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Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos

by Starfish Foundation Vetted since 2018 Top Ranked
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
Self-defense Training for Refugee Women on Lesvos
I learned to feel strong inside my body
I learned to feel strong inside my body

Yesterday I got back after spending six day in Lesvos, Greece, teaching Empowering Self Defense to refugees from camps on the island.

During those days I taught three full ESD coursed and one introduction to self-defense class. The participants were refugees from different countries, as well as foreign and local volunteers and local women.

I’d like to share some amazing numbers with you:

All in all, the ESD message was passed to 70 women, coming from 16 different countries, in 7 different languages.

The women laughed, learned to yell, move their body, put up verbal barriers, say NO, walk in a safe and alert way, trust themselves and their body and defend themselves with different ESD tools.

The first group was for Somalian women. I spoke English, which was translated into Arabic by an Iraqi translator, then to two different Somalian dialects by women from the group. In addition, there were also two Greek women, one translating for the other; one Australian and one American.

The second group was for Afghani girls, age 14 and up. The translator was a 16-year-old Afghani girl who learned her perfect English during her one year stay in Moria. There was also an African French-speaking woman who had her own French translator, as well as two Spanish and one Swiss volunteers.

The third group was mixed. A group of young Arabic speaking girls, I think from Syria, with the Iraqi translator, and their Greek care-taker; And a group of Africans from Kongo, Cameron, Guinea, and South-Sudan, speaking English or French, with a different French translator. Also, in this group the CEO of Starfish organization who was the one responsible for me being there, with her Greek daughter,

The forth group was some more Afghani girls residing in Moria’s “Safe zone”, where unaccompanied minors live.

 I want to share some of the feedback I got from the course’s participants:

"My body can do things I didn’t know it can do”

I learned that in any situation I should be careful, but not afraid”

"I learned to feel strong inside my body”

"I learned I can say NO without giving excuses”

The course made me happy, and I learned to be strong and safe”

"I learned to control myself and defend myself in a bad situation”

"we learned to solve problems with talking, not with our hands”

" I learned there is a solution. If you are strong and assertive, there is a solution”

"I can fight for myself and be strong”

"I learned about the way we see women. I learned we have the right to defend ourselves and not be under control”

"To say no to someone, I like without hurting them. To say no to friends”

"We are strong, we can think and do without someone telling us what to do”

"I didn’t know I can defend myself from someone struggling me from the back, and it is important for me to know that”

"I learned that we don’t need force in order to protect ourselves if we know the right movements”/

 And one story:

One Afghani girl told us:” I have a good friend that’s been courting me for the last few months. I’m not interested and I tried to wiggle out of it with excuses.

After the class, I went to him and said: ‘look, I like you, and there is a girl for you somewhere, But this girl is not me’.

Then she added with a smile: ‘He accepted what I said so simply that I thought it was silly of me to try and wriggle myself out of this all those months’”.

I’ve has a moving experience, I’m sure it will take some time for me to digest all the experience and people I’ve met. It was amazing to meet the human spirit and the ability of people to be joyous after all the horrors they’ve been through; the will of people t help and give, sometimes while paying a heavy personal price; The ability of people who were torn from their homelands and are now, more or less, living through hell, to improve the leaving condition and help other people in their state.

I met the human evil in its worst, and the human goodness in its best.

I’d like to thank the women that made this happen: Melinda McRostie of Starfish organization in Lesvos, and Yudit Sidikman of ESD Global. Without their support and vision, it would not have happened.

Get the strength to say no
Get the strength to say no

We learned in every situation we should be careful but not scared.”

At the end of each self-defence class, our instructor, Anat, asked the women what they learned. And let us be clear, they learned a lot. These sessions were packed full of not only useful tactics for physical self-defence, but also techniques to deter potential assailants.

Use your voice.
Use it loudly.
Use it strongly.
Pay attention.
Trust your gut.

And in a dangerous places such as overcrowded refugee Camps, these tactics are key. The women taking our classes –single women, traveling without family or support –are particularly vulnerable. And the reports and statistics on rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in refugee populations are both countless and discouraging. But by teaching women techniques to protect themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally, we can help turn this around.

We want to continue bringing this knowledge to the women living here on Lesvos, but we can’t do it without your support.

Tomorrow, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are kicking off the first session of our Empowerment Self-Defense class for single women living in Moria camp!

This past week, our team, joined by both French and Arabic translators, went inside the secure women’s section to gauge interest and start registrations. And the response was overwhelming. We quickly found ourselves surrounded by eager participants. And as each young woman learned about the class subject they also ran to grab friends and roommates. In less than an hour, we had filled (in some cases, over-filled) each of the three sessions. And unfortunately, we even had to turn people away.

We also were able to team up with Iliaktida, the organization responsible for unaccompanied minors. And we think these young girls, so far from their families, and among the most vulnerable on the island, will truly benefit from the skills they learn.

These are women from countries all over Africa and the Middle East – all who are going to learn to live safer, more secure lives and carry themselves with confidence. After their unimaginable journey to arrive in Europe, and the dangerous, tenuous situation they live in now, we want to provide them the skills they will need to not only protect themselves physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

We are all looking forward to a strong, successful week.

We are also looking forward to making this program a regular staple of our work. Turning people away from this program is something that we never want to have to do again. When we started with this idea, we knew the need was great, and now that we know the interest is just as great – we want to be able to provide this necessary skillset to as many women as possible.

First and foremost, we would like to apologize for the delay in updating our progress on this project. The situation on the ground changes so rapidly that often emergencies and political changes force our priorities to shift temporarily. 

However, we have great news!

We have secured a location for the women’s protection program and we’ve invested in having a new and proper floor installed. Fortunately, this site is already home to another project that serves solely women so their privacy and safety will be ensured. We have also found a sport educator that is based here on Lesvos that will oversee the program and we are in the process of finding an appropriate instructor for this delicate classroom environment.

We are looking forward to getting this project running and we will keep you updated as the last details are finalized!

As always, you can follow our activities and ongoing projects on Starfish Foundation's Facebook page.

Thank you once again,

Starfish Foundation.

Dear donors,

It has been a while since we have last communicated and updated you on the status of the Self-Defense training for refugee women on Lesvos. 

During the last two months, our team has worked hard to maximize the resources and funding available by partnering and collaborating with other organizations on the island, who could support the project in any way - by offering a free training space, transportation, etc. We understand that according to our last communication and our original schedule, the training should have started in May, but we assumed necessary to maximize as much as we could the impact of the project, therefore we decided to delay it.

We would like to finally announce that we will be starting the project the next month, July 2018!

We will keep you updated during the project, but meanwhile, follow our activities on Facebook (

Thank you once again,

Starfish Foundation.  



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Organization Information

Starfish Foundation

Location: Mythimna, Lesvos - Greece
Project Leader:
Melinda McRostie
Mythimna, Lesvos Greece
$10,958 raised of $24,500 goal
133 donations
$13,542 to go
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