My Sister, Umm Bisaam

By Patrick Petro, LHI Development Director

It was during a phone call in late August with LHI founder/director, Hayley Smith, and chief operations officer, Walker Frahm, that we decided it would be beneficial to our upcoming Gather for Goats campaign (a fundraiser to provide 1,000 goats to Syrian refugee families living in Jordan) to capture some video of families who had recently received goats through the program. We wanted to give them an opportunity to tell their stories, so we could share them with our supporters and illustrate the life-changing impact the gift of a goat truly makes. Hayley often films while she is on the ground visiting with refugees at our various humanitarian aid programs around the world, but this time she wanted to be free to talk with the families without also being responsible for shooting video. So she asked if I wanted to come film.

My professional background is quite varied, and includes, in addition to fundraising experience, time spent working as a photographer and videographer. So I was thrilled at the opportunity to utilize these skills for LHI by filming Hayley in Jordan. Plus, having never been to Jordan before, I was totally up for a new adventure! Less than a week after our phone call, I was on a red-eye to Jordan.

It was a whirlwind of a trip. 2 days of traveling, 2 days in Jordan, and 2 days coming back home. With a 7-hour time difference from my home in Indiana combined with overnight flights and a fast-paced schedule, saying I was jet-lagged upon return would be a gross understatement. But the experience was unforgettable—and inspiring! Watching Hayley talk with Syrian families in their native Arabic language was heartwarming, to say the least. It was apparent that the families felt so comfortable opening up to her. Hayley’s genuine love for them was also apparent. It was like watching old friends meet up, friends that have known one another for years. No, it was more like watching family reunite after a long separation. Seeing Hayley and Umm Bisaam, who you will meet in this video, was like seeing sisters together again. But this family had only met Hayley once before, a few weeks ago, when their goats were distributed to them.

I could go on and on about the warmth Hayley and the families shared. Or about the harrowing stories they told us about leaving everything in their world behind—their community, their homes, their children’s school, their herds of thousands of goats—to flee the destruction brought on by jets and bombs near their former homes in Syria. But I think it’s better to just let this short film I made speak for itself. Enjoy.

You can help provide goats to Syrian refugee families like Umm Bisaam’s by donating to our Gather for Goats program. Click here to donate now.

Double Your Donation!

You know a charitable foundation is serious about humanitarian work when they offer a match grant AND also ask to remain anonymous. So you can only imagine how honored we were to be the recipient of such generosity when an LHI supporter and her foundation pledged a huge match grant to our Gather for Goats program.

What is a match grant, exactly? That means every dollar donated is MATCHED by another donor (in this case, a foundation). The match grant turns your $10 donation into $20. Your $150 donation becomes $300, which buys a whole goat! It’s the best 2-for-1 special you’ll ever come across, except maybe McDonald’s Egg McMuffins.


The match grant didn’t just come out of nowhere, however! Here’s the story, which I admittedly love sharing because it shows how crazy beneficial the goat program is!

A regular supporter of ours works for a charitable foundation that funds humanitarian projects around the world. While taking a holiday in Jordan earlier this year, she checked out our goat project — visiting recipient families, meeting their goats, drinking their milk and talking with them about how the goats benefit them.

After taking in all the facts and all the stories, her foundation offered us a match grant of $120,000. So, every dollar we raise up to $120,000 through our own efforts gets matched by them dollar for dollar. So $120,000 become $240,000! I think the amount offered proves how needed the program is right now for Syrian refugee families living in the desert of Jordan.

The only downside of this whole arrangement is not being able to thank [ANONYMOUS FOUNDATION] by name. Thank you to them, and thank you to all of you supporters out there!

Click here to support our Gather for Goats program before October 31, 2019, and your donation will be DOUBLED!

Hayley's Travelogue: Jordan, September 2019

By: Hayley Smith

Amman is a modern city that boasts thousands of years of history and hospitality. You can wander for hours through the winding urban streets, the ancient Roman amphitheater to your left and a modern hipster coffeehouse to your right, mosques—ranging from picturesque to utilitarian—on every corner. It is a sprawling concrete fortress oozing with charm and always-heavy traffic.

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No matter how many times I’ve driven from Amman up north to Mafraq, I’m always taken aback at how quickly the city fades and the scenery transforms into stark, empty, vast desert. The only living creatures you see for several miles are flocks of sheep, goats and camels, grazing on small plants that they instinctively know how to find.

An hour and a half later, and miles after driving past Zaatari Refugee Camp, its perimeter crowded with guards, children, and UNHCR Jeeps, we arrive at one of hundreds of small rural refugee settlements. (Only 16% of refugees in Jordan live in the 3 main camps). We help those who live along the Jordan/Syria border, working in Jordanian farms, each orchard or crop a green oasis in the desert.


We know this particular camp well—we were only here 3 weeks ago distributing goats to families who became our fast friends. We came to follow up on the goats and how they’re benefiting families. Before getting down to business, they usher us into a shade structure, and 2 minutes later bring a tray of steaming cups of amber-colored tea and juice, the trademark of Arab hospitality.

Most people in this camp are members of a large extended family from Idlib, Syria, a city hit hard at the beginning of the war. The beginning of the war was in 2011. They’ve been in this camp, working the farmland for pennies, season after season, since 2012. They consider it half-Syrian soil, since the rainwater that nourishes the orchards flows in small creeks from Syria, whose border is only 100 yards away.

They are so friendly, so welcoming, so positive, so happy to host a few road-weary and jet-lagged foreigners. They immediately thank us for the goats, pointing to the little flock eating green foliage in a neat pen nearby. The camp is strangely beautiful. One woman in particular, Umm Bisaam, took it upon herself to plant no less than a dozen herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Each tent is lined with bushes, bright flowers jutting out, as if demanding to be seen.


She takes my hand and shows me each plant, lovingly stroking the leaves of the more fragrant basil, rosemary, mint. As we walk along, she plucks flowers, presenting me with a complete bouquet at the end. I kiss each of the cheeks on her beautiful face. Her love is sudden, sincere, sisterly. Our next stop is the goat pen, where she pops in and expertly milks the black goat, skittish at first, then calm, as if relieved to empty some milk out of its bulging udder. Umm Bisaam and her husband were goat keepers in Syria. They had hundreds of goats.

10 minutes later, Umm Bisaam’s young son brings us a tray of warm goat’s milk in small glass cups. It is sweet and delicious. I ask for a second cup. There is no reason to be shy here. She beams, saying that her children now have milk before they go to the local makeshift school. And she can now make traditional labna (yogurt) and cheese, a staple in the Syrian Bedouin diet. It’s her turn to kiss my cheeks.


I’m not attempting to humanize refugees here, which is often a knee-jerk reaction we humanitarian orgs tend to impose on our supporters. There’s no need to do that when there are Umm Bisaams in the world. They’re kind. They’re resilient. They’re humble. And they have specifically asked for your help.

Goats increase their quality of living exponentially. There are hundreds of families in the area, many of whom have been waiting for two years since this program began. We can only give them goats if this fundraiser succeeds.

Please help us raise enough money to buy 1,000 more goats for families just like Umm Bisaam’s wonderful family. We have received a generous matching grant, and all donations made before October 31 will be doubled! Click here to donate now!


American Soldiers Meant Freedom to Me

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

This is another installment from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story. Back by popular demand, it’s Marta! The more we get to know her, the more amazing her life story becomes...

Marta served for years overseas, including time in Iraq, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an American soldier.

Marta served for years overseas, including time in Iraq, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an American soldier.

Since I was a little girl in Honduras, I’ve always admired the U.S. military. Where I was born, there was a U.S. military base. We got hit a lot with hurricanes and natural disasters, and American soldiers were the first ones to respond with humanitarian aid. They were heroes to me. I would just stare at them and think, “Wow, what does it feel like to be part of the greatest army in the world?”

Then I got pregnant at the age of 13. And pregnant again at 17. And I was like, “This is not what I want.” I was always looking at the U.S.; for me it meant freedom. And I was like, “I’m leaving.” So, I grabbed my three-year-old daughter and with my six-month-pregnant belly we started for the U.S. My goal was Arizona. I had an older sister there who was a U.S. citizen. It took us about 10 days to get from Honduras to the American border by bus, lots of little buses.

When we came to the border in Nogales, there was a tunnel. They told me to just go in this tunnel, walk a little way, and there’s the U.S. It wasn’t a secret. There were some metal bars. That’s how people got in — they cut the metal bars. They told me I would see holes in the wall and on the third hole, that was the U.S. So, with my daughter, we went through the tunnel. It was really, really dark. I remember it was wet and filthy. Now that I think back, I believe it was like a drain.

When we got to the place where the U.S. was, my daughter climbed up and the man who was helping me pushed me from behind through the hole while I held onto my daughter above and because of my pregnant belly, I was stuck. [Laughing] I was like half in the U.S. and half in Mexico, but I finally made it through. I looked up and there was a MacDonald’s. And that’s when I was caught by border patrol. It was like, “Hello, I’m here!”

When they processed me in Tuscon, they asked me why I wanted to come here, and I said, “I came because I want to join the United States Army.” They thought it was a joke then, when they realized it wasn’t, they told me I’d have to get a green card first, which would take 15–20 years. And they were not kidding. It took many years. I arrived in 1992 and got my green card in July 2008. A month later, I was in basic training in the United States Army. I served for almost 10 years, part of that time in Iraq.

It all went back to my childhood experience. I wanted to be like the American soldiers I saw who arrived and saved the day and represented freedom. To me, Americans were so nice, so giving and compassionate; that’s the idea that I had. And that’s why today I help give humanitarian aid to other Central Americans who are trying to achieve what I have.

We Love What We Do

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

We’re back with a new story from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story, once again featuring Israel and Marta!

Israel pours lemonade for Megan Carson, from Their Story Is Our Story, when she interviewed him at his Arizona home.

Israel pours lemonade for Megan Carson, from Their Story Is Our Story, when she interviewed him at his Arizona home.

Israel, from Mexico, and Marta, his wife from Honduras, are productive members of their community and committed volunteers in helping those who are following in their footsteps.

Israel: I walked 100 miles alone through the Sonoran Desert to get to the U.S. when I was 18 years old. It took me over a week. I didn’t see anyone during that time. After three days, my water ran out. I came across water tanks for animals but the water was green so I used my shirt as a filter. Also, sometimes at the bottom of the hills, the sand is dry but if you start digging and wait a minute, water will come out. I came to join my four brothers who have a cabinet making business in Phoenix. I began working with them. Our family is from Morelos, Mexico.

Israel and Marta began helping Central American asylum seekers last fall when families began coming in greater numbers to the United States. Since then, they’ve hosted over 500 people in their home. Once, they harbored a group of over 50 at one time. Marta explained how they managed to transport and offer amenities to so many at once.

Marta: That day, we went to the bus station around 3 p.m. and got the ladies with their kids. Late that night, Israel said, “Let’s go check on the men and see if another organization picked them up.” So we went around 11 p.m. and they were still there. A few of the men came over and started saying, “Please, help me. Give me just a little corner in your house.” And Israel said, “Okay, I’m going to take you.” But then they all were coming. And I said, “What do we do?” And he said, “I don’t know, but I cannot leave anyone.” And then I said, “Okay.” And he said, “We’re going to take everyone.” And he put 25 people in his truck — 25 people in his truck! I was inside and we had like 10 kids inside the cab and we put about 15 dads in the back.

Marta: The police were following us and I’m like, “We’re done. We’re done. They’re calling the helicopters. You know we look like human traffickers.” [Laughing] “We are done!” And one of the dads, he said, “No we just have to pray.” And I said, “Do you know how to pray?” He said something like, “Yes, we just call for the blood of Jesus to cover us and to blind the police officers’ eyes.” I said, “Okay, do that.” [Laughing] So he did it. And I think we were followed for about 2 or 3 miles but nothing happened. When we got home, the ladies started hugging and saying, “Oh my God! We’ve been praying for you guys. That somebody would help you.”

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Israel: To get everyone cleaned up, we have this enclosed trailer out back that we use to transport the cabinets. We got a big plastic container and we put water in it. We set up a fire and then we got a pot like where we cook tamales. I had the men use the pot to heat the water for the ladies. And then we put the container in the trailer and had them go in one by one. That’s how they took showers with warm water—it was winter time.

Marta: Gather them up and bring them. We are capable. And when I say “we,” I’m saying the community. A lot of non-profit organizations. You know we are ready. We are ready to provide them with a shower and clothing, food, you know, whatever they need. We are ready. We are not tired and we will continue doing it. We love what we do.

Bubble Therapy

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Twila Bird, TSOS

Here’s another story from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story. After escaping gang violence in their home countries, enduring long and difficult journeys up through Mexico, and being released from dreadfully overcrowded detention centers, something as simple as bubbles can bring back joy for children seeking asylum with their families.

Without complaint, asylum seekers sat quietly in rows of chairs in the church sanctuary waiting for instructions and assistance, and patiently enduring—sometimes enjoying—the bubble-blowing exuberance of the children.

Without complaint, asylum seekers sat quietly in rows of chairs in the church sanctuary waiting for instructions and assistance, and patiently enduring—sometimes enjoying—the bubble-blowing exuberance of the children.

Bubbles—floating, soaring, then bursting and splatting all those beneath with dribblets of syrupy liquid—provided a needed diversion for Central American children spending their first hours of relative freedom in America. 

The children and their families are seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing gang violence and poverty in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They stepped off a U.S. Department of Homeland Security bus only hours earlier when armed ICE agents dropped them off in the parking lot of an Arizona church not far from the border. The asylum seekers had been held for days in a U.S. border detention center where conditions were abysmally grim.

At the border, families were separated; men and teenage boys were grouped apart from women and children. Some had been held in conditions so crowded there was no room to sit or lie down. Their close proximity to each other provided needed body warmth in icy cold, windowless rooms. Water was limited to one bottle per day. Daily food rations were often a single, uncooked frozen burrito. The only bathroom facility was one toilet in full view. 

Whether families crossed the border illegally or lawfully presented themselves at a port of entry, ICE is required by law to accept asylum seekers. The government must then determine whether they have a credible fear about returning home. Homeland Security simply can't hold all those who are awaiting hearings and appeals, which can take months. So last fall, ICE began to release asylum-seeking families by the busload in cities within a few hours of the border. 

When the passengers pictured here exited their bus at the receiving church, they had little or no money, didn’t know anyone in Arizona, and had nowhere to stay the night. All each person owned fit into a backpack. They were heartened by church and community volunteers who welcomed them with food, mobile shower facilities (on specially designed trucks), clean clothes, and assistance with travel arrangements to their next destinations. The newly arrived families were hesitant, humble, and grateful. They expressed their relief for the unexpected help after long, arduous journeys up through Mexico and dreadful detention center incarceration. 

Within hours (or sometimes a few days) the next portion of their journeys began—travel by bus or plane to sponsors scattered around the country. 

Despite news of America’s increasingly unwelcoming government policies, the families moved forward with the hope that what lies ahead can’t be worse than what they left behind.

My Home is Your Home

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

The next story from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story highlights the kindness and generosity of a family who decided to open their home to hundreds of Central American asylum seekers.

The welcome sign on the front pillar of Israel and Marta’s home isn’t just for show. They exemplify the saying “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” (My Home is Your Home). During the last nine months they have welcomed over 500 asylum seekers into their home.

The welcome sign on the front pillar of Israel and Marta’s home isn’t just for show. They exemplify the saying “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” (My Home is Your Home). During the last nine months they have welcomed over 500 asylum seekers into their home.

When Marta was asked how she decided to get involved with helping asylum seekers, she replied:

Well, last December, it was all over the news. We have moms from Central America needing clothing — needing this, needing that. And my daughter said, “Mom, let’s go!” So we went to this address. We went to a church where asylum seekers were being dropped off by the busloads and it was chaos. My daughter, who brought some donations, unloaded them and said, “I’m leaving.” And I said, “Take my car, because I’m not leaving. I’m going to help here.” I think we arrived at like 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and at 10 p.m., I was still there.

Now I’m working regularly at a church here. We receive people there every Thursday. We also pick up people at the bus station [where ICE sometimes drop them off]. When the buses arrive, we all line up on each side of the walkway. And then we clap and say, “Bienvenidos! Bienvenidos!” That’s when freedom really begins to set in for them.

We put them in the sanctuary at the church. We explain what the process is at that point. We feed them. We get one of them to pray. And then we start making calls — making connections with their U.S. sponsors. And then we get clothes for them and put them through the showers. Once they’ve been clothed, fed, and showered, then we just wait for the confirmations and when arrangements are firm, we take them to either the bus or the airport for them to continue their journey. Some of them leave the same day.

Sometimes the church says we can only be there for 24 or 48 hours, so we look for host families. Once we received a hundred people who came late and needed host families right away. We ended up with four families at our house, each from a different country — a Guatemalan family, a Honduran family, a Salvadoran family, and a Nicaraguan family.

Israel [Marta’s husband] brought them home — I was still at the church helping out — and he told them, “We’re not going to be here. You’re more than welcome to do whatever you want. Our house is your house.” And then he left. When we came back, one of the ladies said, “Look! I made soup!” And I said, “What kind of soup?” She said, “Chicken soup!” I said, “Did Israel go and buy chicken?” She said, “No, one of the chickens from over there [pointing to a section of our yard].” So that was one of our pet chickens in the soup. I didn’t want to disappoint the lady. I mean, oh my gosh she ate my pet, but I didn’t want to make her feel bad so I ate the chicken. But now when the families come, I say, “You can eat whatever you want, just don’t mess with the chickens!”

We’ve been doing this for the last nine months and during that time we’ve had over 500 in our home.

Seeking Asylum is a Legal Right

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

This information comes from our continued partnership with Their Story is Our Story, and explains how Central Americans coming to the US have the legal right to seek asylum here.

Asylum seekers freshly released from border detention centers wait for travel arrangements to be made for continued journeys to scattered U.S. destinations.

Asylum seekers freshly released from border detention centers wait for travel arrangements to be made for continued journeys to scattered U.S. destinations.

These families, escaping gang violence and persecution in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, have undertaken a dangerous journey to seek safety in the United States. They are shown here in a church in Arizona where a Homeland Security bus dropped them off after being processed in border detention centers. The families are on their way to destinations scattered around the country where sponsors are waiting to receive them. Each individual will have future opportunity to make their cases for asylum before an administrative judge.

Seeking asylum is a legal right. Asylum is a form of protection granted to individuals who can demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980. (For more information, see the International Rescue Committee’s website:


Contributor: Megan Carson
Photographer: Kristi Burton

The third story from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story comes from Elizabeth, whose home in Central America was shot at by local gangs because her daughter would not join them.

“I had to go and confront them... and I was able to get my daughter back, but they killed the two other girls. To think of the danger it was to leave my country, to come here, is less than to know that my daughter could have died that day.”


My name is Elizabeth. I am a single mother. I have four children. I worked. In my country, jobs at my age—I am 36 years old—are difficult. I didn’t have the opportunity to study. In my country, childhood is short. We have to start working at an early age. In my case, I worked from the time I was twelve. None of my children have worked at the same age that I did. I have been the head of the household, the breadwinner.

But, work is scarce and then there are the gangs.


When my daughter was growing up, they started to harass her. On one occasion, they followed her and took her out of school and told her that they wanted her to be part of their gang. I was working and the teacher called me to tell me that she was pulled out with two other female classmates. I had to go and confront them... and I was able to get my daughter back, but they killed the two other girls. To think of the danger it was to leave my country, to come here, is less than to know that my daughter could have died that day.

The circumstances of things is what made us have to leave the country without looking back, not because we want to. I told you that I confronted them. That same night, they came to attack me. They shot at my house. I had to leave as if I were the criminal, not them. I left with my children. I went to a town with my family, leaning on other people. I spoke with my family and told them, “I can’t. I can’t. I have to take my daughter out of here.”

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Editorial Note: Violent, competing gangs recruit youth in Central American countries and often, if they choose not to join, they kill them. The homicide rate there is among the highest in the world. Most murders are never punished. In recent years, only 4% have ended in a conviction. In the past, Central American youth traveled north in search of the American Dream; today they leave to escape violence and crime.

Eduardo: Hope is Strong

The second story form our partnership with Their Story is Our Story follows Eduardo as he escapes with his family from gang violence and death threats in Honduras.

“…I heard them looking and shouting, ‘He’s here, find him, find him!’ and using bad words, and they had pistols and machetes to kill me...”

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Eduardo: I am from Honduras. It was a quiet day at my house. We lived peacefully. I had a business. I worked at my family’s fruit stand. I would say it was going well. Gang members told me they wanted me to sell drugs in the middle of my fruit. I said, “No.” Then they said they would kill me, my family, and my children if I didn’t do it. Again I said, “No.” Then one night 7 or 8 of them followed me with machetes and pistols. They followed me to kill me but thanks be to God they didn’t get me. I ran and ran and hid in a sewer. I got down into a sewer. Out of fear I got in. I heard them looking and shouting, “He’s here, find him, find him!” and using bad words, and they had pistols and machetes to kill me. They went to the house to find my wife and two children but they didn’t find them because they were with my mother.

Later they came and found me and did damage. [Eduardo pulled up his shirt sleeves and pant legs to show multiple machete-wound scars.] They were going to kill me. They also had pistols. But thanks to God they didn’t kill me.   

Delinquency is very strong there. The gangs want to recruit you and sometimes when someone doesn’t want to, they kill them. I’m telling you, my group of [childhood] friends — [he used the term “camada,” which literally translates as litter] — there were 27 of us and now only three are left. All the others were killed, or are in jail, on drugs, or in gangs. From what I’ve seen we are only three with a life. The rest died from drugs and gangs and all that. And for that reason, I left my country.

So, then we came to Mexico. But it is the same in Mexico. I would say it is a plague. All of Central America has gangs, people who want to control others. In Mexico, I was a barber. I was working. And from Honduras they [gang members]came to Mexico and in Mexico they did all this [he pointed to his mouth with teeth missing]. They grabbed me. They hit me. I didn’t have peace or safety. I had planned to stay in Mexico but if they were going to get me there, there was nothing left but for me to come here.

I have a skill. I can cut hair. But I can’t work if I don’t have a license. Here you have to have a permit to work and to get it you have to struggle and risk oneself because sometimes the government believes you or doesn’t believe you. It is true there is a lot of delinquency in Honduras. I don’t dispute that. But just as there are bad people, there are also us humble people who like to work. We like to get ahead. I don’t want my children to suffer what I suffered. I want to get ahead, start a barbershop, start my business, and show the government they won’t be supporting me. If we can get the papers arranged, we will show the government what we can do. I had to work day and night I would work day and night so that my family is cared for. If my family is ok, then I’m ok.   

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Because I’m not yet 21, I have a lot of future ahead and she — (pointing to Arianna, his wife)— is only 19. Despite the fact that we are very young parents, I would say this has given us a lot of maturity. We want our children to have a better future, to study, to learn, that they become great people. I have many dreams. She is one of my dreams (pointing to his daughter). She is eager. She says she wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. Wow! That is a lot of inspiration for me, to work, day by day. It gives me drive.  

Interviewer: Hope is strong.

Eduardo:  It’s the last thing you lose.

Soon after Eduardo arrived in America, he got a job at a barber shop but three days later, by tracking him with his ankle bracelet, ICE agents showed up and told the owner she would be prosecuted if she allowed him to continue working. Now he’s jobless and has no way to support his family.

Partner Spotlight: Their Story is Our Story

We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Their Story is Our Story, an organization that is giving a voice to asylum seekers and refugees by collecting and sharing their stories and images, revealing the individuals behind the labels. 

TSOS helps refugees tell their stories in a way that is intimate and emotionally authentic. The first story from our partnership tells about the arrival of a young mother and her son at one of the border shelters where asylum seekers are dropped off after being released from detention centers.

A Single Backpack

Contributor: Kelsey Royer, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

A single backpack contains all the belongings this Guatemalan mother possesses after her arrival at an Arizona church the day of her release from a border detention center. She and her son were among fifty asylum seekers from Central American countries processed by ICE, fitted with ankle monitors, and released to await their asylum claims in court.

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The manner of their release was abrupt. After exiting the detention center, which some called the “icebox” because it was kept so cold, they were placed on a Homeland Security bus, driven for several hours to the church, and dropped off. They did not have money or phones and had not showered in weeks.

Unlike this young mother with her backpack, others arrived with their meager belongings inside plastic “homeland security” bags. When asked, many were unaware of where they were or how far it was to where they were going. They each had sponsors (usually extended family members) located in various cities around the country but they had not had the opportunity or means to communicate with them or form travel plans.

Remarkably, this woman and her companions were welcomed by church and community volunteers who greeted them with warm smiles as well as access to mobile shower facilities, food, and clothing. They also connected them with their sponsors by phone and made travel arrangements. Most of the asylum seekers were on their way to their ultimate destinations within 48 hours.

This Homeland Security bus drop-off scenario is repeated multiple times every week in locations near the U.S. southern border. Though their detention center experience is often horrific and inhumane for asylum seekers, countless church congregations, NGOs, and community volunteers rise to administer to their needs and assist in their continuing journeys. 

Aid supplies donated to LHI are shipped to partner shelters like the one in the story above, where generous nonprofit organizations and churches provide additional services including warm meals, showers, and a place to stay for a short time.

Will you help by donating aid supplies for delivery to these shelters?


Untitled, by Naif

Don’t let me feel sad
because I have already
broken my heart
on that country.

I was living.
We were feeling very happy.
But something happened,
changed everything there

and in a very short time
demolished everything
until our beautiful dreams
were gone.

I hope we become as we were.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Anna, Serres Program

Anna P. is a jack of all trades at the LHI Refugee Center in Greece. Her German students are so lucky to learn from a skilled native German speaker in the morning, and the women enjoy her bright personality in the Female-Friendly Space in the afternoon. She’s also very involved in the women’s social enterprise Duzzi, training women in making wall hangings and overseeing sales on the website At the end of the day, you’ll always find Anna making friends with everyone she meets, speaking Greece, or reading pretty hefty intellectual books!

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1. Tell us a little about yourself:
Hello I'm Anna, 23, from Germany. Before I came to Greece I finished my BA in anthropology in Leipzig.

2. What is your position at LHI?
I am involved with multiple programs in LHI. I teach German in the morning, I also work in the Female-Friendly Space in the afternoon. On top of that, I am one of the people on the ground for the Duzzi (wall hangings) social enterprise.

3. How and why did you get involved with LHI?
I really liked the opportunity to work so close with women. At that I appreciate LHI as an grassroots organization as it is still growing, and it values the work on an eye-to-eye level with the residents.

4. What is a typical day of working at LHI's Refugee Center like for you?
Every day is different here, but my typical day starts in the morning at 10 with my women’s German class. Afterwards when the weather is nice I usually stay on the field, help a bit with things like tiding the library or weeding the garden. In the afternoon I am helping with the program (arts and crafts, crocheting or games) in the Female-Friendly Space, which usually goes until 6.


5. What has been your most rewarding experience working in Serres?
I think my most rewarding experience are the small simple moments of the everyday life here. Sometimes it is just a simple chat about food with the women, the curiosity of a toddler or the simple exchange of a hello in Kurmanji (“Bashee!”) on the way to the centre with some of the residents. As a teacher it is also amazing to see how eager to learn the students are, and how much progress my students already made since I came here.

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6. What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?
I learned a lot from the work with the Yazidi community. For example I learned that the simple things are sometimes so much more than we think they are and I developed a different sense of gratitude towards life and connecting to other humans now.

Find out more about volunteering at the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece here!

Volunteer Spotlight: Cecilia, Serres Program

Yes, Cecilia brings expertise, dedication, and amazing teamwork to LHI, but the greatest thing she brings to all who work and associate with her is JOY. Her versatile and diplomatic personality make her an ideal member of any team in any program. We are so lucky that — as the current volunteer coordinator — Cecilia’s is the voice that our incoming volunteers hear! Thank you for months of amazing work and for making everyone feel welcome and loved.

Cecilia paints her square on the new tent!

Cecilia paints her square on the new tent!

1. Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Cecilia Sanfelici, I’m 22 and I come from Italy. I graduated from a bachelor’s degree in International Relations, and I am currently on my gap year before starting a master’s in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action. My life and career goal is to work in NGOs or international organizations which provide support to refugees on the ground. I previously volunteered with refugees in a small border town in Italy.


2. What is your role at LHI?
I have been volunteering in the Female Friendly Space since October, but as of the December I am the Volunteer Coordinator for LHI.

3. How and why did you find out about LHI?
After graduating, I felt the need of getting more practically involved in the terrible situation that refugees face after their arrival in Europe, and as soon as I found out about LHI through a friend, I knew that this was the place to be for me.

4. What is a typical day of volunteering at LHI's Refugee Center like for you?
My schedule has been changing quite a lot. Until December, I used to spend my mornings in the warehouse and the afternoons at our community centre, in the Female Friendly Space. Since I became the Volunteer Coordinator, I work from home in the mornings, but I still spend every afternoon at the field, working with the women and the girls.

5. What has been your most rewarding experience working at LHI’s refugee center in Greece?
There are two most rewarding things about this job. Firstly, all the simple and happy moments spent with the residents: realizing that I am making my part in creating a safe space where people can learn, laugh, play, dance, and confide in me, is extremely important to me. Secondly, seeing that the projects of LHI on the ground are growing and evolving gives a lot of hope, and makes me understand that I have done my part in allowing some refugees to get more and more services and support.

6. What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?
Working with LHI in Serres has taught me what I think is the real nature of volunteering: helping people and helping myself at the same time. Helping myself to change and grow into the person that I want to become. Yazidis are an incredibly strong and wonderful population for so many different reasons. I admire their strength, their resilience and their ability to smile and find something positive even when everything in their life is dark. Working in close contact with them for such a long time made me realize that I want this not only for myself, but for everyone.

Female-Friendly Space team!

Female-Friendly Space team!

Greek Classes in Serres!

Something in Greek… ;)

Something in Greek… ;)

Chrysa, a native of Serres, Greece teaches Greek at the LHI Refugee Center. And she does it all as a volunteer! Not only are her classes engaging and effective, lots of children take every second that Chrysa is on site to practice their Greek that they've learned in school.

Refugees spend a lot more time in Greece than they anticipate, as resettlement is a long process. Refugees can't work in Greece, but they do interact quite a bit with locals at market, hospital, grocery store, etc.

Volunteer Spotlight: Hannah, Greece Program

Hannah at shoe distribution!

Hannah at shoe distribution!

1. Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Hannah (25, from Germany). I have a master’s degree in psychology and would like to become a psychotherapist working in the field of humanitarian work. I previously spend three months in Ghana working in an orphanage and teaching children of all age levels basic English and Maths. Two years ago, I worked in a Yezidi only camp in Katzikas, Greece and now I have the opportunity to work with Yezidis again in Serres.

2. What is/was your position at LHI? 
I am currently managing the CFS Program of LHI which means that I am responsible for creating activities for the 3-6 year old children together with my amazing team of volunteers.

Hannah (3rd from right) and the Child-Friendly Space team!

Hannah (3rd from right) and the Child-Friendly Space team!

3. How and why did you get involved with LHI?
LHI was one of many organizations that I found online when I decided to volunteer in Greece. They got back to me quickly and during the whole application process I already felt welcome and well informed. One important reason for me to work with LHI (even if that must sound a bit horrible) is that they actually pay their managers a small salary and cover the housing costs if you stay for a certain amount of time, which I think is a very sustainable approach because it guarantees that people can afford to stay long-term.

4. What is/was a typical day of working at the LHI Refugee Center like for you?
That is so difficult to describe in a few sentences, because no day looks like the other. Every day we provide activities for the children from 3 to 6 o’clock. These activities range from crafting, sportive activities and gardening to reading and writing, construction, role plays and sensory games. In addition to that I spend a lot of time in the mornings in team meetings, check-ins to make sure my volunteers are feeling good, shopping trips for materials and administrative work.

One of Hannah’s activities for children at the Child-Friendly Space in Serres, Greece!

One of Hannah’s activities for children at the Child-Friendly Space in Serres, Greece!

5. What has been your most rewarding experience working in Serres
Seeing an idea that you had in mind for the children working out is always such a rewarding moment for me. And even if we are not supposed to have favorite kids, a small boy that seems to be on the autistic spectrum makes my heart melt every single time I see him laugh and having a good time in our space.

6. What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?There is an endless list of things that I learned here. Apart from practical things during work it is learning that not only am I capable of being surrounded by the same group of people every day, work and live with them and have a very limited amount of privacy but that I really don’t mind it and on the contrary quite enjoy it. Working with Yezidis, who have been through so much, inevitably changes your perspective on your own live and on the priorities that you have. And also, being surrounded by truly inspiring people from all over the world who dedicate their time to helping refugees really broadened my horizon through interesting conversations that I would never have had in a different context and just the way they live their lives.

Find out more about the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece HERE!

A little teapot thank you!

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A few years ago, some residents of Serres camp came to us with a humble request: one teapot per family. Families were using discarded tins to boil water over a fire, and people were getting burned. They told us that they would understand if we couldn’t provide them, since teapots aren’t considered essential aid. So we came to you for help, and within a day, you donated enough funds to buy each family a teapot. 

Two and a half years later, they still use their teapots. They will often bring tea to the LHI Refugee Center from the camp, specifically to LHI volunteers as a token of gratitude and hospitality, something so important in their culture. 

On behalf of the several families of Serres camp, thank you for your continued support. 

Please consider donating to our general fund to continue meeting the essential needs of the residents of Serres camp. Even a donation of $10 will purchase dry food for a family for a week, a pack of diapers, or a few pair of underwear and socks. Every dollar counts!

Happy LHI Anniversary, Iona!

We want to wish Iona a super Happy LHI anniversary! Iona (23, from England) has been the Female-Friendly Space program manager at the LHI's Refugee Center in Serres, Greece for an entire year. She not only runs the program but also built it up from scratch.

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What is the Female-Friendly Space that she runs so well? It is a safe, healing space reserved just for women (ages 13+), where they can relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, spend time with one another, and take part in several healing activities. Iona and her team host daily activities, such as crafts, games, use of sewing machines, films, beauty days, and others.

We're so grateful for Iona's dedication, expertise, sense of humor, thorough understanding of Brexit politics (and anything Harry Potter), and grounding presence for the hundreds of women that have enjoyed the FFS over the last year.

#volunteer #liftinghands #humanitarian

Volunteer Spotlight: Ally, Greece program

Ally in the LHI library in Serres, Greece

Ally in the LHI library in Serres, Greece

1. Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Ally from the UK. I’m 31 and have an MA in Global Development and Education. I've had various volunteer roles before: in the UK, Ghana, El Salvador, and Myanmar.

2. What is your position at LHI?
I am the Education Manager at the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece.

3. How and why did you get involved with LHI?
I actually fell into teaching ten years ago volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK so I've come full circle following twelve years of teaching in different contexts around the world. When I saw the position with LHI, I knew it was something I wanted to do as I strongly believe everyone should have access to quality education, no matter their circumstances. Language in particular is so important when living in another country: not being able to communicate can make you feel lost. 

Ally (second from right) with some other members of the leadership team.

Ally (second from right) with some other members of the leadership team.

4. What is a typical day for you at LHI's Refugee Center?
There is no typical day for me at LHI! Aside from teaching my class and any other classes that might need covering due to teacher shortages/sickness, I make sure everything is running smoothly for the students and teachers at the community centre; that everyone has what they need and knows where they need to go and is generally happy! Most days there is a meeting to attend either with other management or the teaching team where we may share experiences and strategize for goals moving forward. 

Bekah and Ally repping the children’s face painting activity

Bekah and Ally repping the children’s face painting activity

5. What has been your most rewarding experience working at LHI’s refugee center in Greece?
I have many rewarding experiences here! Aside from small every day moments in my classes, I really enjoyed running two teacher training workshops for our resident teachers in September and November to support them with communicative language teaching. 

Our Christmas talent show was also a really memorable moment for me as I got to perform with and for my students and watch others perform songs or dances they'd been working on for weeks. The atmosphere was so nice.

Recently, I also loved bringing my local salsa group to the centre and watching the kids getting involved dancing at one of our Saturday parties. 

6. What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?
I've learned so much since being in Greece: about the complicated asylum process, about the Yazidi community, about leadership, and about my own capabilities in this environment and role. 

Learn more about the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece HERE!