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."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
True

Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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