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With war on their doorstep, Romanians are rushing to help their Ukrainian neighbors
All photos courtesy Balu Gaspar

On the eastern Romania-Ukraine border, volunteers help refugees find their way.

We slam the trunk of our van and hit the road toward Bucharest. We’ll spend the night and continue east toward the border with Ukraine tomorrow morning. I’m lucky to have friends who are up for most anything at a moment’s notice. It was just yesterday we started discussing a trip to one of the refugee camps on the Romania-Ukraine border. Now we’re on our way.

Only a few weeks earlier, I’d been on a bus heading toward our region’s immigration office when I learned that the war had started. As an American expat, I needed to renew my Romanian visa, and now, the unimaginable has happened. On the TVs in the office, the bombarded apartment blocks look just like where I’ve been living the past four years.


Since the war in Ukraine began, it’s been unsettling trying to go about life as normal.

While day-to-day activities continue relatively undisturbed by the chaos unfolding over the border, when I see footage of bombed neighborhoods or families crossing the borders into countries foreign to them, or civilians suddenly turning into soldiers, I am overwhelmed by this unshakeable awareness: It could be us.

The day before my friends and I leave for the border, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered this grave encouragement to protesters in Europe: “Do not be silent. Support Ukraine. Because if Ukraine does not survive, the whole of Europe will not survive. If Ukraine falls, the whole of Europe will fall.”

The place and circumstances into which you are born can make all the difference in the world in times like these. While Romanian officials reassure the public that Romania is not likely to be under direct attack anytime soon, there is still an overwhelming sense among the population that anything is possible.

Many people start to prepare in case of power outages or food shortages. We fill empty bottles with tap water and pack bags we can grab and go if the need arises. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who pulled open the door to my apartment block’s basement to make sure that it was unlocked and accessible.

Romanians are risking their own safety to help their neighbors in Ukraine.

Ukraine is big enough that it wraps around Moldova, our Romanian-speaking neighbors, and thus shares two separate borders with Romania: a sizable one to the north and a smaller, nearly forgotten one to the east, 300 kilometers away from Odessa. It is toward this smaller border that we are heading.

Our contact in Tulcea is the pastor of a Baptist church who has become heavily involved in working with refugees at the border crossing in Isaccea. We drop off some money to him that was raised by one of the churches in our valley, and he directs us toward the biggest needs that we might work toward fulfilling.

Pastor Adrian Dordea and his wife Lidia explain the situation at the border. The vast majority of refugees are in transit toward other countries and some toward other regions of Romania, so there is a constant flow of people that need housing, transportation and basic provisions. They tell us that hundreds of people arrive on a single ferry—sometimes upwards of 700 refugees arriving at one time. The majority come on foot, either abandoning their cars on the side of the road before reaching the border, or not having one to begin with.

When the refugees arrive, many are quite nervous or afraid of what awaits them in this foreign country. Many do not speak English, let alone Romanian. Many are women who are traveling alone or with their children. And, as Dordea explains, unfortunately their fears are not unfounded. Human trafficking is a major issue in wartime, and there have already been reports of people disappearing. For this reason, all the organizations involved at the border are striving for complete transparency. Nothing is done without the knowledge of the local authorities, and personal data of both refugees and volunteers is meticulously recorded.

The church is housing refugees in transit at several locations, offering them a warm place to stay, a hot meal and money for the road. They help coordinate the refugees’ journeys onward and they send volunteers to man tents at the border. They are starting to send missions across the border, bringing blankets and food to the hundreds waiting in line to cross into Romania, or even rescuing people from Odessa who are unable to make the journey alone. It is apparent that they are exhausted by the sheer amount of work to be done. The pastor shrugs modestly, explaining in the simplest possible terms, “We help with what we can.”

Romanians are using social media platforms like Facebook to organize relief efforts.

And they’re not the only ones. When we get to the border, we’re handed bright vests by the previous shift of volunteers and they show us how to manage the provisions tents. They are eager to leave to get some rest, as several of them only got three hours of sleep the night before. Most of them have travelled here from Bucharest. Nearly all of them were strangers before they got connected online, united by the simple desire to do something to help.

“Facebook mobilizes,” one of them tells me. There is a Romanian/Ukrainian Facebook group called Uniti Pentru Ucraina (United for Ukraine) that has burgeoned into more than 250,000 members in less than two weeks. Every day, hundreds of people share resources and information, ask for advice and for help, or offer up empty apartments or rooms to anyone in need. Some posts are merely congratulatory: Ukrainians thanking the Romanians that opened their hearts and homes, or Romanians expressing a regained sense of pride in their own country and the ways their fellow citizens have stepped up to the present situation. In the words of one Romanian poster: “We may not be rich, we may not even be the most civilized, but we share our bread with those in need, and that is more noble than anything.” Motivated by a collective weight of responsibility, as Ukrainians rush to the borders of Romania, Romanians are rushing there too.

My friends and I get to work, giving people tea, coffee, sandwiches, snacks and sweets; toiletries and baby formula; pet carriers and collars; blankets, scarves, gloves and socks; SIM cards and stuffed animals. We are told to encourage people to take as much of whatever they want and to reassure them that it’s all free. Translators bring the refugees to the large, enclosed tents where they can sit down and warm up and talk to someone about their plan, if they have one.

As simple as my job is, it’s overwhelmingly emotional in the first several minutes. It feels surreal and absurd to be handing bags full of cookies, fruit and canned meats to children who have just fled a war zone. How can this be real? But I do my best to smile with them, and soon my mind begins to come to terms with this new reality.

I don’t know at first how to speak with the women. I’m almost embarrassed to ask “how are you?” but I start to realize they are glad for an opportunity to share at least a small part of their stories. Two young women tell me that they waited 30 hours to cross the border. A mother shares that she is here with her 4-year-old daughter who will turn 5 very soon. She had been planning a big party for her, but now here they are. She doesn’t know where she will go. “Most people are wanting to go on to other countries, to Germany or to Poland,” she told me, “but I just want to go home to Ukraine. Every few hours we call our men. We are worried for them, and they are worried for us.” We both shake our heads in disbelief of the life that she is now living.

It’s getting dark when another woman comes to get a sandwich and a tea. Even with limited English, she is anxious to tell us something. “I have a son who is…” she pauses, smiling apologetically as she reviews the numbers in English in her head, counting up from one to… “fourteen. Fourteen years old. I tried to tell him to come with me, but he said ‘no, I am a patriot. I will not leave my country.’” She nods her head with a melancholy sort of pride. “He is a patriot.”

Even when I cannot talk to the people who come for provisions, I feel an overwhelming sense of camaraderie with them all. Oftentimes the only words exchanged are “спасибі” (thank you) and “you’re welcome,” or sometimes we just both place our hands on our hearts and look briefly into each other’s eyes; we know everything that the other wants to say.

When my friends and I leave the camp in the middle of the night, we are no longer thinking “It could be us,” but rather, “It is us.” The borders are dissolving. We are standing side by side and we are connected in more ways than we know.

These hundreds and thousands of souls who have left their homes and crossed borders into unknown places are not engaging in an act of retreat. They are advancing into the rest of Europe, carrying their stories, their resilience and a deep love for their country into the hearts and homes of their neighbors. And around them, all of Europe, and indeed the entire world, unites for their cause.

It is a different kind of front line, but one just as necessary. Ukraine will not fall—it is being fortified in this collision of humanity, and we can be sure that if Ukraine rises, the whole of Europe will rise too.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

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A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

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It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

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Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

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Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

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Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

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Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

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It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

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I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

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Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

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No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

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The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

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Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

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Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

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Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.