How One Brave Woman in a Wheelchair Helped Us Discover the Truth About Refugees

9 minutes read -
Cheyenne Diaz
Written by
refugee children with woman in wheelchair rebekah uccellini kuby
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Summary: One person, one idea, and one action can change the world. Are you standing up for your values? Take inspiration from this one brave woman.


This story is about the truth about refugees: and how one American woman who, with her bravery and compassion, helped wake us up to confront one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades.

If You Had the Chance, Would You Change the World?

One person, one idea, and one action can change the world — so are you standing up for your values? Or are you scrolling through your Facebook news feed, feeling down about what’s happening in the world, but feeling like you can’t take any action?

Volunteers with the gifts for the refugees in the camps
Volunteers with the gifts for the refugees in the camps

This is why we wanted to share with you a story about a woman who overcame a nearly fatal disease to confront one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the decade — and in the process showed that ANYONE can make a difference. 

Meet Rebekah Uccellini Kuby from Maui, Hawaii.

Looking into the eyes of refugees opened up our minds and hearts.

In 2011, Rebekah attended her first Mindvalley A-Fest in Costa Rica and unknowingly began a journey that would galvanize an international movement.

She instantly realized there was an unmet potential in this community of brilliant minds trying to transform their lives. She approached Vishen with a proposal.

WHAT IF… she could ask attendees to stay an extra day after A-Fest and get them to volunteer? What if she could get them to go outside their bubble and into the local community to help people in need?

That day in Costa Rica, she organized what later became the first Mindvalley Give Back Day… with volunteers and Mindvalley students volunteering to help rebuild orphanages in Costa Rica.

Since then, Rebekah has helped Mindvalley put on an initiative to support the needs of the local community following major events like A-Fest. Now, this “Give Back Day” is one of our most honored Mindvalley traditions, with teachers like Lisa Nichols and Psalm Isadora showing up to volunteer.

But 2 years ago, unfortunately, a neurological disease caused her to lose mobility of her legs.

Rebekah has since been in a wheelchair. 

refugee children with woman in wheelchair rebekah uccellini kuby
Rebekah Uccellini Kuby with refugee children in Athens.

But when she heard that Mindvalley’s next event would happen in Greece in 2016, she realized it was an incredibly important opportunity to respond to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the decade: the refugees’ crisis.

Despite her illness, Rebekah found her way to Greece. And working 6 months before A-Fest with NGOs supporting refugees, she organized what became one of the most eye-opening (and heart-expanding) moments in Mindvalley history. She arranged for a large part of our A-Fest customer delegation to travel to refugee camps and meet, work with, and volunteer with refugees.

Keep in mind this happened DESPITE the fact that at the time, politicians, especially in the United States, went on a rampage accusing refugees of being “snakes” and dangerous potential terrorists.

The experiences of visiting these camps and meeting these beautiful people will stay with us forever. And so we wanted to share these 7 beautiful key ideas we learned from visiting these camps with Rebekah.

1. People are people — refugees are mothers, doctors, entrepreneurs and artists

women's empowerment silver wainhouse refugee women
Mindvalley Customer Silver Wainhouse after a conversation on women’s empowerment with refugee women at the camp in Athens.

As we were going into the camp, we didn’t know what to expect. Fear had written the narrative on the refugee crisis over the past years, and we weren’t sure if there was any truth in it. Should we fear refugees? Would we be unable to relate?

Rebekah explained that as they visited the camps, they began to understand just how much these people were like them: “We met doctors, engineers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs at the camps. We met children who had traveled alone across the water not sure if their family was alive or dead.”

The news often presents one face for refugees — but when disaster strikes a country, it affects everyone, including those highly educated.

And it turns out that nationality and religion don’t actually change our essence: people laugh, cry, share stories and hugs — it’s the nature of being human.

2. You have no idea how many children are uprooted, their needs unmet

steffani fort lefevour rebekah uccellini kubi with refugee children
Steffani Fort LeFevour from Lifebook with Rebekah Uccellini Kuby.

The children refugee crisis hasn’t been this bad since World War II. We have 50 million children right now who are uprooted from their homes — with a staggering 28 million fleeing extreme poverty, violence, and war.

All of these children might be without a home, but they’re not without needs.

adil with child
Dutch Entrepreneur Adil Izemrane, who started a non-profit to turn refugee camps into campuses, playing a game with a child at one of the sites.

That’s why volunteers like Steffani Fort LeFevour, Happiness Director of Lifebook, brought over baby carriers for the 500 mothers who were left without doctors, showers, and aid relief at the refugee camp at Elinikon.

Other Mindvalley customers brought movie projectors, backpacks, solar showers, and school supplies to fill up “boxes of love” that they’d deliver to the camps.

Teams painted signs with poems and inspirational quotes in 6 different languages, made puppets, and built puppet theaters to bring joy and inspiration back to the children in the camps.

3. We connect with people not just through language, but with our hearts and smiles

We met children at the camps like 8-year-old Sabim, who could only speak Kurdish while the other children his age spoke Farsi or Arabic.

He felt disconnected from the kids in his age group but he connected to Rebekah’s best friend and volunteer, Alan Fraser, instantly.

Alan Fraser and Sabim refugee child
Volunteer Alan Fraser and 8-year-old Sabim showing off their “brother” tattoos.

Alan and Sabim went beyond the language barrier to forge a kinship with each other — in fact, Alan gave Sabim his glasses to wear, and Sabim put on a temporary tattoo to mimic Alan’s tattoo and symbolize their brotherhood.

4. If you knew the hardships refugees face, you’d share your home with them. (And petition any scared, fear-mongering politicians in your county to let them in)

girl refugee
The young and brave girl Vishen Lakhiani met at one of the refugee sites.

Vishen met a brave, young girl at the camp in Athens, one of the thousands fleeing the carnage in places like Syria.

Vishen had this to say about his experience at the refugees camp and this girl in particular.

Vishen Lakhiani wrote about the picture above:

“Families paid everything they had to ‘people smugglers’ who would pile on refugees into unsafe little rafts and cast them out to sea to land on the Greek Island of Lesvos. Sixty to 80 people were dumped on these rafts for 20 and told to keep the motor running for one hour until they hit land. This girl was on such a raft. Many never saw land again.

“Each month hundreds of refugees die a silent death in the Mediterranean Sea unnoticed by the world as they attempt this crossing. Many were young children like this nameless girl.

“This ‘girl with no name’ could be a child in any American school. But she’s really a refugee child in a camp in Athens. She’s either Syrian, Afghan, or Iraqi. I debated sharing this picture I took but decided to share it because perhaps if the Congressmen in America who voted to deny entry to refugees looking for asylum had seen faces like this, they might have acted out of common sense and not from common fear.

“What were they fleeing? If you’re ready for this, Google ‘Destruction of Homs’ and glance at the pictures. Homs was a beautiful city in Syria, the birthplace of Steve Jobs’ biological father. Today it lies in nightmarish ruins. When you see those pictures, you’ll understand why families had to place their kids like this little girl on rafts in the Mediterranean in search of a safe place.

The next time you hear some politician denounce refugees as potential terrorists or a madman like Trump refer to refugees as ‘snakes,’ please remember this picture.”

adil with refugee classroom
Adil turning one of the refugee camps into a kindergarten classroom.

5. Refugees are easy targets — so they’re villainized by politicians seeking to scare you to get votes

People who have actually interacted with refugees have found them to be beautiful human beings, and have had their hearts opened up and their lives changed just from contact from these people who have gone through such hardship.

One such man who had a profound awakening after meeting refugees was Adil Izemrane, a Dutch entrepreneur.

Adil organized music festivals in the Netherlands, and he was vacationing with some friends on the Greek island of Lesvos when he started to see the boats coming over.

After seeing 10,000 refugees arrive at the island in one day, Adil realized that he needed to do something. He, along with the beautiful people of the island of Lesvos, volunteered to help pull these boats out from the sea, bring the refugees onshore and help give them shelter.

Mindvalley founder Vishen Lakhiani pictured with Adil.
Mindvalley founder Vishen Lakhiani pictured with Adil.

But Adil noticed that these camps were in horrible disarray, with inadequate facilities and depressing air. Having organized music festivals, he had an idea: what if he could turn refugee camps into campuses and find ways to create beautiful, happy environments for refugee children so that they could play and experience joy and lightness in their lives again?

For the next six months, Adil put his business ventures on hold and launched his non-profit that turns camps into campuses. He spent over a quarter million of his own money helping turn these refugee camps into a place where these kids could have hope again.

Adil’s life was changed by these refugees. But this is a reoccurring pattern — every individual we know who’s gone to these camps realizes that refugees are not the villains that politicians and the media have made them out to be but are among the most beautiful people in the world.

And our own lives were touched, our own hearts expanded, as we came to see these refugees as part of our own humanity.

6. We can cause ripples of compassion

Rebekah reminds us that kindness knows no borders. We need to question the media and political narrative on refugees and begin to see them as fellow human beings in need of support, love, and understanding.

Gregorio Avanzini
Mindvalley community members like Gregorio Avanzini and refugee children showing love has no boundaries.

We can learn from this passage from the bible:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

— (Matthew 25:25-36)

The passage reminds us that the bravest acts of compassion come when we remember that we have the power and privilege to offer something to those in need — even if it’s simply the opportunity to find a home.

The 42 hearts
The 42 hearts on this map show the people around the world who made the commitment to help refugees beyond Give Back Day.

We’re still learning about the long-lasting impact that this one week of goodwill and love with volunteers from 40 different countries had on the local community.

This one initiative sparked 42 COMMITMENTS by Mindvalley customers to stand up for refugees, and actively use their passion to create a sustainable impact.

Our wish for the world and for America is that we unite as the human race — just like we did that week — and extend our compassion beyond borders, nationality, and religion.

refugees blowing kisses

Special thanks to these organizations

When we told Rebekah we were writing this post, she insisted that we thank these organizations. We love your modesty, Rebekah:

  • Belle Sweeney from the US, who founded the Schoolbox project, an organization that provides mobile schools and trauma-informed care for refugees.
  • Zoe Wild, who started OneLightGlobal to offer job training programs for women and school sponsorship programs for children who were displaced due to war.
  • Alison Terry-Evans from the UK, who started a foundation called Dirty Girls of Lesvos Islands, responsible for saving thousands of tons of blankets and clothing from the landfill to provide refugees with the dignity of clean materials.
  • Molly Nixon, who represented Lifting Hands International, an organization that provides educational services and aid for refugees in Greece.
  • Together for Better Days, run by Kiki and Elana, works to create “a more dignifying, de-victimizing way” to distribute humanitarian aid and create sustainable, community-based camps.
  • The Emfasis Foundation, and founding member Maria Karra from Greece, works on meeting the needs of thousands of vulnerable refugees who had fallen through the cracks without proper care.
Cheyenne Diaz

Cheyenne Diaz

Cheyenne Diaz is a former content writer at Mindvalley. She is a consultant and scholar who specializes in finding the financial support and partnerships necessary to create movements. With over six years of experience in media, programming and education, Cheyenne currently holds positions in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sector.
Written by

Cheyenne Diaz

Cheyenne Diaz is a former content writer at Mindvalley. She is a consultant and scholar who specializes in finding the financial support and partnerships necessary to create movements. With over six years of experience in media, programming and education, Cheyenne currently holds positions in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sector.

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