Aimee Selby
Class of 2002

An Unexpected Invitation

We were a month into LPC’s spring semester when I got the Facebook message from Danae, a young woman whose family served with me when I was living in North Africa. Danae had graduated from high school the spring before, and was spending a year volunteering before starting college. She’d heard about the plight of the refugees living in the deplorable camps on the Greek island of Lesvos, and convinced it wasn’t enough to just believe someone should do something, she rolled up her sleeves and got involved. She agreed to spend four months interning with Gateways2Life, a Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to be the hands and feet of Jesus to refugees in Greece, Italy, and Germany.

While preparing to go, Danae began learning about the horrifying statistics that plague the lives of refugees: according to the UN, 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes by war or disaster, and 22.5 million of them are classified as refugees forced to live outside their own countries. An estimated 900,000 of these devastated people have made landfall on Lesvos Island since 2015, seeking asylum. Sixty-five percent of those are women and children, and most of them have traveled for weeks on foot, carrying what’s left of their earthly possessions, before making the dangerous water crossing to Lesvos. Once on Lesvos, they are processed into one of two camps, Moria and Kara Tepe. Built for a maximum capacity of 1,800 people, it currently is “home” to 10,000. Single-family tents house multiple families, three to four people sharing each mattress. There is not enough food, heat, electricity, space, toilets, or showers. The pit latrines fill up and overflow, causing the walkways and spaces around the tents to fill with raw sewage.

The average asylum application takes 18 months to process – 18 months in which men, women, and children are forced to live in conditions unsuitable for animals, much less for humans who bear the image of their Creator. For women and children, these 18 months are particularly dangerous. Incidents of gender-based violence are common. Traffickers set up right outside the camp gates, in an attempt to buy or kidnap the vulnerable. Women don’t use the outhouses after sunset, and are afraid to use the shower facilities at all. Women report not having showered in months for fear of being raped. These last facts are what prompted Danae to reach out to me.

I have had the privilege of teaching women’s self-defense courses for the last several years to women and children. My assistants and I have taught classes in gyms, orphanages, homes for disabled children, universities, churches, community centers, and occasionally, in open fields, in seven different countries. Danae and her mother had attended six-week sessions in North Africa twice in the years before I moved back to the States, so Danae had first-hand knowledge of how empowering these skills are. She talked to William, the director of Gateways2Life, and together they invited me to come teach self-defense techniques to the refugee women on Lesvos, during LPC’s spring break, in hopes that such skills would empower women to be able to protect themselves and their children, and lessen the burden of stress and fear they carry daily. Self-defense classes are not something you can easily teach alone. Danae agreed to be my main assistant, but I still needed to recruit a couple more people. That’s where Jenny and Aby came in...

Read Aimee's full story here!

Aimee Selby