She thought she'd seen the worst of the refugee camps. Then she went to Idomeni.

This is Laith. He's 6 years old and currently lives in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece.

Laith, age 6. Photo via YouTube/Ignite Channel.


Laith was shot by the same bullet that killed his dad and uncle while they were riding on a motorcycle. The bullet ripped through his leg and makes it hard for him to walk.

Although doctors are present at the Idomeni refugee camps, they are stretched so thin that Laith and his family have to wait in line for up to two days just to redress his wound.

And that's where volunteers like Ayesha Sayed come in.

Most people spend their vacation time catching up on sleep and binge-watching crime shows. Not Ayesha Sayed.

Ayesha co-runs three companies in Dubai, one of which sells medical supplies, and she spends what little free time she has volunteering and helping others. Her big warm smile is a brief window into her genuine spirit, and her neon green hair probably makes her fit right in at the Burning Man festival she regularly attends.

Ayesha Sayed (left) with fellow volunteers Duane Heil and Chris Morrow. Photo by Alison Thompson, used with permission.

Last October, Ayesha travelled to Lesbos, Greece, with a suitcase full of supplies from her medical supply store and spent a week helping with medical needs and translation.

"I've wanted to go back [to Greece] since October, but there was just too much to do here [in Dubai]," she told Upworthy.

In March 2016, Ayesha took some time off work and went back to Greece, this time to a tiny village called Idomeni, where she met Laith and his family.

If the Syrian refugee crisis is a hurricane, Idomeni is the levee — barely hanging on and threatening to buckle.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Last month, the Balkan route (a passage from Greece north to countries like Macedonia, Serbia, and Germany) was permanently shut down. Macedonia, Slovenia, and Serbia slammed their borders closed, leaving thousands without a place to go and many more on the way.

Currently, there are as many as 14,000 immigrants stuck in Idomeni — many of them children.

"I think that was the most surprising thing," Ayesha recalls. "Children from 0 to 5 are everywhere."


Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Conditions at the border camp in Idomeni are squalid. The constant flow of refugees entering Greece without a place to go has created a humanitarian nightmare that is both festering and steadily growing.

"There's no electricity, there’s not a lot of clean water, and no sanitation whatsoever," Ayesha explains. "Everybody’s sick because of the horrible hygiene and the children not having enough nutrition. They get one meal a day which is not really good."

Though Ayesha had seen the refugee crisis firsthand in Lesbos, she was completely overwhelmed by the conditions in Idomeni.

"People who got to Lesbos were just happy that they made it to Europe after the really really long journey," she says. "[In Idomeni] it was utter and complete despair. People had been stuck at the border for 40 days by the time we arrived. Nobody knew anything about what was going to happen; nobody was saying anything."

It's so bad there, in fact, that Greece recently had to send over 200 migrants back to Turkey as part of a controversial "one in, one out" deal struck between the European Union and Turkey last month. Under the deal, anyone who migrates to Greece illegally from now on will be sent back to Turkey in exchange for a vetted refugee.

A ferry arriving on April 4, 2016. to deport migrants from Greece to Turkey. Photo by Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images.

But the day-to-day workings of that deal remain unclear for those on the ground.

"There's no clarity," says Ayesha. "There would always be these rumors about how — now that the EU has signed a deal with Turkey — everyone is going to be sent back to Turkey. All [the refugees] want is the most basic things, and it's really difficult to hear that from a couple thousand people and then have no answer for them."

Amid the chaos, confusion, and despair, Ayesha worked with kids whose dire situation cemented her resolution to press forward.

Kids like 6-year-old Laith, whose bullet wound needed medical attention faster than doctors at the camp could respond.

"Laith we found through his mom who came to us because he had severe pain," Ayesha says. "She thought that his bullet wound was infected. So we did the redressing."

There are also kids like Noor, age 2, who has an unidentified birth defect, but was turned away from the camp's medical facilities because her paperwork (including MRI scans and basic medical records) were lost at sea.

Noor, age 2. Photo by Ayesha Sayed. Used with permission.

"She’s extremely sick," Ayesha says of Noor, who needs several surgeries on her head and umbilical cord. "They tried to find someone in Syria but all the pediatric brain surgeons have left. There’s none of them left in Syria."

Then, there was Lava, age 16, who Ayesha says has trouble speaking and a lot of anxiety.

"She tried to kill herself a couple times because, just the whole journey was really really stressful for her," Ayesha says.

These are just three of many kids in the camp who need medical care that can't be provided by the few doctors and volunteers present.

"I think all the NGOs are so overwhelmed that they can’t really focus on individual cases," Ayesha says.

Working with the kids in the camp showed Ayesha just how much help and hope one person's efforts can bring.

"There's always hope," Ayesha says, though she quickly points out that hope comes from action.

Photo from Ayesha Sayed, used with permission.

"90% of people who I’ve spoken to either believe that the military is going to do something about it or some NGO is going to do something about it." Ayesha says. "Somebody else, but not them. "

While we can't all get on planes with medical supplies the way Ayesha did, there are still ways to help.

In America, the situation in Greece can seem like a faraway crisis brought up in talking points at political debates. It becomes too easy to forget about the people who wake up every single day in those camps with little to eat and no new information about what lies ahead of them. We all have the ability to help those people.

Ayesha suggests doing a donation drive or sponsoring a refugee child.

Photo by Alison Thompson. Used with permission.

She also started a website called "Refugee Heroes," where anyone can find out about the need for basic supplies in Greece and provide what they can or connect with other NGOs and individuals who are helping on the ground.

"We obviously can't help everybody. But everybody can do a little bit to help."

More

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular