Update posted by Melissa Barnetche On Feb 07, 2020


No matter what, we continue to run and train for these year’s goals. The first race of 2020 will be in March and our aim is to run every competition in Lesvos and run a marathon at the end of the year. We want to start a women’s running group and reach out to more and more refugees stranded in the island while they idly wait for their asylum claims to be considered.

Why do we run in the midst of a refugee crisis?

Running not only helps us get healthier and feel better, but it helps our mental health. And this is incredibly important in a place where psychosocial support barely exists.

The situation in the infamous Moria camp in Lesvos, which has a maximum capacity of 2,840 people, has reached unprecedented levels of overcrowding and violence. Asylum seekers keep being forced to flee war, violence, and persecution, and new arrivals to the Greek islands are constant. There’s now over 20,000 people in Moria camp, all living in appalling conditions which deteriorate of their already vulnerable physical and mental health. (Click HERE for further information).

The asylum seekers include people who have been subjected to extreme forms of torture and violence, both in their countries of origin and during their journey. They have been severely traumatised, both mentally and physically. In the camps, they are forced to live in a context that promotes frequent violence in all its forms – including sexual and gender-based violence that affects children and adults. This constant violence triggers the development of severe psychiatric symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. People in Moria camp are unable to meet their most basic everyday needs, such as sleeping, eating, or maintaining personal hygiene.

Leaving the camp to join the Yoga and Sports for Refugees community alleviates, at least for a few hours per day, the soul-crushing circumstances they’re forced to endure.

When we’re overwhelmed with anxiety and depression, running helps us shift our attention from our frustrations and problems to focus on the goal of completing our training, taking our thinking and emotions out of the trench of negativity. While running, we can think about things in a different way, being able to process our thoughts differently.

Regular runners can hold a good pace for a long time and that allows the physiological processes that lead to improved mood to happen. Besides, the daily effort to go for a run - which can be especially difficult when dealing with depression and other mental health issues our refugee community suffers - is already beneficial. Success in going for a run on an especially tough day makes it easier to get out the next time, thus getting into the habit of running. By running on a daily basis, refugees regain some control of their situation and well-being, and feel empowered.

Lacing up and hitting the mountains is a great way to break free from self-defeating and recurrent negative thoughts, and we do this together, supporting one another by showing up for our group run. On a daily basis, running reminds us that together, we can overcome apathy and stagnation, and experiencing these small victories helps us convince ourselves that progress is possible, that change is possible, that a better future is possible. We all have the right to a better life!

Help us support the refugee community in Lesvos.


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Update posted by Melissa Barnetche On Dec 05, 2019


Last Sunday our Yoga and Sport for Refugees Running Team ran the mountains of Amali in Lesvos, the last mountain trail race of the year. It was a difficult and beautiful race, with an elevation of more than 1000m and wonderful views of the island. Even though it was very cold, our relentless team managed to win 6 medals on 3 diverse categories! With this race, we completed 12 races in 12 months, including the Athens Marathon, a couple of half-marathons, night races, mountain trails, a relay run, and even an airport race!

We all are very proud of our running team, of everyone's commitment, and of our achievements together. We couldn't have done any of this without the team spirit, camaraderie, support, and motivation we give one another.

But now that the cold weather is upon us, our refugee community needs our love, support, energy, and sports activities even more since winters are extremely harsh on the island. We need to provide our runners with proper running gear and warm meals to help them stay strong and healthy to endure the hardship and deprivation they are forced to bear in the refugee camps.

Please help us continue supporting refugees in Lesvos! There's much to do and we can't do this alone, we need the generosity and support of our partners, sponsors, family, and friends!

Join the team and donate today!

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Update posted by Melissa Barnetche On Nov 11, 2019

More than 60,000 runners from 120 countries joined this unique event that celebrates sports, culture and human values, running side by side in a race that unifies.


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The mighty Yoga and Sport for Refugees team did it again, running the ATHENS MARATHON with outstanding results! We are incredibly proud of everyone in our team, not only for their impressive athletic accomplishments but for their resilience, their willpower, their dedication, and their resolution to improve their health, their wellbeing, and their lives.

After months of training in the midst of the hot Greek summer, the steep hills and mountains of Lesvos, enduring injuries and setbacks, having to say goodbye to coaches and teammates, and surviving less than favourable conditions in the refugee camps, we proved that together, with determination and passion, anything is possible!

We are incredibly grateful to everyone that makes YOGA AND SPORT FOR REFUGEES possible. Donors, sponsors, partners, volunteers, students, coaches... thank you for being part of this amazing team. Let's keep going!


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Update posted by Melissa Barnetche On Nov 06, 2019


In just five more days, the team will meet again and come together to run this iconic race!

Among all the Olympic sport events, the Marathon Race stands out as it was born by a true historic and heroic event. It was a true triumph accomplished by a news-bearing foot soldier from ancient Athens, who announced - with his last words - the victory of the Greeks against the Persians during the Marathon Battle in 490 BC. The 42,195m Marathon Race became one of the most competitive events during the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896.
The Marathon Race has always had a prominent place in the hearts and minds of sports enthusiasts, as it represents the highest effort where the human body, soul and mind are tested to their limits as the runners push themselves to reach the finish line.


We all became a team running together in Lesvos. Over time, some of our teammates have been transferred to the mainland, others have left Greece, and some others have gone back home - but our friendship, camaraderie, and team spirit remain as strong as ever! Many more of our teammates are fast, strong, and dedicated runners, who prepared and trained for the marathon but due to the unjust policies and geographical restrictions refugees have to endure, they will not be able to run the Athens Marathon.

We will run for them.

Yahyaa Rezai

When I run, I feel empowered, my mind opens, my mind is clear and I can think better. Simply, I feel great after running!

Yahyaa is a great athlete and a sweet friend. He practiced Muay Thai back in Afghanistan and Iran. He began running when he came to Lesvos last year, becoming one of the fastest and stronger runners of the team! In his words, Yahyaa started running because it made him healthier, happier, stronger, better at Muay Thai, which he practiced at our gym while he was in Lesvos. Earlier this year, he was transferred to the mainland where he continues to run, compete, and win. He recalls that even the first day after arriving to the mainland he began his runs from Athens to Piraeus! Besides training, he is learning English and Greek and going to night school. It is an honour to have such a smart, motivated, and kind teammate like Yahyaa!

Mujtaba Wahidi

I enjoy the peace I find when I run.

Muji came to Lesvos in 2018 and started running with the team simply because he loved running with the team! He also enjoyed solo runs to find peace and quiet, to be outside in nature, and out of the refugee camp. He loves competitions and he's a steady and strong long distance runner. During his time at Yoga and Sport for Refugees in Lesvos, Muji practiced Muay Thai and boxing. Now on the mainland, he continues to run and thrive in competitions! We are all looking forward to run together again!

Alijan Mojaddadi

Through running, I improve day by day to be a positive person in society. Running helps me reach my goals.

Alijan practiced Mixed Martial Arts in Afghanistan, then boxing in Iran and wrestling in Turkey. He came to Lesvos in 2018 and soon joined the running team turning into a fast and solid runner. Now running has become his sport of preference because he feels healthier, more positive, and focused towards his life goals. During his time in Lesvos he practiced wrestling, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and yoga. He was transferred to the mainland in spring where he dedicatedly continues to do strength training and run, eager to go back to competitions and run with the team again!

Rohid Shafaie

I love running with my teammates and with my coaches, we are like family, and that’s why I run!

Rohid is a joy to have around! He is funny and caring. He loves sports and during his time with Yoga and Sport for Refugees he trained basketball, went to yoga and AfroHouse dance classes, he loved swimming and of course running, since the team is his family. He is a fan of speed training at the track, where he stands out being quite a fast runner with a long stride. His best race so far has been the Mesotopos Half-Marathon in 1:21:21, finishing hand-in-hand with Ezatullah, his best friend since they were in Afghanistan.

Ezatullah Rezai

I enjoy running with my team, my friends. I like sports but running is my favourite.

Where you see Rohid, you see Ezatullah, always active, and always on their bikes. Ezatullah loves sports and enjoyed participating in many different classes at Yoga and Sport for Refugees, always with a huge smile and the best attitude! But his favourite sport is running. You can spot him right away with his red shirt, red shoes, and red head band. Ezatullah is a fast runner and he is definitely the best pacer of the group. Give him a time for his intervals and he will run it exactly. Ezatullah is very eager to learn, not only in sports, but also in school. His English improved impressively in only a few months, and more since "Khale" (aunt in Farsi) Melissa, as he nicknamed her, started teaching him and other teammates. That is the wonderful thing of our team, we support each other however we can!

Majid Ahmadi

Majid is probably the fastest runner of the team, although Yayhaa beat him in a couple of competitions earlier this year! He has been running for just a year and a half now, and he is already preparing for a 2:30:00 marathon, which could make him the fastest Afghan on the marathon ever. He easily runs a 5k on the track in 0:16:40 and enjoys the long distance training and racing in the mountains, where he is incredibly strong. Majid is not only an amazing runner, he is also a skilled Muay Thai athlete and one of the coaches at Yoga and Sports for Refugees. His goal is to become a professional athlete and we are sure he will succeed! He's a natural.

Nikolai Posner

I joined Yoga and Sport for Refugees because I love and respect the vision. When I arrived to Lesvos, I was looking for a family and I found one.

Niko started running one year ago when he came to Lesvos to volunteer at One Happy Family Community Center, where he spent 6 months. In Yoga and Sport for Refugees he found the perfect coach, the perfect team, the perfect family. He runs to improve himself and running every day gives him strength to go further and reach his happiness. He even improved his half-marathon time from 2:05 to 1:31 and now can't hardly wait to run together with the team again! Niko also loves climbing, bouldering, rollerblading, and dancing. He is the friendliest, always with a huge smile, and the best vibes.

Nina De Winter

I run to clear my mind, to be strong and healthy, and to push myself to the limit!

Nina was the track running coach of Yoga and Sport for Refugees in July and August and we all enjoyed her trainings so much! She has been a track runner since she was 6 years old, and on the track Nina shines! Whether it is coaching or running, you can see from a mile away how passionate she is about running, and she is good! And FAST! She never expected that her time on Lesvos would result in training for a marathon since she has always been a speed runner, but it was very easy to convince her, she simply loves the team and the team loves her back! On her first half-marathon ever in Mesotopos, she landed the second place with a 1:32:59 time and is now aiming for a 3:30:00 on her marathon debut. We can't wait to have her back running with us, and hopefully coaching again soon!

Estelle Jean

I run for my team!

Estelle's energy is bottomless. She's a Muay Thai addict and a tireless runner. She has done a few marathons, her best one in Paris, finishing in 3:33. She is the founder of Yoga and Sport for Refugees, and not only does she run the NGO, she also teaches swimming, attends the AfroHouse dance classes, the body building sessions, and of course, Muay Thai and running. Her kindness, sweetness, patience, and optimism are unique as is her determination to keep going and help others through the power of sports!

Melissa Barnetche

Running together makes us all stronger!

Melissa runs with a smile on her face. One of her favourite things in the world is to run in the mountains with the team. She loves long distances and now also enjoys interval trainings, which have made her a strong runner. She's passionate, dedicated, and determined in everything she does, and she goes above and beyond for the team! She's a fan of the AfroHouse dance class and is hoping to go back to boxing or maybe take on Muay Thai after the marathon. The Athens Marathon will be her 5th and with the hard work and training in Lesvos and with the team by her side, this will surely be her best one!

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