HSToday took World Refugee Day as an opportunity to sit down with some of the volunteers involved in relief efforts for refugees to give readers a sense of what, and how people are getting involved all around the world. Executive Editor Kristina Tanasichuk sat down with Fiona Wilson, who in her “day job” works for a local authority in the United Kingdom supporting children who have a visual impairment, and sister Karen Vaughan, who runs her own business, to learn more about their volunteer efforts in Krakow, Poland. They were both horrified by the invasion and decided to get involved.
The answer is simple, they need volunteers, we are well looked after, we meet amazing people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and abilities who are there simply to help in any way they can.
HSToday: Welcome and thank you for talking with us! I think everyone has been shocked by the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent atrocities committed by the Russians. Is there anything in particular that made you actually get involved?
Wilson: When we heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine we started donating food and clothing to a local charity that had been set up here in the UK called Moseley for Ukraine. However we felt we wanted to do more so I contacted Moseley for Ukraine, and they suggested places to volunteer in Krakow, Poland. We made contact with Wolontariusze _Ukraina_CW Krakow and registered to join their Facebook page and I found out about all the wonderful work they were doing. It was an easy decision for us to make to volunteer and help in any way we could.
HSToday: Where have you been volunteering? Only in Krakow?
Wilson: Karen and I have been volunteering in Krakow through Wolontariusze _Ukraina_CW Krakow, an organization coordinating much of the refugee response in Krakow. We have volunteered at several of their locations: Szafa Dobra (which literally translates to “Good Wardrobe in English, al Pokoju 44) which is a large clothing warehouse, and at al Daszynskiego 16 which is a food bank. We have also donated medicines to al Daszynskiego 22 which is where refugees go if they need medication. Unfortunately, this center is now closed and a limited service is provided at al Daszynskiego 16. We have also donated to The World Central Kitchen on the same site as Szafa Dobra and near the main train station in Krakow. Further to this in April we visited Platform 3 at the main station every day during our stay and provided food for refugees arriving there.
HSToday: You are doing tremendous work. What compels you to return?
Wilson: Karen and I have made 3 visits to Krakow to volunteer since April returning in May and again recently in June. The answer is simple, they need volunteers, we are well looked after, we meet amazing people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and abilities who are there simply to help in any way they can.
HSToday: Have you observed anything that surprised you?
Wilson: The queues for people needing help are very long, from the beginning of a shift to the end of a shift there are always people needing help. This has been the same for every visit that we have made. The shelves are often empty at the food bank and the clothes at Szafa Dobra are mainly winter clothes now, the storage areas were very full when we arrived in April, during our last visit in June they were looking very empty.
HSToday: What types of activities are you doing when you come?
Wilson: The roles have varied, Kare and I usually work together. At Szafa Dobra we have worked on shoes, men’s, women’s and children’s clothing area, we have also helped restock the shelves. At the food bank we re-stock shelves and give out food. You basically just get assigned where to go and offer help wherever it is needed.
The queues for people needing help are very long
HSToday: Who pays for your way?
Wilson: We are both self-funded, we made the decision very early on that we would pay for our own flights, food, and accommodation. A week before our first visit in April we decided to set up a JustGiving page to raise funds so that we could take money with us and buy whatever was needed when we arrived. Karen also created some donation envelopes based on some images from a local Artist called Robert Bower, in these envelopes we have been putting in a crocheted heart as a thank you to anyone who has donated. On our visits we have also given out many of these hearts to people that we have met whilst we have been volunteering. We raised over £2,000 for our first visit and bought food, medicine and clothing. We felt it was important to give something back to the Polish community and economy by spending money whilst we were out there. We also set up a Facebook page so that our family and friends who donated could follow our story.
HSToday: Would you recommend volunteering to others?
Wilson: Absolutely! We are very fortunate that we are a short flight away from Krakow as we are based in the UK, however we have met volunteers from all over the world that have given up their time to help. We will continue to volunteer for as long as there is a need to do so.
HSToday: Any tips for future volunteers?
Wilson: Look at the weather forecast! For our first trip we dressed up in winter clothing and it was really hot! Look after yourself whilst you are out there, quite often you can work all day without eating or drinking properly. Take time out to enjoy the place that you are volunteering.
We will continue to volunteer for as long as there is a need to do so.