Empowering Female Refugees With Emotional and Physical Self-Defense
"I learned that if you are strong and assertive, there is a solution.”
~ Participant from Lesvos ESD Training, 2018
Seventy women. Sixteen countries. Six days.
Those are some numbers from a pilot program launched by ESD Global and The Starfish Foundation to teach Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) to female refugees in Lesvos, Greece in November of 2018 which we are continuing in 2019. Lesvos is the residence of 7,000 refugees who have been living in camps since 2015.
It took just a few hours for all of the women involved to become sisters. By day, they supported each other as they learned to yell, “NO!”
By night, and during the breaks, they would sit and talk about their experiences as women. Many refugee women shared stories about never feeling safe, especially at night when they go out alone, and described hiding in their tents to avoid the men who drink and become aggressive.
The training resulted in more confidence and empowered attitudes:
"I learned I can say NO without making excuses.”
“The course made me happy, and I learned to feel strong and safe.”
“My body can do things I didn’t know it could do.”
Based on the success of the November training, ESD Global and The Starfish Foundation are expanding their partnership to offer an Empowerment Self-Defense instructor’s training program in Lesvos, May 10th - 16th.
This week-long training is filled to capacity. The result will be seven residents of Lesvos who are trained to teach the refugees ongoing ESD classes, as well as participants from Armenia, Kenya, Nepal, Myanmar, Ireland, England, Australia, and Belgium who will bring these skills back to women in their communities.
Here are some messages we've received from the trainees:
“Thinking about the women refugees, who are trapped inside the Moria camp [Lesvos], I really want to help in empowering them and tell them that it doesn't matter what colour, religion, background or status we have. At the end of the day, we are all the same... we all want to feel safe and to be treated with respect and love.”
"I want to create a project for women asylum seekers in camps. This training can give me the knowledge that I can later share with other women who are the victims of the system and who feel even more vulnerable in camps. I want to integrate three aspects of security: self-defense, digital security and integrated security, and create a safe space for women.”
"Almost every woman I know has experienced sexual violence at some point in her life. Every time I meet women that fight back, I feel empowered and strengthened in my own struggle. I want to meet more of these women, organize together, get ideas, get inspired, and see what we can create.”
"Women from the refugee camps in Lesvos need to be empowered and to feel that they have the right to say what they want. They need to feel more confident and stronger. They need to be able to defend themselves and to know how to escape a direct threat."
Already, ESD Global and The Starfish Foundation are planning a summer program in Lesvos to reach even more refugees and continue the professional training for the Lesvos based ESD instructors.
We can't wait to share more stories with you.
We are so hopeful for what the future holds.