Self-defence on Samos

By Aislinn Oeri

After All: We Still Rise!

Empowerment Self-Defence for Girls and Women on the move on Samos Island

It is with inspired and warm hearts that we are looking back on our “autumn-mission” to offer a two-week intense empowerment self-defence course for girls and women across Samos – female refugees and female volunteers alike. We did so in collaboration with Empowerment Self-Defence Global Inc. and support from incredible teachers such as the Austrian Olympian Hilde Drexler (top left), Wendi Dragonfire (middle left), and Negar Tayyar (bottom left).

The three of them held daily classes at different organisations as well as evening workshops along with weekend teacher trainings for volunteers. An intervention nothing short of highly relevant and truly successful.

A global Movement and Crucial Life Skill in Support of Girls and Women 

Self-defence goes beyond mastering physical techniques. Taking care of oneself by setting boundaries and defending personal space is fundamentally important. When claiming our space, we feel empowered and free. In fact, self-defence is multi-dimensional with responses to a whole spectrum of violence – from verbal harassment to actual physical violence.

And here’s where Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) kicks in – a holistic approach to personal safety that has evolved from a global initiative over the last four decades. ESD Global’s founder Yehudit (Yudit) Zicklin-Sidikman, is one of many dedicated and committed women spreading the approach across the globe. ESD focuses on prevention and de-escalation. By means of professionally led workshops, ESD Global equips girls and women with tools for mental, verbal and physical responses to violence. 

Emergency Context Samos 

“A boy who sometimes bullies me tried to grab me, and I stopped him by getting up and saying ‘NO’ loudly. He attempted to come close and grab my hair; I put my foot down and said ‘NO means NO.” (A 9-year-old Iranian girl, in the camp for 6 months).

With the #MeToo movement uncovering the incredibly widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on girls and women, today, ESD could not be of greater relevance. Feeling the power to choose how to respond to threat by setting boundaries is crucial – for any girl and woman, and even more so for those experiencing harsh life situations as fleeing persecution and living in limbo. 

As a matter of fact, the inhumane conditions that refugees face during their journey often include high levels of violence against girls and women. Hence, it goes without saying that girls and female refugees on the island of Samos could particularly profit from ESD inputs. Thus, Wendi Dragonfire, Hilde Drexler, and Negar Tayyar set out to spread their self-defence wisdom in the emergency context of Samos. 

With a two-week schedule, holding five self-defence classes a day at different organisations as well as evening classes and weekend trainings for volunteers, their main aim was to teach girls and women how to protect themselves and feel confident with setting individual boundaries. A mission that was nothing short of outstandingly inspirational and a truly emotional path to witness: Girls and women of different ages and ethnicities coming together in shyness and shared insecurity, often left class with an individually established potential of self-defence and eager for action. Not only for themselves, but also in support of each other.

“Last night on our way back home, we realised that we are always taking a small and quiet ally back to the camp instead of walking on the main road. We both decided to pay attention to where we walk and support each other.” (Two Iranian girls, aged 15 and 16).

The impact those ESD sessions had on the girls and women on Samos was tremendous. In particular with regards to their attitude towards their self-worth. As much as a changed attitude positively affects one’s own life, it does also affect the lives of women and girls around us.

“I have never seen my mother like this before. She is so so strong! I saw how she entered the tent and carried herself through the day. I want to be like her and learn what she has learned.” (An 11-year-old girl from Afghanistan)

The ESD intervention was an invaluable contribution. Not only to the lives of approximately 250 girls and women on the island, and to us, as the provider-charity, but just as well to the professionals leading the course. They were clearly moved by their experience: “Accompanying girls and women on this critical journey was a profound privilege that has left traces in our hearts and souls.”  Wendi Dragonfire, internationally recognised ESD teacher

As ESD Global Inc. and the teachers are very determined to continue offering classes in ESD and alike, Indigo will very proudly support them on their valuable mission. In fact, as a charity focusing on volunteer recruiting, Indigo highly values the necessity of equipping long-term volunteers and coordinators with tolls enabling them to keep doing their amazing work in circumstances far from every-day normal life.