This team of refugees reminds us of exactly what the Olympics is about — unity.

At the Rio Olympics in 2016, ten athletes came together to compete under a single flag.

They hailed from South Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, and Syria, and each one had fled their home country under dire circumstances.

They marched in the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic flag, coming out just before the host country of Brazil’s team. Together, they were the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT), bringing together people who had been forced from their countries for safety reasons, and giving them a group they could represent and compete for.


These athletes gave a face to the growing refugee crisis and fulfilled lifelong dreams they thought had become impossible. They were “a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide,” according to a press release from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

A mural of the ROT athletes. Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

They also were a reminder that sports — and the Olympics themselves — are about much more than medals.

Because the Olympics have always been divided by country, this left refugees with nowhere to compete and nowhere to belong at the Games.

But in recognizing the existence of these athletes, the IOC also recognized the complexities that exist beyond the sports themselves. Because, try as some people might, there's no way to fully separate sports and politics; they are, and always will be, intertwined.

The world’s refugee crisis, which is still ongoing two years after the Rio games, is the worst it’s been since World War II, when some 60 million Europeans became refugees. It was during that time that the concept of a “refugee" became formally recognized by the United Nations — though they had, of course, always existed.

History is repeating itself in other ways, too. Countries, like the United States and Hungary, are refusing to admit refugees, citing the fact that they could pose a security threat. In 1939, the U.S. turned away a group of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.

But by bringing their stories to the forefront, the IOC highlighted the challenges — and triumphs — of current-day refugees.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

For example, Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini swam for her life just less than a year after she swam for Olympic glory. In 2015, Mardini and her eldest sister, Sarah, fled their destroyed home in Damascus to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.

It was a dangerous trip and their overcrowded boat suffered engine failure. Mardini, Sarah, and two others jumped into the water and pulled the boat to safety on the Greek Island of Lesbos.

"We were the only four who knew how to swim," Mardini said, according to Olympic.org. "I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like … done. I don’t know if I can describe that."

The 19-year-old said her message to others at the Games was to “just never give up.” A year after the Games, Mardini was one of People magazine’s “25 women changing the world,” had become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), was working on a memoir which was going to be a film, and training for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

And Mardini wasn't the only athlete with a harrowing story to tell and obstacles to overcome.

Thirteen years after she ran for her life in Chukudum, South Sudan, Rose Nathike Lokonyen ran the 800m in Rio — and served as the flagbearer for the ROT. She finished seventh in her heat, and, a year later, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland. She also spoke to Pope Francis in Sweden.

And she wasn’t the only member of the ROT to meet with the Pope. Fellow South Sudan refugee Paulo Amotun Lokoro, who competed in the 1500m, went to the Vatican. "The first day I arrived they treated me like a big boss, and I am not a boss!” he told CNN. “People liked me a lot."

The stories of these athletes prove that sports can accomplish more than just physical feats.

They can provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie and bring awareness to larger issues that are facing athletes as well as average individuals around the world.

Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons.

The athletes of the ROT made history when they competed in the Olympic Games, and many of them are continuing that work today by speaking out and advocating for change.

As we celebrate the 2018 Olympic games, let's honor the athletes that came before, shaping our world for the better.

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.

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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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."