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Ad Council - #EmbraceRefugees

What would you do if your whole world was suddenly turned upside down?

Your school was transformed into a bomb shelter. People you grew up with and said hello to at the grocery store are gone, having left or been killed. You don't know what it will be like to leave, but you know you can't stay. You have to part with everything and everyone you know — from family to your home to beloved pets — and hope you'll be reunited one day.

You say goodbye to the life you knew and dreamed of and say hello to an entirely new world filled with both pain and possibility.


For many of us, this is a situation we can't even imagine, but it's a reality for refugees. The Ad Council designed a scenario to show people what it might be like to have their lives uprooted. Watch what happens.

We can try to imagine what it's like, but the truth is, this is a reality for nearly 20 million people around the world — refugees fleeing conflicts they didn’t start and are powerless to end.

For many people, this isn't hypothetical. Refugees are people in an impossible situation. Relocation for them isn't a choice; it's a matter of survival.

Kakuma refugee camp. Image by EC/ECHO Anna Chudolinska/Flickr.

Take twins Paw Lah Say and Paw Lah Htoo who, at 13, fled to a refugee camp in Thailand. 13 years later, they entered America.

Angie Smith, photographer and storyteller, shared their story with the World Economic Forum.

The twins, along with their father and brother, were forced to flee their home in Burma due to religious and ethnic persecution — the Burmese military set fire to all of the houses in their village. With their lives, and the lives of their friends and neighbors, literally going up in smoke, they sought safety in an enclosed refugee camp in Thailand.

Now, here's the thing about enclosed camps: You're not allowed outside of the camp; the camp is your world.

Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. Image via Mikhail Esteves/Wikimedia Commons.

As a result, they were completely dependent on the rationing of resources to survive. There was no opportunity to work or eke out some sort of a living. They were "safe," but they were in limbo.

After a friend from the camp was resettled in Boise, they requested the same opportunity.

After a lengthy and difficult resettlement process, they got their wish — Idaho would become their home.

View from the Boise Train Depot, taken by Charles Knowles/Flickr.

Now in their twenties, the twins live in the United States. They told Angie Smith, "everything is new." After spending half of their lives in an enclosed refugee camp, working hard just to survive, they're given the chance to really begin their lives.

Unfortunately, they had to leave their father and brother behind.

The twins' story isn't unique. There are so many people, just like them, fleeing war and persecution and clinging to hope.

Refugees want the things so many of us take for granted: the chance to work. To laugh. To walk down a street without fearing for their lives. To be with their families. To know that they have a future.

A little girl from Burma and her friend in a refugee camp on the border of Burma and Thailand via Mikhail Esteves/Flickr.

It can be easy to become numb to the refugee crisis when we think of refugees as sheer numbers, rather than people. Their stories are so important because they're so much more than the term "refugee." And they deserve the chance to live their lives, freely.

With nearly 20 million refugees in need of assistance, and so many families ripped apart, there's a lot more work to be done. Find out how you can help families who are in need of the hope and promise that comes with a fresh start.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015


Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

GIF from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

And continues through adolescence, still through entertainment.

"I'd rather die than stay away from you."

GIF from "Twilight."

And then guess what happens? We're peddled some more of what we're supposedly meant to be aiming for when we're adults.

"I was the one girl he chose from 20 other girls to be with. Now I know I'm special!" — me, mocking probably very sweet people.

GIF from "The Bachelor."

There are so many examples of this, it's difficult to narrow them down. Not to mention all the social cues coming in all stealth-bomber-like to beat one's psyche into submission. Like when single people go to weddings, their family members casually ask them, "When will YOU settle down?" And when a friend goes through a breakup, it's almost instinctive to reassure them that there's someone out there for them.

But what if not everyone is supposed to pair off? What if some people are — wait for it — happier when they're single?

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cape Town City F.C./Facebook

Mateo Manousakis and the Cape Town City Football Club.

Mateo Manousakis is not your average soccer fan. From the time he was 4 or 5 years old and attending practices with Vasili Manousakis, his father who coaches in South Africa's Premier Soccer League, Mateo's passion for the game was apparent. But Vasili had no idea what a sensation his son would become.

Young Mateo has spent the past several years leading the Cape Town City Football Club in pregame chants and dances, and videos of him have gone viral. Few kids would have the gumption to serve as the front man for a professional sports team coming down the tunnel, and few teams would consider an 8- or 9-year-old such a part of the team that they happily follow his lead. But that's just what happened with Mateo at Cape Town City F.C.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” Vasili, who served as assistant coach for the team, told IOL in 2018. "I think, here at City, it’s just the amazing team spirit that took him in; he has the love and respect from the players, he can feel it, it’s real, and they always want to see him."

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Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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