So many stories to fill the ears, heart and mind

Our last day is today. The week went fast. We worked 12 hour shifts for 7 days straight.And the amazing thing (to me at least) is that our old bodies held up! So many volunteers have been here for weeks. So many are sharing their skills so generously. Many are taking risks by going inside Ukraine. Here at TESCO, you wouldn’t know there was a war going on, except that this is a refugee center. Everything here is free except at the drug store, though the Ukrainians can get medical care and drugs from the health centers here. Even the pizza at the stand outside, run by Italians, is free.

The food here at WCK is free, of course. But we usually run out of something. Usually it’s the green salad. Yesterday, I brought green salad for us from the grocery store. This lovely grandmother saw me eating it and signaled, could she have some. I indicated it was ours and she looked so disappointed that I couldn’t not give her some. Her smile was beautiful. From then on, we were ”friends” and waved and smiled whenever we saw each other.

There was an older woman whom I mentioned earlier and to whom we gave some money. Today, I saw her in the hallway when I dropped my water bottle. She picked it up and put her hands in my back pockets. I thought she was indicating where I should put my water bottle. We hugged and cried a bit saying goodbye. A little while later, I was again in the same hall, and happened to reach into my back pocket and found a note. It said ”I love you.” Inside was a pair of her earrings. I ran into her again, and said I couldn’t take them. She would not take them back. When I told Helen, she said she had complimented her on these earrings. Often people couldn’t tell us apart (really!). Maybe she thought I was Helen. Anyway, more hugs, tears.

There was our friend with diabetes who was trying to get to a country where she could get medical care. Arrangements were made for her to go to Germany, but plans fell through. I assume this was a temporary setback. Tears, hugs, signing love.

A mom and her 2 kids were on their way to UK in a huge bus. She came to our cafe for sandwiches. We did what we did several times before and since – we packed up a bag of food, snacks, drinks, fruit, cookies, etc. for the long ride. Pretty crazy trip for a mom on her own with 2 very young children.

Yesterday, we learned that the US Army is in Przemysl training. On weekends, they do humanitarian activities, so they were at TESCO playing with children and building furniture out of pallets. They also clean, move cots, do laundry, etc.

The guy who was supervising the Ukrainian staff at our worksite told us he’s trained as a dentist, but can’t work as a dentist outside Ukraine. His ethnicity is Armenian, but considers himself Ukrainian. He wants to come to the US. Most Ukrainians just want to go back home, and many are doing just that, especially around the Kyev area. I showed him the website to apply to come to the US, and he was very excited. Smiles, hugs!

It’s amazing how much we were able to communicate given we mostly had no access to common language. Often we found someone to translate. But also often, we did not. So many international folks were there volunteering in many different capacities: medics, cooks, people helping to entertain children, people sorting donations, people helping find a country for the Ukrainians to go and arranging transport. There are cleaners, military, local police, people driving supplies into Ukraine using TESCO as their base, etc. etc. We were at one of many humanitarian centers in Poland or Moldova. I think it’s incredible that people can still take care of their kids, their elders, and at least to the outsider, themselves. I saw no frustrated moms yelling a children. I saw patience and love toward children and each other, even with impossible sleeping arrangements, lights on 24/7, noise, no privacy… Amazing.

Our supervisors at WCK asked us when we’re coming back – not a crazy question. For now, I just have to get some rest and see kids and grandkids. Thank you all for your support and generosity. We’ve been incredibly excited to be the faces of your generosity to the lovely Ukrainian people that we’ve met this week.

5 thoughts on “So many stories to fill the ears, heart and mind”

  1. Dear Helen, Sandy and Bruce.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being AMAZING and for all of your incredibly hard work, and most importantly the love that you have brought to TESCO and the Ukrainian peoples in transition. I have been following your trip and have read every post. Also thank you for shepherding all of the funds that we have donated to good causes and people in need. This sounds like it has been an incredible life experience… and I know that it is one that you likely feel that you wish you didn’t need to have. I wish you safe travels home. I wish you all wonderful reunifications with your loved ones and I know how blessed you will feel to be in your homes, safe and sound (sort of given these political times) here in America.
    In gratitude
    Mindy Benson

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  2. Thanks Sandy for the moving update and photos. So easy to be unaware and unconnected to how different the realities are in other places, so caught up in our own inordinately fortunate lives. I often tell myself to do good wherever I find myself, whatever the needs and opportunities presented there may be. What you, Bruce and Helen are doing takes that to a whole higher level. Not sure when you’re arriving back but very high temperatures are predicted here in MA for the May 21-22 weekend. If you need a pickup from the airport or anything I can help with from Arlington feel free to email me (I’m retired, yay!). /Joe (and Sally)

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  3. I would love to hear more about your experience and wonder if there is a way for others to put together a group and follow in your footsteps! You are truly an inspiration- especially inspiring that even later in life, there is still much we can do! thank you!

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