Denver public health retiree Joanie Jones said joining the people of Siedlce, Poland to care for Ukrainian mothers and children evacuated from their devastated homeland was both life-affirming and heart-breaking. As a six-time Global Volunteer who previously served in Poland, Joanie says she knew right away that she wanted to go and help – but didn’t know what she’d find. In her first-person story, she describes a true “journey of the heart.”
by Joanie Jones
I love to travel to new places as a tourist. More rewarding is choosing a place where you are invited and where you go to learn and to serve — this is what motivates me.
I have now volunteered twice in Poland; the first time was in 2014 at the English Summer Camp. Going there, I knew the kids would be happy, healthy, young people coming to a summer camp to learn English and have a wonderful time. The days were filled with learning, laughing, and having a fantastic summer experience.
My second Poland Program April 2022 was entirely different from 2014. I knew help was needed in Poland to assist in a humanitarian effort to support Ukrainian women and children who had been forced to leave their homes because of a war. Our job description was to be “flexible”. I knew right away that I would want to go help in any way I could so the invitation from Global Volunteers was the answer.
On the first service program, I knew what the children would be like. This time I wondered what I would find.
My team was the first one of Global Volunteers in Siedlce Country to respond to the Ukrainian volunteers’ needs. Our duties were to go through donations from France and sort them by category so when picked up and sent to Ukraine, the correct recipients would receive them. We also met with evacuated mothers and children, listened to them, played with the children, and ate supper with them. For me, this assignment was second-nature, as I’ve been in healthcare 40 years.
“I knew help was needed in Poland to assist in a humanitarian effort to support Ukrainian women and children who had been forced to leave their homes because of a war. Our job description was to be “flexible”. I knew right away that I would want to go help in any way I could so the invitation from Global Volunteers was the answer.”– Joanie Jones, volunteer in Poland working with Ukrainian refugees
Global Volunteers always emphasizes “teamwork,” which might seem like a baseball team with all team members depending on others to handle one baseball. I saw teamwork differently there; it moved like a puzzle with different people doing different things, but at the end it would all come together. I worked a number of days opening donated humanitarian boxes, sorting them into medical, hygiene, pampers, children and adult clothes, etc. Others in my group went to different local schools, one coached a priest in English, and two others met and counseled Ukraine mothers. At the end of the day, we all greeted the moms and kids as they arrived, listened to the moms’ stories, and played with the children. We learned the kids loved balloons, bubbles, balls, and books, and we taught them how to have a scavenger hunt for small treasures all over the huge estate at Reymontówka. We often had about 15 kids; little ones to pre-teens, and we soon stopped worrying how they were, because as they played, they were happy children. We know they felt safe with us, and it was a chance for them to run and jump and play outdoors. The bonus to the children playing outside was the moms got to relax and have some private time away from them.
“We know they felt safe with us, and it was a chance for them to run and jump and play outdoors as they did often get to do that. The bonus to the children playing outside was the moms got to relax and have some private time.”– Joanie Jones, volunteer in Poland
Most of the women left Ukraine with only their children and one suitcase. One teen-aged girl carried her little dog hundreds of miles. As they had no spare clothes, we were able to provide them what they needed from the donations and the supplies we brought with us. They’d cower and cringe when Polish and NATO helicopters flew over, and we’d assure them they were safe at Reymontówka. The children were less affected by the noises and easily engaged in active activities. We found the kids loved balloons, bubbles, color books and balls. We introduced them to treasure hunts, and hid things like M&Ms, Cheetos, and toys all over the estate. The kids were always ready for supper with their mothers and volunteers every day. Each evening we all ate together as a great big noisy group — moms, kids, and volunteers. The food was delicious and it was a good way to end the day.
After many years working in health care, I knew that I could be useful to people that were hurting. One day, one of the Ukrainian moms was crying. I got the translator and was told she just learned from her mom, who was still back home, her father had been wounded in the war. The best medicine I had was a big hug and a long walk around the beautiful grounds.
Poland and Polish people are very special. How many other countries haven taken in over three million refugees and called them “guests”? They house, feed, educate, and support people from a war-torn country and they do it with kindness and a loving spirit. That is the true culture of Poland and its people.
Our Team Leader, Dorota, is the glue that keeps it all together and that she does!
Waging peace through service means you help where needed. This service was very big, and we worked to help evacuees driven from their country by war. We made every effort to comfort, listen, play with kids, and be optimistic this war will end.
“Waging peace through service means you help where needed.”– Joanie Jones, volunteer in Poland
So, my story with the beginning… like pieces fitting together in a big puzzle. we came together in a time in history to each do our best.
You may also like this story by Joanie’s teammate, Penny Louise Flavin: