Last June I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Athens. I had written a vision, which I continually looked at on the computer screen, wondering how on earth I could make it happen. My heart was fully in it, and it was all I could think about. I had faith and an inner intuition that the path would somehow align itself.
The vision, which many of you may remember, was to create a safe space for women in a refugee camp in order to offer an opportunity for the women to form healing connections and restorative friendships in a welcoming atmosphere of security and dignity. I had the intention to work together with women in the camp in order to empower them, to develop community, to restore trust, and to show them the world had not forgotten them.
This is when I met Hayley, the woman I have been wanting to write about for months, but haven’t been able to find the words to do her justice. Hayley is the founding director of the grassroots organization, Lifting Hands International, which I now represent as the International Coordinator. Hayley is one of the most selfless, pure hearted, dedicated humanitarians I have been blessed to work alongside. Hayley felt a strong passion for the vision I was dreaming of, and told me LHI wanted to support me to make it possible.
We still did not know exactly how we could make this happen, but we continued to trust the path. We submitted a proposal to the Greek Ministry, and were (not so patiently), waiting for a reply. Things continued to fall into place when the Yazidi residents in Nea Kavala were unfortunately left with no other option than to evacuate their camp due to continuous harassment, threats, and violence from the other camp residents. My humanitarian sister, Larissa, and I went out to the field where the Yazidis were sleeping. We spent the next two days providing as much food, sun hats, and support as time would allow.
The evening of August 4th, we followed the Yazidis when the authorities loaded them into buses to ensure they were going to a comfortable location. After my experience with the authorities, the empty lies, the protests, and the stranded buses last February, I had to ensure they were going to be taken care of. When we arrived at the camp around midnight, we were asked to provide water, and to bring lunch for the following day.
And the story continued to unfold, the opportunity we had been waiting for was presenting itself. I was overcome with excitement to serve this special group of Yazidi women. I have felt such a strong love and compassion for the Yazidi women after learning of the close connection Kayla had with them while held in Syria. The needs in the camp were endless, and we quickly realized we had the potential to support the community with more than just women’s services. We have been able to consistently offer:
- DISTRIBUTION: to provide essential aid in order to meet the needs of camp residents. This includes: hygienic needs, clothing, tea pots, etc.
- DIETARY SUPPLEMENTATION: delivery of fresh produce and food packs each week in order to meet the nutritional needs.
- WOMEN’S SPACE: privacy, yoga, fitness, music lessons, dancing events, beauty days, movies, sewing equipment, crochet materials, English, Spanish and German lessons, etc.
- CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES: we provide daily activities for children in order to encourage recreation and educational opportunities. This includes movies, music lessons, yoga, fitness, music and dancing, games, sports, etc.
- MEN’S ACTIVITIES: yoga, fitness, men’s game nights, music lessons, English lessons, German lessons, etc.
- TRANSLATION: for camp management and medical teams.
- TRANSPORTATION: we have provided transportation to and from the local hospital for camp residents to fill this evident gap.
- LIBRARY: we offer hundreds of books for the residents to choose from in Arabic and English. We have laptops ready to be used for the learning center as soon as space allows.
The services we offer with the Yazidis continue to blossom. Now that our program is established, we have also been able to expand our efforts in order to support those suffering in less stable camp environments. Being the International Coordinator for Lifting Hands International has presented me with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Over the past months our team has also had the opportunity to:
- Coordinate an aid convoy from the mainland to Lesvos with emergency winter aid. Watch a video clip on this project by clicking here.
- Distribute and fill gaps on Lesvos during the harsh winter months. Watch a video on this project by clicking here.
- Purchase 1,100 pairs of shoes, hundreds of pairs of underwear, hundreds of thermals, and thousands of pairs of socks for the islands.
- Provide food for hundreds of people living in unofficial sites in Athens.
- Fund a refugee ran and operate community kitchen in Chios.
- Provided medical treatment for scabies.
- Offered trauma sensitive training for the volunteer community in Northern Greece.
- Visited Syrian families living in fields near the border in Jordan. Click here to see the living conditions of the families we met.
- Coordinated and campaigned for goat distribution for Syrian refugees living in Jordan. View this current campaign now!
- Co-teach trauma sensitive yoga at the Collateral Repair Project in Amman, Jordan.
- Facilitated a trauma sensitive training for yoga teachers and other volunteers in Northern Greece, hosted by the Yoga Mandala Project.
I do not have words to express the gratitude I feel for Hayley, and for Lifting Hands International. Due to the collaboration with LHI, my efforts have been able to serve more people in need. I continue to grow as a humanitarian volunteer, and the opportunities continue to unfold before my eyes. It has not always been easy, but the support and stability of Hayley and the organization makes this all possible.
Join our current efforts to provide sustainable support the Syrian refugees living in Jordan: