It's hard for refugees to adjust to their new life. It's even harder for a child.
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J&J Save the Children

A mother and her two sons were on a boat that got lost at sea while making their escape from Afghanistan.

The refugees (due to safety concerns, we won't use their names) had to throw everything they owned overboard. They were rescued by another boat and arrived in Germany with nothing, knowing no one, and moved into an airport-turned-refugee camp in Berlin. Despite the harrowing journey, their future looks brighter. Watch their story:

Until they arrived in Germany, these children’s lives had not been peaceful.

The home they came from was war-torn Afghanistan, where 1,943 civilian casualties were reported in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Many children there spend their days afraid for their safety, surrounded by armed violence and poverty, looting, and potential recruitment by militia groups.


Image via Save the Children, used with permission.

Children are at a particular risk in areas affected by war. Constant exposure to threat of danger — not just of bodily harm, but also of sexual violence and recruitment to armed groups — ultimately robs them of their ability to experience their childhoods properly. They don't get to play or go to school, and according to Save the Children, this has negative effects long after they leave their home countries. Refugee children often react to their trauma by withdrawing from others and refusing to play or laugh. Many end up with learning disabilities and developmental issues, and when the problems go untreated, they can turn into long-term psychological conditions.

For a child of war, the opportunity to move to a peacetime environment — even in an abandoned airport — is a chance at a new life.

The Tempelhoef airport refugee camp in Berlin, Germany. Image via Johnson & Johnson/YouTube.

Living conditions for refugees are far from optimal, but for children, the simple freedom to experience life as a kid represents a massive change from life in their war-occupied countries of origin. Getting to play, go to school, and have regular kid experiences does wonders, as evidenced by the sense of calm that the boy in the video shows. And he's likely to continue to thrive — studies on the psychological recovery of refugee children have shown that they are strikingly capable of survival in the direst of circumstances, and often, these same qualities of resilience are what give them the potential to thrive in their new homes.

An Afghanistan refugee and her son. Image via Johnson & Johnson/YouTube.

So what can we do?

For starters, we can find out more about the work that organizations like Save the Children are doing to make children's welfare "an integral part of every humanitarian response." If you're able to, donate with intention to causes that do the most positive work in war-occupied areas. Save the Children's charitable gift catalog, for instance, allows individuals to donate items to children in need. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson matches all Save the Children gifts up to $450,000, so your donation goes twice as far. (Don't have it in the budget? Johnson & Johnson also makes it possible to Donate a Photo.)

It's also imperative to look for ways to support refugees once they've made it out of their country of origin. Finding refuge in camps in peaceful countries is an imperative step toward escape for victims of war, but it’s no substitute for a safe home with doors that lock, education, employment, and health care — all of which are necessary for refugee families to settle fully and successfully in their new homes.

The best way to help is to simply look for ways to aid in the refugee crisis in general. Anything that can help establish a sense of normalcy for a refugee child is another step toward helping them achieve a happy life.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."