Helping in a place I can barely pronounce…

About 2 weeks ago, I was having dinner with friends and listening to a story about the daughter of one of them. She had just come back from Przemyśl, (pronounced Sheh-Mesh-el, I think) Poland, on the border with Ukraine where refugees were coming non-stop, traumatized, hungry, exhausted, scared, grieving, literally without anything but the clothes on their backs. Almost all were women, the elderly and children. I know we’re all hearing these same reports, but something about Meredith’s story, the fact that she just picked up and went to the border to help and was able to contribute, struck a chord with me. One of the other women said, “I want to do that.” Immediately, I said, “I want to go too.” When I got home and told Bruce, he said, “I’d like to come too.” So, the 3 of us, Helen, Bruce and I are going on Friday. The fact that everything came together so easily and quickly was a sign to me that this was exactly the right thing to do. I reflected on the fact that I have the time, the resources, the travel know-how, and a strong urge to help where mostly I’ve been feeling so helpless in the face of Putin’s barbarism.

I knew about World Central Kitchen (WCK) since they went into Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, mainly from Stephen Colbert interviewing Chef José Andrés, the founder, on his show. It’s a “magical” organization (Meredith’s word) that just shows up immediately and feeds people suffering from disasters, 24/7. We wanted to volunteer with WCK. An opportunity came up and we grabbed volunteer spots. We will be doing “food distribution.” (We’ll have to say more about what that is when we’re there.) From there, we found housing in the town, flights, car, etc. etc.

For me, wanting to help was the primary driver. But as I thought about it, my ancestral connection with Ukraine kept coming into my mind. My maternal great grandmother came to the US from Ukraine in the late 1800’s by herself at the age of 16. I was never able to find out specifically what town or city. I do know that Pogroms in Russia were common then. Soldiers burned, raped, destroyed Jewish villages, then took boys/men to conscript them into the army. It was time to leave, and my great grandmother was the first of her family to make the journey. So, that’s been on my mind.

In addition, to be honest, my sense of adventure was piqued. I realized, I can do this. And at my age, 72, if not now, when?

So, on Friday, we fly to Warsaw. We will drive 5 hours to Przemyśl, then work 12 hour shifts from Monday-Sunday before driving 5 hours back to Warsaw, and from there home. We are bringing money from our GoFundMe site (thank you so much to all who have donated!!) to give to refugees for temporary housing, medicines, transportation, clothing, school supplies, etc. They could not access their money when they left, so left without. We understand they are truly grateful for the help, and at the same time, very proud and find it difficult to take a “hand out.” We have to be careful how it’s presented so their dignity is preserved, even in this unbearable situation.

We’ll continue to update you, but this is today… leaving in 6 days.