The refugee crisis in the Middle East has continually worsened over the last year. Many individuals have been forced from their homelands due to continuing violence, civil war and ongoing turmoil. Homes and cities have been demolished, careers and businesses have been abandoned and families and relationships torn apart.
As our fellow brothers and sisters have fled to surrounding nations, various world governments, receiving nations and communities have been wrestling with how to handle the situation. Refugee camps have been built, but conditions are largely deplorable. The camps, often temporary and makeshift, are a feeble if noble attempt to help contain thousands whilst they patiently wait for a permanent situation. The scenario is dim and the stories are tragic.
There are, however, many people around the world who are actively participating in efforts to help the refugees, and who desire to do more for these refugees as they face great adversity and uncertain futures. One such inspirational altruist is Texas-born BYU graduate Hayley Smith, whose newly minted non-profit, Lifting Hands International, strives to help those in crisis.
Hayley is an El Paso native and Latter-day Saint who is passionate about humanitarian needs. While studying for her undergraduate degree at BYU, Hayley struggled with a deep personal trial which catalyzed her love and passion for the Arabic language. Upon graduation, Smith lived in nations such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the UK. Smith became acutely aware of the needs of the Middle East when she witnessed firsthand the 2011 Arab Spring, which both inspired millions in the region and drastically changed the dialogue between the Arab nations and their people.
After returning to the United States and teaching Arabic to inner city children for a short stint in Boston, Smith settled in Gilbert, Arizona. With many others, Smith watched as the heartbreaking Syrian civil war broke out and displaced millions, which is how Lifting Hand International was born.
Smith says Lifting Hands International was initially established to help those in the camps with needs and supplies. Setting up a gofundme account, Smith hoped to raise a paltry $7,500, but was shocked when she received $40,000 in a two-month span. On the heels of her success, she promptly filed for her 501c3 status and was legitimized by the IRS.
Interestingly, she received this news only a week before the Church’s #iwasastranger initiative was unveiled by Sister Linda K. Burton, and only two weeks prior to Elder Patrick Kearon’s inspirational General Conference talk, “Refuge from the Storm.” Smith states the support she has received has been nothing short of a miracle, and she has celebrated success in helping thousands in the region with supplies donated by people wanting to get involved.
As refugees are now being placed, Smith’s desire for Lifting Hand International is for the cause to become more domestically centered in order to help refugees adjust to life in the United States. She accepts donations via Amazon and Paypal, as well as any in-person or mailed monetary donations.
Smith holds youth, ward and stake packaging and sorting parties. She is also eager to speak in stakes, wards and firesides. Smith stresses the best way to keep updated with the cause or schedule speaking is via Facebook at facebook.com/liftinghandsinternational.