Yoga and Sport With Refugees (YSR) was born in October 2017 on the island of Lesvos, Greece to assist people living in Moria refugee camp, which at its fullest, housed around 20.000 residents despite being originally constructed to hold approximately 3.000 people. YSR was created in response to the massive need for healthy, clean and safe spaces, sense of community and a place to work on mental and physical health. Our first classes took place in a repurposed Médecins Sans Frontières tent next to the community space of One Happy Family. Yoga and Sport with Refugees was a combination of two separate sport and yoga programs. Athletes arriving on the island approached us with an experience in different sports such as boxing, karate, running, kickboxing or fitness and wanted to teach it to their community, of which we moved on to organize the facilitation of the activities!
In September 2020, two things changed the course of YSR:
One night, a fire destroyed the entirety of the Moria 1.0 camp, bringing thousands of people onto the nearby streets with little to no belonging, food, water or shelter. The gym became a safe haven for many. Six days later, the new Moria 2.0 (Mavrovouni Camp) was opened – a camp that consisted of temporary UNHCR tents closely located along a beach on a former shooting range. This camp still exists today and remains a space where thousands live, and walk hundreds of meters to leave the confines of detention in the camp to join programs and classes at YSR. The gym is the base for many activities – street running, Muay Thai, dance, circus lessons, aerial yoga, climbing – the sky is the limit!
In September 2020 we also expanded to Athens (@yogasportwithrefugeesathens), where many of our community members had moved to following both successful and unsuccessful asylum applications. Athens is now also a busy YSR gym, bringing in people from far and wide to do independently weightlifting and training, sport classes and self-defence trainings. In 2021, we also created a collaboration with Habibi Works and KOIZ Centre for Postcolonial Studies to start Habibi and Sport with Refugees (@habibiandsportwithrefugees) in Ioannina, Greece. Combined across both locations, we offer more than 10 different sports activities a day, to approximately 400 people.
Our model is unique – YSR is passionate about leading a non-profit and privately-funded organisation that ensures the community themselves decides what happens and how they receive our support. Classes are led by coaches from refugee backgrounds; all locations have a coordinator from the community itself and we work in consultation with YSR students.
Our teams are intentionally diverse – comprised of volunteers from the international, Greek, and refugee community alike – so that we can learn from each other and become truly #STRONGERTOGETHER. Through sport, we bring people together and foster connection and belonging. Sports can break ethnic and religious barriers, thus creating a safe meeting space for cooperation between cultures where everyone participates and becomes a family. We work together to build people’s skills by promoting an environment conducive to continuous learning throughout our organisation.