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."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
True

Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
True

Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

Keep Reading Show less

Tired of avocados turning brown? Try this simple trick.

Ah, the delicious, creamy avocado. We love it, despite its fleeting ripeness and frustrating tendency to turn brown when you try to store it. From salads to guacamole to much-memed millennial avocado toast, the weird berry (that's right—it's a berry) with the signature green flesh is one of the more versatile fruits, but also one of the more fickle. Once an avocado is ready, you better cut it open within hours because it's not going to last.

Once it's cut, an avocado starts to oxidize, turning that green flesh a sickly brown color. It's not harmful to eat, but it's not particularly appetizing. The key to keeping the browning from happening is to keep the flesh from being exposed to oxygen.

Some people rub an unused avocado half with oil to keep oxidation at bay. Others swear by squeezing some lemon juice over it. Some say placing plastic wrap tightly over it with the pit still in it will keep it green.

But a YouTube video from Avocados from Mexico demonstrates a quick, easy, eco-friendly way to store half an avocado that doesn't require anything but a container and some water.

Keep Reading Show less