Introducing Molly Nixon - Director of the LHI Refugee Center in Serres

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Photo Credit: David Lohmueller, www.davidlohmueller.com, @davidlohm

In September 2018, The OMPowerment Project delivered Trauma Informed Yoga Teacher Training to women within the Serres refugee community. To facilitate the training, we worked closely with Molly Nixon, Director of the Lifting Hands International Refugee Center in Serres, Greece - and trauma-sensitive yoga instructor - who helped us with everything from spreading awareness of our programming within the community to making sure that all the trainees were nourished daily with water and fruit.

Molly has devoted her life to making a difference in the lives of others. She works tirelessly to run the LHI Community Centre, supporting the health and wellbeing of the Yazidi refugees in residence at the Serres Camp. She has led and witnessed numerous programs through her work and we invited her to share her perspective on what she witnessed and experienced during The OMPowerment Projects’ Trauma Informed Practices for Freedom and Empowerment training.

The below are Molly’s reflections…

OMPowerment aligns with our vision of empowering the refugees to support themselves.

I began working with refugees three years ago when the rubber dinghies were crossing regularly from Turkey to the Greek shores. Kyle [Molly’s husband] and I helped the rafts arrive, helped people get warm (hypothermia was a huge risk during the cold winter months), provided water, etc. We then headed to the border when it first closed and provided crisis relief. This was a time of emergency and we campaigned for the most basic necessities: food, water, diapers, baby formula. I then headed to Turkey to help open a women's center for Syrian moms at a school for Syrian refugees.

When my close friend was kidnapped by ISIS it became impossible for me to continue the life I was living. My heart opened to the suffering of the world, most specifically to the women in the Middle East. I knew I had to do something. I bought my husband and I flights to Greece, and within 24 hours, we knew this was where we were meant to be. My service is fueled by deeply rooted compassion, by a deep desire to relieve the suffering of refugees and genocide survivors.

I started working with LHI 2.5 years ago when we started supporting the camp residents in Serres. LHI - Lifting Hands International - is a grassroots organization with projects in Europe, America, and the Middle East. LHI began supporting the Yazidis living in Serres Camp (Northern Greece) since the camp opened in August 2016. Over the years we have expanded our services and established a Community Center where the residents can come to take a break from camp life. The residents tell us they enjoy coming to the Community Center because it helps them to forget about the problems Yazidis have and helps them feel happy again. We initially entered the camp to establish a women's space and to offer trauma informed yoga. The project quickly expanded as the gaps in services were not filled by other actors. My friend, Hayley Smith, is the founder of Lifting Hands International. Kyle and I are the international directors and we spearhead the international projects.

The LHI Community Center is a place of joy, acceptance, and empowerment. We aim to not only meet the basic needs of the camp residents through distributions, but also to help them heal and grow while they are stuck in Greece. We aim to offer opportunities to heal trauma through arts and recreation, which includes trauma sensitive yoga, music lessons, talent shows, martial arts training, and a variety of other workshops. We also offer an educational center, a Women’s Safe Space, and Child Friendly Space.

OMPowerment aligns with our vision of empowering the refugees to support themselves. We have a resident volunteer program where the residents can teach language, yoga, fitness, dance, etc. We also have resident volunteers facilitating the women’s and children’s programming each afternoon.

For me yoga isn't about bending my body on the yoga mat. It is about finding spirituality in every moment of the day, finding light in times of darkness, and stillness in moments of chaos. My practice anchors me in stability and also gives me the strength I need. Yoga has come to my rescue during the most challenging times of my life, and when my friend was killed, I knew I had to share this healing tool with the world.

I am grateful to have been able to see the work of OMPowerment first hand! It seems to be a small, but extremely effective project that not only offers the healing benefits of yoga, but also teaches the refugees how to share yoga with their community.

We are grateful for the training offered by OMPowerment because it lifted the residents up, improved their understanding of yoga, and in the end, brought us a couple more yoga teachers for the space!

The training went better than I could have imagined! I was impressed with the organization and structure of the training curriculum. You simplify all that yoga is, which made it easier for beginners to grasp the basic concepts needed to keep their future students safe. The training welcomed beginners while challenging the more experienced yoginis in the course. You both exhibited adaptability, patience, and passion throughout the entire week. I feel your passion for yoga helped ignite a passion in participants who hadn’t even attended a yoga class before!

I was in awe with how engaged the girls were for the entire training, which reflects on both of you!. They showed up on time and ready to go, which isn’t always the case ;). They not only showed up for each session, but they truly listened, absorbed, and participated.

**OMPowerment Team note: we are currently trying to schedule another training with the incredible, inspirational refugees in Serres. Sign up to our mailing list to stay tuned and learn more.**

Julia Midland