Life story by Sami, Yazidi resident of Serres camp

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Sami is 19 and consistently attends English classes. He wrote this story in English! Sami also regularly volunteers for us at the Child-Friendly Space and teaches them English! He is such a kind young man who has experienced so much hardship for someone so young, yet is so resilient.

My Life by Sami

My name is Sami, I’m from Iraq. I was born in 1998 in a village called Khusory. I have two brothers and five sisters.

I was a student in high school and finished in 2015. I had a shop until 2014 because we lived there.

We had to go to the mountain where we lived for 7 days because we had a war. After 7 days we walked the mountain until Syria. 12 hours we walked until we arrived in Syria. After we went to Kurdistan.

After I arrived in Kurdistan I went to a camp. I was there two years. Then I came here.

I’d like it to always be sunny because I dislike the cold. In my future I’d like to complete my studies and have work and always stay in one country.

I’d like to be a football player but I think it’s impossible. 
I’d like to go to the UK to visit and be free in my life. 

Find out more about our program in Greece here! And if you’re feeling generous, we always need $$ donations to keep the program running and support residents like Sami and his family!

The Weather, by Ahmed

Ahmed is a kind, quiet, unassuming guy. He is an excellent English student and shows up everyday for class. He’s married with children and is looking forward to resettlement, hopefully in Germany.

The Weather by Ahmed

In Serres the weather today is quiet.
I see many crows flying in the sky,
The sun is shining very high,
I will be happy in the countryside.
I see different colors in the sky,
I think the sky is very high,
I feel happy all the time. 

Find out more about our program in Greece here! And if you’re feeling generous, we always need $$ donations to keep the program running and support residents like Ahmed and his family.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Tara, LHI Refugee Center

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1. Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Tara. I’m 27 and from the Netherlands. Before I came to Serres I was studying for a Masters International Public Health, from which I graduated this summer.  During my master I worked in a refugee camp in Greece for the first time for a couple of months. Before that, I always wanted to work on projects that would lead to the empowerment of people and that would enable people to find their own strengths. During my time on Lesvos island (Greece), mI learned that I wanted to work for projects that helped empowering people who had to flee their homes. 

2. What is your position at LHI? 
I’m currently one of the field coordinators for LHI

3. How and why did you get involved with LHI?
The moment I learned about LHI via a website,  I straight away was very motivated to contribute to all activities it offers to the residents of Serres Camp. Especially, since I believe the activities here are extremely important since people are often stuck in camps for years and years without having anything to do. Having activities and a safe place to go to really changes the days and lives of people here.

4. What is a typical day for you at LHI's Refugee Center?
I never know what my day will bring and all my days look different, which I love love love. I spend a lot of time supporting the volunteers here on the ground, which is also my favorite part of the job. I try to make sure that they have all the tools here to run our activities and together we strategize on how we can improve the activities and how we can adapt to the always changing circumstances. I also really enjoy searching for collaboration with other NGOs, since we are stronger when we work together. 

5. What has been your most rewarding experience working at LHI’s refugee center in Greece?
For me the most rewarding moments are really the small ones, like playing football with the kids, seeing the women laugh together over a silly game in the Female-Friendly Space, cooking and dancing together with the residents. Basically, the simple moments of joy, when everyone is having fun. Simple, but so beautiful. 

6. What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?
In my time here I have learned how incredibly strong and resilient people are, which inspires me each day and keeps me going. Also, I have learnt to focus on the positive in this sometimes seemingly hopeless context. I mean how could I not? How inspiring is it it to work together each day with people from all over the world who travelled to Greece and give their time to work together to improve the lives of our fellow human beings. These individuals step up, when their governments refuse to do so. It amazes me each day. 

Learn more about volunteering in Greece by contacting Greecevolunteer@liftinghandsinternational.org!

Volunteer Spotlight: Larry, Utah Program

Larry is one of our amazing Utah warehouse volunteers!  He does all of the hard work around the warehouse — all of the heavy lifting, box moving, ladder climbing, swamp cooler fixing, and any other jobs that no one else can do. And he does it all while cracking jokes and making us laugh! He is our food packing specialist and is always willing to drive out to the recycling center to drop off all of our empty cardboard boxes. We are so grateful to have him on our team and couldn't do it without him!

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Tell us a little about yourself:
I am 70 years old and live in Lindon, Utah. I grew up in and we raised our family in Southern California. I attended BYU (BS degree in Zoology) and Loyola of Chicago (DDS degree in Dentistry). I’m currently retired with a goal to remain active and contribute to community, family and church community. Previous volunteer experience includes various church responsibilities, scouting, coaching, currently a docent volunteer at the Butterfly Biosphere at Thanksgiving Point in Utah. 

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Role at LHI:
I do whatever I’m assigned to do, which includes assorting, packaging, relocating boxes, lifting, etc.

What is a typical day like for you?
In addition to the above, it is feeling the interaction with other volunteers who share a love for the people who will benefit by our labors. The joy of charitable giving.

How did you become involved with LHI?
My sister in law, Debi introduced us to the organization.

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI? Has your perspective changed?
Real charity is not something you give away. It is something that you acquire and it becomes part of yourself. When the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again. I have certainly felt more fulfilled since volunteering at LHI.

Volunteer Spotlight: Ava, Utah Program

Ava is a dedicated Utah drop off location volunteer! Her drop off location is a busy one, and she has an hour drive round trip to get to the warehouse. We often see her once a week! She always pulls up to the warehouse with the music cranked up, her dog in the passenger seat, and a hug and a smile for us.

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Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m 65 years old and originally from West Palm Beach, FL. I have been in the insurance business for 40 years and have worked for the same employer 20 of those years. I have served for many years in various positions in my church.  I love serving others.  My Facebook intro says: To serve others and in some small way repay my Father in Heaven for all He is given me. I feel very blessed and feel it my duty to share my blessings with others.

Role at LHI:
I am a drop-off for people who donate to LHI. I normally drop off the items to the LHI warehouse once a month. As most of you know, though, November and December was a very busy month, so I made numerous trips to the warehouse, about every week. It was an amazing experience.

What is a typical day like for you?
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t varies depending on when people have donations to drop off. I get a number of phone calls and texts, knocks on the door at various times of the day and night.  People are always so kind, friendly, and so very appreciative of the LHI cause. I even get hugs from many of the people!  That REALLY makes my day.

How did you become involved with LHI?
I get email updates from JustServe.  One day, I saw the word Lebanon and read what it was about. My grandparents were from Lebanon. I never knew my grandfather and only knew my grandmother for about 3 years when I was a teenager. I've tried for many years to tie my Lebanese family tree together.  It is a very frustrating endeavor but one I won't give up on. I felt like I needed to make humanitarian kits for the people of Lebanon. Who knows? Maybe some of those people are my blood relatives? When I called Traci to find out where to take the kits, she told me they didn't currently have a drop off place near where I live. I asked her what was involved. Ironically, my hairdresser lives very close to the warehouse so I drive down there often, so it was a given that I should volunteer to be a drop off location.

Most rewarding experience volunteering with LHI:
I cry easily, and I’ve done a lot of crying since serving with LHI. I think one of the most touching moments came when I went to an assistant living facility to pick up donations. This sweet, mature couple came out of their building pulling a cart loaded with donations. The people at the center had gotten together and made many kits to be sent to Lebanon. I just felt such an overwhelming gratitude for good people who, even though they could sit back in their older years and just enjoy life, were still giving of themselves to help people that they will never know.  I had to stop the car and just bawl!

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI? Has your perspective changed? 
Serving with LHI has opened my eyes even more to the goodness of people.  I knew there were good people doing good things.  I've seen it many times. And, I have been one of those people that has been blessed by the goodness of others. On three different times in my life, I've had needed a place to stay. I was a single mom who had left Florida and moved to Utah. Total strangers took me and my son in, helped me to find a job and a place to live. Although my situation does not compare to what the refugees are going through, I was homeless and needed help from others. One of my favorite scriptures is from Matthew 25:35 "For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye game me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

Volunteer Spotlight: Wendy, Utah Program

Wendy is one of our amazing Utah warehouse volunteers. The first thing she always asks when she walks in is, "What can I do?" She is always willing to help out with whatever needs to get done and she has a great attitude. She makes everyone who comes into the warehouse feel welcome.

Wendy (left) and her sister Debi (right)!

Wendy (left) and her sister Debi (right)!

Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m 68 years and from Lindon, UT. I’m formerly from Southern California. I studied Elementary Education at Brigham Young University. Honestly, my life goal was to raise a family that was happy, caring and successful. I have been privileged to have had many opportunities to volunteer and serve in my church, especially with youth. I have also had the opportunity to work several years with the missionaries from our church at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT. Politics and government have always interested me. I recently served as President of Utah County Republican Women and continue as a very active Executive Board Member.

Role at LHI:
I do whatever is needed, such as sorting, counting, packing boxes, etc. 

How did you become involved with LHI?
My sister introduced me to this organization. I felt this was an extremely worthy cause and wanted to contribute.

Most rewarding experience volunteering with LHI:
I have loved witnessing the generosity of all the individuals, organizations, churches and businesses who contribute so freely to this cause.

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI Utah? Has your perspective on anything changed? 
I have learned that it feels so good to be of some help in any way as I work with LHI.  No matter how small my efforts are, it is important I am contributing.  I have also loved the association with the other volunteers as we work together for a common cause.

Find out more about our Utah program HERE!

Volunteer Spotlight: Renae, Utah Program

Renae is one of our our amazing Utah drop location volunteers and has one of the longest drives to the warehouse! She and her family often gather and bring in donations from all of the drop off locations in Southern Utah in their huge trailer. We are so grateful for their incredible efforts that help us to reach out to the Southern half of the state.

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Tell us a little about yourself:
I am a 45 year old wife and mother of 4 children ages 21 to 2 years old.  I have a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Administration and currently run a private law practice full-time.  I have lived all over the United States but currently live in Cedar City, UT.  I have had the opportunity to work as a private practice therapist/counselor, be a counselor for an alternative high school, open and run a center for adults with disabilities, as well a be a full-time caregiver to disabled adults and children living in my home, serve as a hospice social worker, and manage care for women and children’s departments in several NICUs and hospitals.  

Role at LHI:
I currently serve as a drop off location coordinator for Lifting Hands International and help transport donations to the warehouse, as well as sit on boards for several nonprofit organizations.  I have spent my life volunteering for and through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My heart is for the underprivileged. I truly feel blessed and want to help others.  

How did you become involved with LHI?
I heard about Lifting Hands through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and knew I needed to do something more. Shortly after getting involved with Lifting Hands, my 13 year old son chose Refugee Relief as his Eagle Project for the Boy Scouts of America.  

Most rewarding experience volunteering with LHI:
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to serve and to teach my children to serve as well. Each small act of service has a ripple effect that can be felt around the world. 

Find out more about our Utah program here!

Volunteer Spotlight: Juli, Utah Program

Juli is both a Utah drop off location and a warehouse supervisor! She does it all! She has been with LHI Utah since about the beginning. Her warehouse shifts are usually large groups of volunteers that come in to help out. She does a wonderful job making sure that everyone has a great experience. We are so grateful for all of the many ways that she contributes to LHI here in Utah.

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Tell us a little about yourself
I’m an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology at BYU. My life’s goal is to be happy.

Role at LHI:
My home is a drop off point in Provo, Utah, and I help run the Pleasant Grove warehouse on Wednesday evenings.

What is a typical day like for you?
Sorting through and boxing goods with friends.

How did you become involved with LHI?
I read Hayley's story in a magazine and was inspired. I wanted to be a part of this great organization!   

Most rewarding experience volunteering with LHI:
Seeing the pictures of the children who receive the donations

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI? Has your perspective changed?
I feel I am doing something of true worth and purpose. I have learned that we can make a difference in this world, especially through small acts.  Doors open when we are seeking.

2019 is off to a great start!

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WOOHOO!

Our first container of 2019 is making its way to refugee camps in Jordan carrying:
42,469 diapers
3,393 hygiene kits
2,047 newborn kits
1,959 school kits
1,216 food kits
1,068 blankets,
and more!

Huge shoutout to those who assembled kits, made blankets, donated items & funds, volunteered at the warehouse, and helped us load the container! Thanks to HELP International and an Eagle Scout group for helping to load this container! Thank you!

To find out what kits we're currently collecting and how you can help, checkout Lifting Hands International on JustServe: https://www.justserve.org/LiftingHandsInternational_Utah

Thanks to our partners Helping Hand for Relief and Development-MENA for making this possible.

Learn more about our Utah program HERE.

Volunteer Spotlight: Debi, Utah Program

Debi is one of our incredible Utah warehouse supervisors. She always shows up with kind words and a wonderful attitude and dives right in! We often receive a lot of donations that pile up very quickly, and Debi likes to get right to work organizing everything. She’s also recruited several family members and friends to come help us out! 

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Tell us a little about yourself:
I am 66 years old, and while I grew up in Chicago, I have lived my adult life in Utah.  I attended BYU, with a desire to teach, but married at 19 years old, and my career became home and family.  I have 8 children, and my life’s goal has been largely centered on raising them to be good people!  I have always been drawn to Humanitarian work, and have enjoyed humanitarian travel to Guatemala and Ethiopia.   Other travels have taken me to India, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Zimbabwe, all of which have enlarged my world view and conviction that while I have been blessed with such abundance, I must share with others.  I believe strongly that we are all God’s children, and so must treat each other as “family.”

How did you become involved with LHI?
I became involved with LHI when searching for a service project to do with my grandchildren at a cousins camp.  I found LHI on justserve.org, and we put together school kits.  We took them to the drop-off point, which happened to be Traci’s living room, which was already overflowing with donations!  She mentioned that she was hoping to get a warehouse rented to take the pressure off of her home, and I told her to keep me in mind if she needed help.  When the warehouse was rented, I became a sort of shift supervisor, going in every Wednesday.  The work is varied at the warehouse…I would summarize it as bringing chaos into order.  

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What is a typical day like for you?
We sort, count, box, label and stack donations, preparing them for shipping on loading containers.  One of the joys of working at the warehouse is rubbing shoulders with the good people who you work with.  There is a great spirit that attends this kind of work!

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI? Has your perspective changed?
My experience at LHI has shown me (as other Humanitarian efforts have) that while we busy ourselves with daily life, there are some things that really matter.  I think of the words of William Wordsworth: 

The world is too much with us…getting and spending we lay waste our powers.  

I enjoy volunteering at LHI because I feel I am doing something that matters. Other efforts rush through my days, but his type of work is not wasted…it counts.

Learn more about our Utah project here!

Volunteer Spotlight: Molly, International Program Co-Director

Molly distributing solar lights in Kurdistan. Photo by David Lohmueller

Molly distributing solar lights in Kurdistan. Photo by David Lohmueller

Molly with her dear friend, Kayla

Molly with her dear friend, Kayla

Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Molly Nixon. I’m from Nebraska and am 30 years old. I studied social work and Spanish in my undergrad at NAU, but more importantly I am trained in trauma-sensitive yoga. My life goal is to support genocide survivors and refugees with their basic life necessities, but also to support their healing journey through yoga and the arts.

How did you get involved with refugee work?
Before coming to Serres, I started as an independent volunteer providing emergency relief (boats arriving from Turkey, when the border closed, etc.). I also helped to set up a women's space in Istanbul for Syrian women. 

What is your position at LHI?
I am the director of the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece and other international projects and also a yoga and fitness teacher in Serres.

How did you get involved with the LHI Refugee Center?
I was inspired to work with Yazidi refugees and when the camp opened we knew we could help to fill the gaps. We started with more basic needs like food, water, and blankets, but quickly expanded the program to support the overall well-being of the camp residents. It has been amazing to work together with the camp residents to build the programs they value.

Molly hiking in the Himalayas during her latest yoga training

Molly hiking in the Himalayas during her latest yoga training

What does a typical day look like for you?
Sitting behind the computer, meeting with team members, hosting meetings, leading yoga and fitness classes, meeting partner orgs, making sure all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together!

What has been the most meaningful experience for you?
Sharing yoga with the Yazidis has been the most meaningful experience for me. Opening my eyes during classes to see them in states of deep relaxation brings warmth to my heart, inspiration to be a better me, and all the love I could ever need. 

What have you learned over the last few years? How has your perspective changed?
Working with refugees over the past years has taught me so much about the world. People often ask how I have the strength to be in the field for such an extended period of time, but it is being in the field with refugees that actually gives me strength. The camp residents have survived a genocide, many of them have loved ones being held in ISIS captivity. I can relate with that pain after my dear friend was held by ISIS for years and later killed... Seeing them continue to live such lives of compassion, dignity, resilience inspires me in more ways than words can say. The residents lift me up, fill me with light, and inspire me to be a better me. I have learned to see the beauty in the little things, the light in darkness. As volunteers we receive just as much, if not more than we give. There is truly no where else in the world I would rather be. 

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

Volunteer Spotlight: The Car

Getting my daily fill of distribution items. Photo by Shannon Ashton

Getting my daily fill of distribution items. Photo by Shannon Ashton

Just chilling at ENA Cash & Carry after buying flour and sugar.

Just chilling at ENA Cash & Carry after buying flour and sugar.

Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is The Car, or sometimes The Yellow Car. I’m a 12 year-old Nissan from Athens. My life’s goal is to survive another few years without too many mechanical failures!

What is your position at LHI in Serres, Greece? 
I am the main mode of transportation for a team of 20-30 coordinators, volunteers, and occasional visitors. I perform several runs of diapers, pieces of clothing, cucumbers, cans of tomatoes, people, pairs of shoes, and so many more things throughout the week, all of which is made possibly by your generous donations. My position is 100% critical. I would love for a van to join my ranks.

How and why did you get involved with LHI?
My previous owner Lamprini is a Athens-based journalist who drove Hayley, the founder of LHI, and an American journalist around Athens and other refugee camps during a reporting gig back in June of 2016. Once Lamprini decided to retire, she indefinitely lent me to her team. I miss Lamprini. She’s an amazing human, and she had a good taste in music. The millennials on the LHI team don’t own any CDs, so it gets a little boring.

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What is/was a typical day of volunteering at LHI's Refugee Center like for you?
I drive to the warehouse at 9:30 or 10:00, take a load of vegetables, dry food, diapers, or other distributions to the camp. Sometimes I drive an hour to Thessaloniki to pick up aid from the Help Refugees or IHA warehouses. I do a sneak a few trips to a gyro stand for chicken souvlaki every once in a while. Can’t drive on empty, you know?

What has been/was your most rewarding experience working at LHI’s refugee center in Greece?
It gives me a thrill to hear “Where’s the car,” because it means I’m about to do something important and meaningful, like deliver distributions. I’ve gotten used to hearing, “Where are the keys?” Haha. I’ve also learned a lot of French, German, Italian, English, Aussie, Kurmanji, Arabic, and Swedish phrases with all the different drivers over 2.5 years. 

What have you learned while volunteering with LHI in Serres? 
Self-care is critical! That means regular oil changes, tire rotations, and break pads. I’ve also learned how to appreciate the little things, like zip ties, duct tape, and air fresheners that smell like cologne. Like a volunteer can only go so long before taking much needed breaks, my suspension system will suffer after transporting too many heavy loads. 

Want to help fund a badly-needed van? Email us at info@liftinghandsinternational.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kristina, Utah Program

Kristina is amazing! She is a Utah drop off location volunteer and a warehouse supervisor. She is a great leader and problem solver and a huge help to us at the warehouse. She is positive and encouraging and always smiling. She and her family members are our experts at packing the container full, and often when we show up to meet someone dropping off donations at the warehouse, we will find Kristina's family there working on a project at the warehouse to help us get caught up! We are so grateful to Kristina and her family for all of their tremendous support.

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Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Kristina Brockbank.  I graduated from BYU many years ago with a teaching degree in Elementary Education but most of my married life has been spent moving around the country with my husband who was in the Army and our five wonderful children. Our family has called Pleasant Grove, Utah home for almost 10 years now. We love spending time together playing games and exploring new places.

How did you get involved with LHI?
In August 2018 when all of my kids went back to school I had a need to find something good to do with my time. I looked on JustServe and saw something about Lifting Hands and sent Traci an email asking how I could help. She quickly responded that they needed a Tuesday warehouse supervisor. I had no idea what that meant but I showed up at the warehouse the next week and haven’t missed many weeks since then. Though it is a warehouse with cement floors and metal walls, there is a special feeling there that keeps me coming back. Our home is now a drop off location for donations too. It has been a blessing for our entire family to be involved in such a great organization.

What has been your most rewarding experience volunteering for LHI?
This past holiday season was especially rewarding as we welcomed multiple donation drop offs each day at our home. We have been humbled as a family to see the goodness in people. From the people who have organized neighborhood drives to classroom parties that involved putting together kits, to families who dropped off carloads of food kits they did for family get-togethers, to the teenage girl who stood on my front porch offering the beautiful blanket she had tied all by herself, we have been overwhelmed by the huge hearts and selfless souls who give to people they will never know. 

I have loved meeting volunteers who come to the warehouse too. We have seen young adults, retired couples, high school students who come on their lunch break, businesses who give up holiday dinner parties to come give of their time instead, youth groups, college students, and so many more who just want to help any way they can. 

I feel blessed to be a small part of such an incredible organization. Thank you Lifting Hands for all you do to help people around the world and those of us here who gain so much from giving what little we can.

Learn more about our Utah program!

Volunteer Profile: Bekah L., LHI Refugee Camp in Greece

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Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Rebekah L. and I am 26 years old. Before I arrived in Serres I worked in England as a school English teacher. I had previously volunteered with another NGO in northern Greece in distribution, and also within my local community back in London. 

What is your role at the LHI Refugee Center in Greece?
Here in Serres I run the music and arts programmes where I have an amazing team of three. We offer music, dance, drama and fitness classes. 

Why did you get involved? 
When I finished my teacher training in the summer of 2016 I went on holiday to Turin with a friend. When I arrived at the train station a make shift refugee camp had been set up, as refugees were trying to cross the Swiss border. After that moment, I knew I needed to do what I could to help. I had had a friend who had volunteered with LHI before and had loved it, and that was enough to convince me to leave my job in England and come to Serres. 

What’s a typical day like for you?
My days are always incredibly varied here which I love! I start in the morning teaching harmonica, then English, piano, drama and ukelele. On the weekends I help organise our weekly party as well as teaching girls' dance. In between, I will meet with my team and practice the tambour (a yazidi instrument) when I can. 

What has been your most rewarding experience so far?
Working with the residents. They are the most incredibly warm, kind and driven people I have ever met. Getting to work with them and create music inspires me every day. Choosing one specific moment is difficult, but our most recent talent show is definitely up there! Many of the residents and volunteers performed, and it was the most positive and supportive atmosphere I have ever shared. It was very special. 

How has your perspective changed?
It has changed my perspective immeasurably. From the very worst of humanity has bred the very best; and this has filled me with a huge amount of hope. It is made me far more aware of my own privilege; that my circumstances were determined by luck. Whilst the media may have turned a seemingly blind eye on the refugee crisis, it is more prevalent than ever and when I go back to the UK I will try and raise awareness as much as possible and keep do it what I can to make change.

Volunteer Profile: Holly J, Coordinator

We were lucky enough to have Holly (21, from Scotland) for several months over two different stints, first as a volunteer and then a coordinator. She just graduated from St. Andrews with a degree in International Relations. She plans on working in human rights and atrocity prevention in the near future. Working with LHI in Serres opened her eyes, especially to the Yazidis’ plight. She hopes to visit Kurdistan soon.

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What is/was your position at LHI?
I had various positions. The latest was as coordinator. My responsibilities included overseeing management for both the Female-Friendly and Child-Friendly Spaces, volunteer intake, and liaising with larger NGOs that serve the Yazidi population, amongst other roles.

How and why did you get involved with LHI?
For a while, I was looking to volunteer on one of the islands. While looking for a position, a group called HelpRefugees sent me an advert about a refugee center that works with Yazidi refugees, and my mind went back immediately to news articles I’d read about a woman who’d been taken by ISIS. I remembered that Yazidis had been especially targeted by ISIS.

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What was a typical day of volunteering at LHI's Refugee Center like for you?
I don’t think there’s a typical day in Serres, to be honest! We covered so many things, like emergency aid to picking up medical prescriptions to dealing safeguarding issues to sorting aid in the warehouse. Typically I would spend the morning in meetings, whether that would be check-ins or volunteer orientation, and then I would help intake new volunteers. In the afternoon, I would go to the Center to make sure everything was running okay, or if anyone needed anything I could be on the ground to assist them.

What was your most rewarding experience working at LHI’s refugee center in Greece?
Getting to spend time with the residents. I grew up in Scotland and had never met anyone from Iraq and had never heard of Yazidis. Spending time around people who have endured so much but are so humble, kind, intelligent…they’re just the most incredible people. That has given me the motivation, not only to go home and try to advocate on their behalf, but it also puts our lives into perspective and how much we have to be grateful.

What have you learned since volunteering with LHI in Serres? Has your perspective on anything changed?
Most of us are luckier than we’ll ever know, and that our privilege is mostly based on luck — where we were born, what religion we were born into, and we should always be aware of that. It’s taught me that despite how much evil there is in the world, meeting the Yazidis and meeting the other volunteers has reaffirmed my faith that there are really good people out there. It’s also made me more aware of how people feel about refugees at home. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people since getting home that I would’ve have had otherwise. Volunteering gives you that platform to demystify a lot of the things you see in the media.

THANK YOU, HOLLY! We sure miss you and wish you the best of luck!

Guest Blog Post: Not your everyday teacher training!

This is Ally, LHI Refugee Centre Education Manager

This is Ally, LHI Refugee Centre Education Manager

Language teacher training for Yazidi camp residents!

Language teacher training for Yazidi camp residents in Serres, Greece
by Ally Shepherd, LHI Refugee Centre Education Manager

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anguage classes are a popular and in-demand service here at the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece. Camp residents know how vital language is for integrating into a new country and communicating essential information with others, both in official and social settings.

We’ve had a traditional teaching program for a while, meaning around five volunteer teachers come to Greece to teach for a fixed period of time; however, a recent development has seen Yazidis themselves volunteering to teach basic language classes. Some already spoke German and English before they fled their countries, but some have been stuck in Greece long enough that they’ve learned the language proficiently.

Blurry but goody! We now run up to 25 classes a day in English, German, Greek, Arabic, and Kurmanji (the Yazidi’s native language).

Blurry but goody! We now run up to 25 classes a day in English, German, Greek, Arabic, and Kurmanji (the Yazidi’s native language).

Whilst this is amazing in terms of what it means we can offer incoming resident students, as well as for the sustainability of the project, all but one teacher had no experience teaching and – as any teacher out there will know – teaching is difficult and involves thinking about several different things at once! As a result, we ran a two-day language teacher training ‘crash course’.

Fourteen people came to the course; nine were current volunteer teachers and five other aspiring teachers. The course was interactive and split into one day of theory and one day of practice.

DAY ONE:
Day one involved dynamic activities to discuss the purpose of education; common features of communicative language teaching (getting students talking rather than the teacher talking all the time, as is common in many traditional classroom settings worldwide); and common problems and solutions in the classroom (such as low-resource teaching). We looked at adapting donated Western textbooks for Yazidi learners and adapting textbook activities in general if they are too short or boring, for example. We also looked at how to structure a lesson plan which, although seemingly intuitive, was good to think about in a structured way. The residents were engaged throughout the session; asking questions, translating for those who hadn’t understood, comparing ideas, and participating with enthusiasm in the different activities. It would be fair to say that at the end of the first day they were pretty brain-tired and ready to rest!

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DAY TWO:
Day two was teaching time. The participants had been asked to prepare something to teach for 15 minutes the next day to their peers. After teaching (and preferably trying something new they’d learned the day before) we reflected as a group on what had gone well and what could be done differently if we were to teach the lesson again. The atmosphere in this session was so supportive: teachers were cheered on and off their teaching ‘stage’ and comments were kept polite and encouraging and – importantly - useful! It was a great exercise of ‘two heads being better than one’.

After another long but productive day, I asked the teachers to reflect on what had been the most important thing they learned on the course. Answers ranged from the general to the specific and the thoughtful:

“The most important thing I learnt was good ideas about how to teach students because we have [a] teaching plan in the future.”

“The most important thing I learned was eliciting answers because this helps students use their thinking skills and involves them in the lesson more.”

“The most important thing I learned was that education can change society for the better because everybody wins, teacher and student.”

And when asked what they would try in their classes in the future, most said asking more questions to their students, making sure students got enough speaking practice, as well as: “I will use more games because I want to have fun in our classes!” It’s hard to argue with that.  

The next day we concluded with a well-deserved certificate ceremony for completing the short but intensive course. As people received their certificates and hands were shook, the others clapped and cheered and took photos. It was a great end to a great couple of days, marking the beginning of some teaching careers at LHI and something we would love to repeat in the future to provide further support and training to these residents to continue teaching as many others as possible in their camp community.

Thank you, Constance!

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We'd like to share a massive, deafening shoutout to Constance for her several months as the Child-Friendly Space manager at the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece! While we’re sad to see her go, we’re excited to see how she will make the world a better place in the humanitarian realm. Her many months of dedicated experience in the field will only make her future in humanitarian sector even brighter.

The role of managing the Child-Friendly Space is a challenging one. Constance ran meetings, planned activities, managed volunteers and facilitators, helped establish a culture of respect and order in the space, etc. But that’s not all she did -- Imagine taking on that role, knowing that the Child Friendly Space project was new, requiring a lot of growth and development. Thanks to her tireless efforts and a small army of facilitators, the space is now very established, with several dozen children coming for daily fun and enriching activities.

On a personal note, we will miss Constance’s infectious laugh, loving heart, brilliant mind, great taste in music, and ability to spot a fellow Frenchman from afar! It’s fair to say that everyone is much better off because of her gentle soul and sweet, considerate nature. Constance, we so appreciate you!

GOOD LUCK, Constance!

Meet Danny*, an engineer, stunt master, and humanitarian extraordinaire! 

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Two years ago, Danny raced down a mile-long trail at ThreeRock in Dublin, Ireland. Not on a bike or rollerblades, mind you. This kid reached speeds up to 50 km/hr in a roller suit that he designed and built himself. Danny used this *completely safe* event (right, Danny's mom Jessica?) to fundraise for Lifting Hands International and raised over $700 using GoFundMe as the fundraising platform! A lot of 10 year-old kids do crazy stunts, but not too many of them turn them into a fundraising opportunity!

What inspired Danny to fundraise for refugees?

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His mom Jessica explains: “Luke [her husband] and I had just come back from helping set up the Ritsona camp, like ten mins from Oinofyta, which is where I met Lisa Campbell. I got back to Ireland and started giving presentations and doing drives to send stuff back. Our next door neighbors were resettled refugees from Libya and connected us with their mosque and the Islamic cultural center in Dublin. We started collaborating for book drives and all the local libraries pitched in.Danny wanted to do something, but he felt powerless, as most kids do. He did have the one skill, though...”

Danny, we will never forget your amazing feat of human strength and that you did it for the benefit of others. See tons more pics and videos of the event HERE.

*This post is part of a series highlighting supporters who have run peer-to-peer fundraisers (P2P) for LHI. We want to recognize their efforts, and hey, maybe it'll inspire some of you to come up with your own cool fundraiser to benefit refugees!

Volunteer Thank You: Jesús Ramírez

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We want to send a HUGE ¡muchas gracias! to Jesús Ramírez for several months of rockstar-level work at the LHI Refugee Center in Serres, Greece. Like the picture says, Jesús had quite a demanding role to fill as the Summer Child-Friendly Space facilitator (In other words, helping to manage dozens of young, restless children everyday for several weeks in relentless heat!) You would never know it was a more difficult role considering his always-positive attitude. 🙌🏼

Jesús is incredibly diplomatic, funny, kind, hard-working, and loads of fun. He kept both the team and also the kids of Serres camp in a constant state of sincere laughter. 😊

Jesús, we wish you the BEST of luck and success in your next role! Enjoy time with your family in Spain! You’ll need the rest for when you go out to change the world! 🌍

(NOTE: Why no pictures of him with kids if he worked for months with kids? Totally reasonable question!! We don’t post pictures of refugee children in Greece, per our photo policy that protects the identities of minors without written consent of their parents.)

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Serres, Greece: Sewing Workshop Heaven!

Written by Iona Turner, LHI Refugee Center Women’s Safe Space Program Manager.
(She’s been with us for almost a year. She’s incredible!)

One of the Yazidi women sewed these two dresses for her baby in one sitting.

One of the Yazidi women sewed these two dresses for her baby in one sitting.

BACKGROUND: One of the three main programs at the Serres community centre is the Women’s Safe Space. This is a welcoming space for the women to study, participate in yoga and fitness, and, for three hours a day, attend open facilitation sessions. During this time the volunteers facilitate activities with the aim of providing psychosocial support, re-establishing peer connections, creating a safe supportive network, and alleviating some of the stressors of camp life.

The primary focus of this time is to provide psychosocial support to the women, however with some activities, the workshop goes far beyond that. This was something we experienced at the end of July when we threw out our usual timetable and dedicated a whole week to sewing workshops. This was made possible thanks to the donation of sewing machines, supplies such as elastic and thread, and the tailoring expertise of one volunteer.

Such a lovely way to turn discarded or unwanted material into a dress.

Such a lovely way to turn discarded or unwanted material into a dress.

The effects of this week went much deeper than simply receiving fabric. The more experienced sewers got strait to work crafting beautiful dresses for their children, or long skirts for themselves. Those less confident sat in small groups, taking their time and enjoying a more social approach to the activity. Two ladies would sit on either side of the machine, feeding the fabric through, a third would turn the hand crank, and often a fourth would sit by offering instruction and advice. Some family members chose to sew their pieces together in order to create a larger item of clothing, teenage girls collected their material, then left it in a bag with their name on so their mothers could come sew it for them later, some women turned away from clothes completely, instead creating table covers or bed linens.

This dress is MAD SKILLS (Girl’s face covered to protect identity)

This dress is MAD SKILLS
(Girl’s face covered to protect identity)


Women who did not know how to sew could be taught by those who did, in turn empowering the teacher. A mother made a beautiful princess dress for her oldest daughter, an item which will in turn be passed down to her two younger sisters. Older ladies sewed long skirts with elasticated waists, something harder to find in the markets and at distributions. For many women we met that week it was their first time attended the LHI community centre, and several have continued to attend. In the month since sewing week we have seen an increase in attendance overall, and a daily demand for the use of the sewing machines.

We are so grateful to those who donated sewing machines and supplies, those who donated fabric, or the funds to purchase it, and the volunteers who facilitated this busy week! This includes Dolls of Hope, Carry the Future, LDS Charities (Tim and Dorothy Carroll, specifically!) and many individuals.

Interested in donating funds for fabric or sewing machines? We’d be delighted! Please contact us at info@liftinghandsinternational.org and we’ll get working together.