August 12 at Tisbury Water Works in Vineyard Haven.

The multimedia show is called After The War For The Valley and follows the stories of three refugees with a focus on migration and displacement.

Mr. Ahren, the poet laureate of Martha’s Vineyard, explained that he first began collecting material for the project two years ago while he was in Orvieto, Italy teaching a writing workshop.

One-night presentation is at 7:30 p.m. at the Tisbury Waterworks. — Justen Ahren

“I had a camera and I started taking photographs of a shoe beside the railroad tracks, blankets, trash that was left in the reeds, and things besides the rivers. Then I realized I was, without really knowing, taking photographs of the things refugees had left behind.”

He took many of these photographs along the A1, or Autostrada, a highway that stretches 472 miles through Italy. He said many Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees follow this route as they head north to countries like Germany and England. The more pictures he took, the more questions he had.

“I started then to get interested in, okay, what is the story here? Who are these people? And what are the stories of the people that they are meeting?”

In 2017 Mr. Ahren returned to Italy, camera in hand. He continued photographing the routes and landscapes before deciding to find his way to the beginning of the route, where a majority of refugees started their journey through Europe.

“For the most part the majority of people are coming through the Greek Islands from Turkey,” Mr. Ahren said. “In 2015 and 2016 about a half a million people entered through Greece.”

Mr. Ahren chose Lesbos because it is home to Moria Refugee Camp, the Island’s largest camp. While the camp has a maximum capacity of 1,000 people, Mr. Ahren said that more than 6,000 men, women and children were living on the grounds at the time he was there—some in small military style tents, others in plastic shipping containers. Another 1,000 people created makeshift tents outside the camp’s borders. Most live in these conditions for a minimum of six months as they seek asylum.

With a group of eight other volunteers, dubbed “drops”, Mr. Ahren would patrol a stretch of beach from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. to receive boats of refugees coming from Turkey. He said there were three dinghies that arrived during his two-week stay, each approximately 23 feet long, carrying anywhere from 40 to 60 people.

“We would give them blankets, water . . . if there was someone who was hypothermic we had emergency blankets. We were also trained in CPR and shore rescues,” Mr. Ahren said.

The scene at Lesbos, Greece, home to the Moria Refugee Camp. — Justen Ahren

When he wasn’t patrolling the beach, Mr. Ahren spent his time working at a community center operated by A Drop In The Ocean, just a few miles away from the camp. It was at the center that he met each of the refugees whose journeys of migration are featured in Sunday’s project.

One of those stories belongs to Hussan, a 15-year-old Afghani boy.

“His story struck me because he said, ‘I walked 11 days to get a bus,’” Mr. Ahren esaid. Unaccompanied, Hussan walked from his native country to a bus in Iran that brought him to the Turkish boarder. From there, he paid a smuggler to take him from Turkey to Istanbul to board a boat that would inevitably bring him to Greece.

“You have these young, unaccompanied, mostly boys, who are being sent with all of the hope and expectation of their family that they’re going to make it, and make money, and hopefully bring the rest of their family,” Mr. Ahren said. “So for that reason, I told his story.”

Mr. Ahren said he hopes audiences will be able to feel, as he did, the weight of the refugees life experiences. Through his art, he aims to make a difference.

“I was so used to seeing the news feeds and reading about what was happening. It was tragic but I didn’t feel it,” Mr. Ahren said. “I wanted to create something that could feel.”

After The War For The Valley will take place on Sunday, August 12 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Tisbury Water Works, 400 West Spring street, Vineyard Haven. Admission is free. Donations requested to benefit A Drop In The Ocean. For more information visit