Each time a traumatic world event occurs, volunteers from all corners of the U.S. and other English-speaking countries contact us to ask, “How can I help?”
In many cases, such as natural disasters, medical emergencies and armed conflict, the need is immediate and specialized. Trained relief workers, equipped with the skills to handle hazardous, medical and/or high-stress assignments, are dispatched to deliver immediate aid. Yet, those who watch and wonder how to diminish the suffering still are moved to take action. Here’s how you can help Ukrainian refugees taking refuge in Poland.
As a long-standing human and economic development NGO in special consultative status with the United Nations, Global Volunteers’ services are largely directed upstream from those sudden disasters – on programs addressing systemic inequities and filling gaps in essential services. Our primary efforts are on helping local people stabilize and shore up their capacities to overcome the inevitable disasters that threaten and limit their lives. But not all trauma occurs from natural or medical disasters. In Poland, Global Volunteers’ partner community is hosting hundreds of Ukraine mothers and children who have escaped war in their country – and now must adjust to life as refugees. They obtain material necessities – food, clothing, shoes, furniture, appliances, and bicycles for adults and children; and services such as mental health therapy, childcare, and Polish ID cards for adults as they seek employment and settle into an unknown future. They also need to know that others care, and will travel across oceans and continents to help them adjust and begin anew.
The local Polish volunteers and professionals need help too. This sudden influx of refugees has strained resources, and as weeks progress, volunteers must return to their jobs and families. That’s where Global Volunteers comes in. We supply the extra helping hands to distribute emergency materials, help provide resettlement services, and relive the hard-working local volunteers where needed.
For the foreseeable future, alongside our existing English programs in schools, we’ll serve traumatized children and mothers currently sheltered in Siedlce County, Poland, where we’ve worked for over 33 years. Global Volunteers is uniquely positioned at this critical time to channel the compassion of short-term volunteers to our partner community to help Ukrainian refugees. While we don’t operate as a relief organization, we can – and do -activate our network on behalf of local leaders on the ground amidst the humanitarian crisis.
Volunteers have joined service programs to provide material and moral support – what the United Nations calls “psychosocial support” – which takes many forms. Groups of mothers and their children are invited to Reymontowka, the Polish manor house where volunteers stay during service programs, for evening meals, music, fun, games, interaction, and relaxation with volunteers. Each evening offers a temporary respite from worry and heartbreak and perhaps, a bit of normalcy. On some days, volunteers will accompany Ukrainian children and adults on day trips to Warsaw to visit the zoo and national museum. All these activities are intended to offer some comfort and relaxation for moms and their children.
The Importance of Psychosocial Support
Unicef states: “Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is essential for improving the well-being of children affected by humanitarian emergencies.” Accordingly, psychosocial support after disasters or other traumatic events should promote five essential principles: 1) a sense of safety 2) calming, 3) self- and community efficacy 4) social connectedness 5) hope.
Global Volunteers broadly invests in psychosocial support through our long-term work providing essential services to local people worlwide. Focused efforts to address mental distress can reduce long-term harm in children and families, and can be the least expensive humanitarian response. One-on-one attention, gentle conversations, a friendly and reassuring “ear,” sports, and safe play spaces for children, are calming and immediate interventions. Peer-to-peer groups, workshops, scheduled recreational activities and life-skills and vocational training are useful long-term projects.
Within established English language classrooms in Siedlce County, Global Volunteers provides conversational English lessons for Polish students. Some Ukrainian children may attend and need help adjusting to their new school environment. In these cases, we offer comfort and reassurance to children struggling with trauma. Further, any English speaker who also speaks Ukrainian or Russian can be especially helpful in translating for the Polish teachers.
As needs evolve and change, Global Volunteers will work with our community partners to help provide services to Ukrainian refugee families for as long as they live in Siedlce County. Volunteering in this capacity requires a high degree of flexibility and comfort with unpredictable assignments. Your most significant contribution to families at this time is your presence and patience as needs become known. Call 800-487-1074 or 651-407-6100 to talk with a Volunteer Coordinator.