This is the third installment discussing my experiences working with Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Go here to see the other entries. More pictures of my particular group can be found here, here, here, here, and here.
One of the funnest things about being serving in Poland was giving gifts to kids in the shelter. We had LOTS of stickers to give out, which appeared to be one of the greatest things the kids could ever get. They had so much fun with them, and remarkably, the walls were NOT covered in them. My friend Zac brought some other small toys and candy that we would pass out. I expected fighting or whining over the limited gifts, as all kids are wont to do, but I didn’t see any of that. They were happy to have anything.
One afternoon, Zac was giving out small sticky, rubbery toys that will stick to the wall when thrown. The kids loved them. (It was my job to hand out the candy, something which the parents loved just as much as the kids.) One girl around eight-years-old walked up to me after all of the toys were gone, and handed me one of the little items. “It’s a gift,” she said in Russian. I told she could keep it, but she really wanted to give it to one of us. She just wanted to be able to help, somehow.
The next day I was playing catch with a small football that one of the boys had. Pretty soon there were two boys playing with me, who each had a football. After a few minutes, they grew tired of playing and moved on. Leaving me with two footballs, I yelled “Wait, you left your ball.” One of them turned around and just said “Keep it, or give it to some other kid.” The cynical person would just say that they didn’t like the football, and quickly grew tired of it. That’s a possibility. But I choose to think that they were simply kind enough to share what they had, and knew that others may appreciate it even more than they.
Many of the people in the center who cleaned, or translated, or dished up food, etc. were refugees staying in the center. They wanted to participate and be part of the efforts. They knew they needed help, but they also recognized that others needed it, too. They were all in this together, so they wanted to do their part.
I met a young woman in the center who was an intern in Ukraine. She had finished medical school, and began her training in anesthesiology last year. However, since she had not completed her first year of post-medical school training, she was unable to practice medicine in any way. She reached out to the clinic where we worked when she first arrived, and was told that she couldn’t help out because her English wasn’t good enough. However, she very desperately wanted to do something medical so that she didn’t lose her knowledge and skills. We were able to find some volunteer work that she could do in the clinic. When I told her, her smile was huge, and she thanked all of us profusely and repeatedly. She was able to offer some meaningful service there, and I’m hoping that she is still able to help even after we left.
During my week in Krakow, I volunteered at a clothing tent where people could come and get free clothes. There were so many donations, that many of the clothes were sent elsewhere around the country; the large tent simply didn’t have room for all of them. I assume that the clothes were donated from around the world, I’m not even sure all of the places. And while it likely wasn’t the majority of donations, a significant amount of those clothes available for needy families came from other Ukrainians.
It’s a gift.