In this first-person volunteer story, alumna Penny Louise Flavin describes her experience working with Ukrainian women and children in Poland in April. Penny Louise first served with Global Volunteers in Peru in 2019. Following the pandemic, she returned to service to teach conversational in Poland in October 2021. In February this year, she served in St. Lucia. As soon as Global Volunteers was asked by our community partner in Siedlce, Poland to help them support Ukrainian refugees, Penny Louise jumped at the opportunity. She immediately registered for the first service program dedicated to this project in April. Penny Louise was contacted by a local media source in Minnesota about her experiences, and this is what she shared about the resilience and fortitude of those with whom she worked.
by Penny Louise Flavin
I’ve had the resplendent opportunity to volunteer several times with the organization Global Volunteers. Their focus is to promote world peace through one volunteer at a time. Teams are sent to a multiple of locations throughout the globe. This time I was requested to come to aid in the provision of physical and psycho-social comfort to the Ukrainians that had fled from their homeland into Poland.
The assignment was outlined but a mindset of flexibility was key. What we as a team may be asked to perform at 9 a.m. might change by 9:45 a.m. depending on the current urgent need. Many on the team brought supplies with us to Poland. Although a list of needs was solicited by the Country Manager (Dorota Wierzbicka) in Poland, the vast amount and variety of supplies we as a team brought was amazing. These included playing cards, children’s bingo, crayons, pens, Go Fish cards, miniature toy cars, Uno, Alphabet/shapes/colors/math flash cards, and many more entertainment and teaching items for the children. Woman’s hygiene products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap and deodorant was also in abundance. What was brought but is in much higher demand is more medical supplies to treat the wounded civilians and soldiers.
Our team of six unpacked, sorted, discarded soiled/stained/torn items and then repacked hundreds of boxes of donated items to be transported to the home front in Ukraine. Volunteer drivers from Poland were enlisted to transport our packed boxes. These drivers may have had an eight-hour transit one-way to deliver our packages. Local people from Poland that have taken in these “guests” are in need of supplies, also. We were made aware of people coming to collect supplies and were eager to help pack the vans or cars to the brim whether these were crossing the border or crossing just a few miles here in Poland.
Each volunteer engaged in the “supply train” portion of the assignment. We also each had the responsibility of caring personally for the children or women that fled Ukraine. My personal designation was to be with the women. I had several different groups of women depending on the day of the week. In total I worked with 18-20 lovely heartbroken adult females. Several of the women could not or would not be separated from their young children. Each mother or child seemed reluctant to leave each other even for an hour or more. It was obvious the trauma and heartbreak they have been through. An example is the observation of the deep breath and sudden glances to each other when we heard helicopters flying over head. The grief and panic was palpable. I was able to provide comfort and reassurance and then redirect their thoughts first by addressing and reaffirming their concerns and second by distraction towards the activity I had planned for them. Other volunteers worked with the children playing tag, a scavenger hunt, soccer, coloring, and hugs. Global Volunteers raised enough donation finances to purchase three very needed bicycles. The women will ride them here to the manor house where I am staying. They have been hired to work here temporarily— as a means of a salary as well as an avenue to provide a sense of self-worth. The children took the opportunity to ride the bikes and expend energy and “just be a child” if for a short time.
I’m humbled by their resilience. I’m honored to be a part of this intersection of history. It is my absolute pleasure to be here to be of service in this much needed time of despair in the world. These families have given up every earthly possession imaginable. What they do have is each other and the new community of friends they have made where they are staying. I am in awe at their tenacity and resilience as well as the protectiveness of these new found relationships that have formed.
My participation in this Global Volunteers appointment to Poland to serve the Ukrainian “guests” is modest in comparison to the generosity of the Polish country. I would encourage anyone to support a volunteer to join a team or financially donate to the Global Volunteers organization specifically to combat the debts accumulated to support these efforts.
“These families have given up every earthly possession imaginable. What they do have is each other and the new community of friends they have made where they are staying. I am in awe at their tenacity and resilience as well as the protectiveness of these new found relationships that have formed.”– Penny Louise Flavin, Poland volunteer
Also by Penny Louise Flavin, on her first service program in Poland in October 2021: