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Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos

by Starfish Foundation
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-Defense and Yoga for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Our wonderful Moria container.
Our wonderful Moria container.

Starfish Foundation at the beginning of July held the first classes of our newly established self-defence program for vulnerable women living in Moria. Through this project, we aim to bring effective self-defence training to over 300 refugee women residing in the camp over the coming months. Starfish has been dedicated to the empowerment of female refugees on the island of Lesvos since its inception, constantly seeking to provide programs and classes to inspire and support women living in the camp. 

Through our experience in organising and leading these events, we identified a need to offer a regular self-defence program held exclusively in Moria. The camp is home to over 10,000 refugees, of which approximately 3000 are women. The chaotic and cramped environment frequently proves exceptionally difficult for women, especially those who are single, alone or underage. Women in the camp - and particularly the aforementioned vulnerable groups - are routinely subject to harassment and intimidation, to the extent of which that some women feel unable to leave their tents alone. The security measures currently in place in the camp are not sufficient to provide the women with the level of protection they require, contributing to the unstable and sometimes threatening position these women and girls are forced to contend with. 

Having previously run similar classes at our Open Space facility in Mytilini, we came to understand that holding the sessions outside Moria prevented the most vulnerable women from taking part. This is due to a prevailing fear within these groups of venturing outside the familiarity of the camp or their inability to have access to transport. It became clear that to include these particular women, the sessions must be held in a space where they would feel comfortable and safe - even whilst being inside of Moria. We therefore selected Starfish’s on-site container for the classes and sought permission to manage these events weekly.

Building on our experience gained through previous programs, we were able to crystalise the most effective way to educate refugee women in self-defence, whilst providing a nurturing environment to encourage their development as individuals and to find their own voices. We landed at a 7 week structured course, which participating women would need to attend consecutively to complete. The overarching goal of the new self-defence program is to empower these women with the practical skills to reduce risks to their safety whilst living in Moria, as well as to build self-confidence and a sturdy foundation for personal growth for life outside the camp. 

The sessions are run by qualified, female trainers from around the world who are dedicated to delivering a thorough education in self-defence to women in need. Our first couple of months of classes have been a great success, and we have also seen the sessions forster firm friendships between women who previously felt isolated, allowing them to feel part of a community and strengthening the sense of security in Moria we set out to deliver with these classes. 

We continue to further strengthen our team in order to support the quality and delivery of the programs, in the past couple of months have joined us both a new Field Coordinator and a new Project Manager. We have been ecstatic to see how their passion of empowering women has been able to translate into a new wind of energy and passion for the project, showing much promise for the future. 


A special empowering Yoga update:

The Starfish Foundation has continued to offer Yoga classes for women in OpenSpace, originally this was offered once a week on Friday but the increasing popularity of the class as well as the proven positive impact on the empowerment of vulnerable women has led us to increase this to 2 classes a week in our space. This has been extremely successful, a key part of this success has revolved around the ability of Starfish to be able to provide bus tickets, to and from Moria Camp costing upwards of 200 euros week. 

As well as this Starfish as started to provide Yoga classes for smaller groups of women inside of the Foundation’s Moria container, this allows women who aren’t comfortable or unable to leave the camp to have access to specialized focused yoga classes in small groups. The focus has been on allowing newly arrived women to access the classes and learn meditation and relaxation techniques helping empower them and facilitating their transition into life in Greece. 

Our new Yoga instructor has been creating programs specifically focused on key issues and focus areas so that the classes are able to respond to the real needs of women attending the classes. This is central to the women feeling like they are able to experience positive results over time.

This would not be possible without the continuing support of people around the world who allow us to grow and bring our project to more women each month. Thank you!

All set up for our first Yoga class
All set up for our first Yoga class
Self-defence and Empowerment course Class 1!
Self-defence and Empowerment course Class 1!

From the 9th to the 15th of May 2019 Starfish Foundation in co-operation with ESD Global organized a self-defense training week for level 1 instructors.

The teachers Anat and Esti did a great job and succeeded in creating an incredible empowering atmosphere. Many new skills were gained and from now on 6 of the 13 participants will teach refugee women of Moria refugee camp on the island.

ESD Global made a short film, showing a glimpse of the training week and we would like to share this with our donors on Global Giving.

Starfish Foundation hereby wants to express her gratitude for this amazing opportunity. 


The training week for self-defense instructors on the island of Lesvos has come to an end.

It was an amazingly empowering week with two incredible instructors. We will not easily forget this experience and are looking forward to practicing all learned skills with refugee women in Moria camp.

One of the teachers, Anat Errel wrote a beautiful message to all students. and we would like to put it in our report, because it says exactly what we all felt :

When I want to tell you how was it, at the Empowerment Self Defense Camp in Lesvos, Greece, I find there are no words to describe how really in awe we all were, how stunned we felt from all that went there, and how life-changing it was and so full of joy.

Thirteen women, some in their twenties, and already activists, opinionated and full of beliefs and a strong will to change and influence the world. With a strong yearning for more knowledge. Some older, in their fifties, that had already done stuff, and are still open to taking what we have to give them and with it, change the communities they live in.

From different languages and cultures, we created a meaningful, fascinating and fruitful discourse. The energy was high, even at the end of a long week, they still got up and happily reviewed the techniques again and again. The curiosity was endless, the questions were many, and the will to understand and be accurate amazing. There were stories that were never told before, and tears, and plenty of compassion, support and hugging arms. We became friends. No, we became a family. And there was so much joy and so much laughter.

And thirteen women that received the ESD message went, to give our tools to many other women and will make our world a better place.

Starfish Foundation in co-operation with ESD Global is organizing a training week to teach women to become self-defence instructors - to be held on the island of Lesvos during the 9th - 15th of May 2019. 

After arranging self-defence classes with refugee women for three months now, we realised that we need to train more professional instructors so we can meet the demand for more classes. The women who have learned basic skills are very eager to follow a more advanced training in self-defence. We will be able to offer this after the 15th of May when we will have five well trained local female instructors.

One of the instructors coming to train us is Anat Errel, who was with us in November of 2018 for a weekend training for female refugees. She is very happy to return to the island and help us to become more experienced in teaching new skills.

Starfish Foundation in co-operation with Yoga and Sports for Refugees is organizing self-defense classes for refugee women on a weekly basis. Last Wednesday the 20th of March Estelle from France, Nour from Belgium and Marieke from the Netherlands were the instructors at our morning class, and they did a great job.

Most participants had participated in our weekend course one month ago and because of the basic knowledge they had gained during that weekend they already showed a more powerful attitude  This proves the value of the lessons and we are very happy with the positive result.

A weekly afternoon class will soon start at another location close to the refugee camp, so we will be able to reach more women.


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Organization Information

Starfish Foundation

Location: Mythimna, Lesvos - Greece
Project Leader:
Melinda McRostie
Mythimna, Lesvos Greece
$14,637 raised of $24,500 goal
199 donations
$9,863 to go
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