Community Connections

I AM YOU offers new support for refugees

photo credit: I AM YOU


Anyone who has followed the news about refugees fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries has probably felt both utterly sad about their plight and also frustrated at the limited ways to help. That’s why there was such a big turnout on a wet and blustery night recently to hear about a new organization called I AM YOU that is providing support for refugees in Greece.

photo credit: NPR

The event was organized by a group of Palo Alto community leaders including Amy Rao and Frannie Keischnick, who met the founders of I AM YOU when they traveled to Greece last year (Amy is on I AM YOU’s advisory board). I AM YOU also worked with girls at Castilleja as part of the school’s Global Week focused on the theme of migration.

a group of teens create art and crafts with an I AM YOU volunteer. Photo credit: I AM YOU

What is I AM YOU?

I AM YOU is a volunteer organization operating in refugee camps in Greece that was started just 14 months ago by two friends from Sweden, Rebecca Reshdouni and Damian Ardestani.

The mission of I AM YOU is to protect human rights and make the lives of displaced men, women and children better. Its vision is a world where all people fleeing war are treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

Damian is literally a rock star, who wrote music for the Hunger Games movies and has toured in Europe. As the son of Iranian immigrants who grew up in a family that struggled economically, Damien felt a connection to the refugees who were so desperate to flee their war-torn homes. Upon the advice of Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, Damien decided to travel to Greece in 2015 and convinced Rebecca to come with him.

Damian Ardestani at the event in Palo Alto with two sisters who were inspired by his story. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

Rebecca’s family were also immigrants from Armenia, but they came to Sweden many generations ago, which allowed her to grow up sheltered from the challenges faced by new arrivals. But, as she explained to the crowd in Palo Alto, when she visited the refugees with Damien, “I looked at the faces of the children, and all I could see was my father.”

I AM YOU event attendee Shari Guggenhime with co-founder Rebecca Reshdouni. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

A visit with refugees inspires I AM YOU

When Rebecca and Damien visited Greece, they found a shocking lack of support for thousands of the refugees.

There was no one to help get people off the rafts, drive them to the camps or ensure the most basic needs, let alone education or other human necessities. So Damien and Rebecca decided to stay and help. And even though they both had other jobs and priorities, they ended up starting I AM YOU, which was incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization in 2015.

Just over a year later, I AM YOU is making a profound difference for the refugees in Greece and raising awareness of the human needs that are still unmet for many people living in the camps. Over 500 volunteers have worked with I AM YOU to help facilitate programs that focus primarily on education and refugee support.

photo credit: I AM YOU

How I AM YOU helps refugees: education and logistical support

I AM YOU is running a wide range of education programs in two refugee camps:

  • Schools for children from preschool through elementary that are taught by refugees that were teachers in Syria before they fled

    an I AM YOU preschool. Photo credit: I AM YOU

  • Workshops where people can build furniture to make their tents and dwellings feel like home
  • Art spaces where children, teens and adults can create and work together
  • A children’s library that has storytelling in five different languages
  • Portable computer labs that allow young people- especially teenagers- connect to the world

Displaced teachers living at a refugee camp are teachers with I AM YOU. Photo by I AM YOU

In addition, I AM YOU offers its Lifelines Support Program, which provides refugees with medical transport, asylum processing and transition to Greek school.

I AM YOU works closely with the Greek government, local authorities and other non-governmental agencies that are also supporting refugees such as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and more.

I AM YOU also advocates for refugees through the media, celebrities and other avenues for drawing attention and resources to help those displaced by war and economic strife.

How to help I AM YOU: donations are needed most

What I AM YOU needs most is financial support through donations. With a mostly volunteer staff, no offices or overhead, almost all the money donated to I AM YOU goes to supporting refugees in Greece. A donation of any size can make a difference to I AM YOU as it costs the organization $20,000 a month to provide its services to refugees. Find out more about how to donate here. You can also join a crowdfunding effort for I AM YOU here.

If you are over 21 and can travel to Greece for at least three weeks, it is also possible to volunteer with I AM YOU. But as Amy Rao explained, with the cost of travel to Greece from Palo Alto, the best way local supporters can help is with donations rather than volunteering in person.

a teenager creates art through I AM YOU. Photo credit: I AM YOU

How to learn more

Visit the I AM YOU website at http://iamyou.se/

Donate to I AM YOU at: http://iamyou.se/donate/

Read more about the history of I AM YOU and support a crowdfunding effort to raise money here, or at https://www.likeminded.org/en/projects/3277

Learn more about the refugee crisis through the UNHCR at www.unhcr.org/en-us, or Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org/topic/refugee-rights

photo credit: I AM YOU

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About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of GreatSchools.org , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.