Hayley Smith is the founder and director of Lifting Hands International, a nonprofit that mobilizes local communities to collect items needed by refugees in camps around the world. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smith, an El Paso, Texas native, earned her bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Brigham Young University. She minored in Arabic and Media Arts. She then earned her master’s degree in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of London. She worked as an English as a Second Language instructor, a community outreach manager, and an Arabic teacher. She has lived in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco, and has volunteered at refugee camps. Her nonprofit has a full-time team in an Iraqi Yazidi camp in Greece. Lifting Hands International also furnishes refugee apartments in the Phoenix, Arizona, area.
In a BYU Magazine interview, Smith was candid about what led her to her humanitarian work:
- While at BYU I had an eating disorder, and I went to the Center for Change in Orem, Utah, as an inpatient. When I got out, I started slipping back into the disorder. I realized, “I can’t do this. I will die if I continue down this road.” So one day, I thought, “I’m going to practice my positive coping mechanisms. I’m not going to give in to this darkness.” I went to the public library in Provo. I said, “I’m going to learn an alphabet—something cool that doesn’t look like English.” So I went to the language section and picked out a book. It happened to be an Arabic language book. I opened it, and it was like falling in love. I then took Arabic 101 and loved it. It helped me heal so much; it gave me something to focus on.
- Less than a year later I was in Morocco doing a study abroad. Then I did graduate work in London. I became an Arabic teacher in Boston. I knew in my heart that this was all leading to something. I really thought it was leading to teaching. When that didn’t work out, I thought, “Whoa! What’s this all about?” And then it led to this. It’s like a calling, and I’m really pleased Heavenly Father helped me find it.