Teaching ESD to Refugees in Lesvos, Greece

I recently had the the opportunity to spend six days in Lesvos, Greece teaching empowerment self-defense to refugees in camps throughout the island.

While I was there, I taught three full ESD courses and one introduction to self-defense class. The participants were refugees from different countries, as well as foreign and local volunteers and local women.

I’d like to share some amazing numbers with you:

Seventy women from sixteen different countries received ESD training, in seven different languages.

The women laughed, learned to yell, move their bodies, set verbal boundaries, say NO, walk in an assertive, safe and alert manner, and trust themselves and their bodies to defend themselves with various ESD tools.

​​The first class was for Somalian women. I spoke English, which was translated into Arabic by an Iraqi ​​translator, and then into two different Somalian dialects by women from the group. In addition, there were also two Greek women, one translating for the other, one Australian and one American.

​​The second group was for Afghani girls, ages 14 and up. The translator was a 16-year-old Afghani girl who learned her perfect English during her one year stay in Moria. There was also an African French-speaking women who had her own French translator, as well as two Spanish volunteers and one from Switzerland.

The third group was mixed, and included a group of young Arabic speaking girls, I think from Syria, the Iraqi translator, and their Greek caretaker, and a group of Africans from Congo, Cameron, Guinea, and South-Sudan, speaking English or French, with a different French translator.

Also in this group was the CEO of The Starfish Foundation, who was the one responsible for me being there, with her Greek daughter,

The fourth group included more Afghani girls residing in Moria’s “safe zone,” where unaccompanied minors live.

Here is some of the feedback I got from the course participants:

"My body can do things I didn’t know it could do.”

“I learned that in any situation, I should be careful, but not afraid.”

"I learned to feel strong inside my body.”

"I learned I can say NO without making excuses.”

“The course made me happy, and I learned to feel strong and safe.”

"I learned how to control myself and defend myself in a bad situation.”

"We learned to solve problems with talking, not with our hands.”

"I learned that if you are strong and assertive, there is a solution.”

"I can fight for myself and be strong.”

"I learned about the way we see women. I learned we have the right to defend ourselves and not be controlled.”

"I learned to say no to someone I like without hurting them. To say no to friends”

"We are strong, we can think and do without someone telling us what to do.”

"I didn’t know I could defend myself from someone strangling me from the back, and it is important for me to know I can.”

"I learned that we don’t need to use force in order to defend ourselves if we use the right techniques."

And here's a story:

One Afghani girl told us: “I have a good friend who’s been flirting and asking out me for the last few months. I’m not interested and I’ve tried to wiggle out of it with excuses.

After the class, I went to him and said: ‘Look, I like you, and there is a girl for you somewhere, But this girl is not me.”

Then she added with a smile: “He accepted what I said so simply that I thought it was silly of me to try and wriggle myself out of this all those months.”

I’m sure it will take some time for me to digest all of these moving experiences. It was amazing to witness the human spirit and the ability of people to be joyous after all the horrors they’ve been through. The will of people to help and give, sometimes while paying a heavy personal price. The ability of people who’ve been torn from their homelands and are now, more or less, living through hell, to improve their living conditions and help others in their situation.

I’ve witnessed evil in its worst forms, and goodness in its best.

I’d like to thank the women who made this happen: Melinda McRostie who represents The Starfish Foundation in Lesvos, and Yudit Sidikman of ESD Global.

Without their support and vision, this would not have happened.

* Click here to find our more about participating in our upcoming instructor training in Lesvos.

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