Supporting Those Harmed by the War in Ukraine
In response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, in June, 2022, three Washington, DC, area mindfulness communities (Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, Washington Mindfulness Community, Opening Heart Mindfulness Community) practicing in the Plum Village tradition came together to establish Love in Action, a project that is a concrete manifestation of their engaged practice. Since June, 130 individual and organizational donors have together contributed $20,000, which has all been sent to the Czech Republic.
The Love in Action volunteer team in Prague provide bi-monthly reports to the Board of the Still Water Mindfulness Community who are coordinating the transfer of funds; this includes detailed financial reporting. This donor report is adapted from information in those reports to Still Water. As we now approach the holiday season, it is humbling to see the efforts that these Czech volunteers are making to help their brothers and sisters affected by the war in Ukraine, and to learn how nimbly they have been adjusting to changing needs. Their partners on the ground are small Czech not-for-profits as well as Czech individuals who have decided to do what they can to help civilians affected by this terrible conflict.
The Czech Republic has received around half a million Ukrainian refugees. Compared to the size of its population, this is the equivalent of the US receiving 18 million Ukrainian refugees.
Whoever is getting the work done
The team works with and through whoever is getting the job done. Karolína is a Prague music teacher devoting her free time to help Ukrainian pregnant mothers who have arrived as refugees in the Czech Republic. She has been providing starter packages of baby strollers, cots, baby clothes, and basic toiletries including diapers and essential cosmetics. She has also been arranging midwifery care, psychological therapy, and lactation counseling. Three of her refugee clients have now started helping her run the warehouse and offer translation services.
The team has also been providing supplies to the small foundation established by a Czech journalist who had previously been supporting Czech single parent families and expanded this work to include refugees when they began to arrive in the Czech Republic: child nutrition, basic toiletries and ad hoc needs. By August, she and her friends were receiving hundreds of visitors every day. When the Czech Government announced that refugee children could attend school, with special programs for non-Czech speakers, they quickly switched to providing support to get the children materials or the new school year, including basic school supplies, pencils and school bags. Four local stationary shops and one local school-bag store agreed to help, giving large discounts. The team also provided financial support for an autistic boy’s needs which were beyond the refugee family’s means.
In September and October, the support to refugee mothers in the Czech Republic slowly began to include more training: preparation for childbirth, doula services, nursing support wherever possible, reusable cloth diapers. But continuing large numbers of new arrivals meant they still did not have the capacity to provide the range of prevention and awareness training that would be most helpful. Many mothers are arriving with trauma and unable to produce breast milk, and so there is still a strong demand for formula. The team report that people are still arriving in Prague with injuries from the conflict, including children with amputated fingers or limbs.
Nigerian refugee students
The team has also been supporting Nigerian students who fled Ukrainian universities in March 2022 and ended up in the Czech Republic. They were not offered help by the state, and were welcomed into Czech family homes or briefly in hostels. The team used funds for attorney fees, and sometimes rent, food and warm clothes. All found somewhere to rent at the end of their free lodging. The Ghanian students have managed to return home. The Nigerian students have requested political asylum. They are allowed to remain in the Czech republic while their cases are considered, but they cannot register at Czech universities or receive work permits until their applications are decided.
When Love in Action began in June, the expectation was that all funds received would be spent within the Czech Republic. As needs evolved, so did the program, although always funded through Czech organizations and individuals known to the Love in Action Czech team. With winter now rapidly approaching, and the severe power cuts within Ukraine from the war, the response is continuing to shift.
The support to civilians inside Ukraine has also been adjustable by design. Monika is a Czech volunteer driver who decided that she would deliver humanitarian aid to civilians in Ukraine; she also brings injured people and abandoned pets back to the Czech Republic. She cooperates with groups of Czech volunteers gathering humanitarian aid and then personally delivers to wherever it is needed. Love in Action has been supplying basic groceries, medicines and hygiene products for families and isolated elderly civilians in the bombed cities of Charkiv and Mikolajiv. Once the relationship of trust and accountability was established, the team expanded this support.
Petra is another Czech volunteer, herself with physical disabilities. She now organizes collections of humanitarian aid for civilians as well as abandoned pets. She loads a van with material aid – durable food and toiletries – and drives it wherever she hears the need is greatest, currently to a warehouse in Nikolaev where it gets delivered to elderly Ukrainians. She writes: “I still remember my experience on my first trip, where I met a lady in a shop, an elderly lady who might have been in her 80s, she got (the equivalent of USD10), the lady burst into tears and the first thing she went to buy was bread. We met her on the way out of the shop and she thanked us terribly, hugged me and I cried.”
Winter is approaching and people there are undergoing electricity shortages and they have applied electricity daily saving hourly based schedules already! Therefore we will keep on collecting financial and material resources for heating and keeping warm, such as gasoline power plant generators, blankets, duvets, sleeping bags, candles etc.”
Another example of the team’s flexibility is the support they have provided through a small Ukrainian foundation which had been helping children with cancer. The foundation managed to move all the children to safe places in Europe and were then able to use their space to provide shelter for elderly people in need of medication or treatment. Love in Action paid for diapers and incontinence pads for the elderly, particularly those who are bedridden.
Finally, we should not forget the bravery of the Czech volunteers doing this work. Martin and Jirka were driving humanitarian supplies to Zhitomir in Ukraine, but had to spend five hours in a bunker in Lviv because of bombing. When it was safe, they simply drove on to their destination and delivered their supplies.
I want to finish with these words from Katerina, who sits at the hub of the volunteer team in Prague, directed at all who have contributed financial support: “Knowing that you are there has raised our spirits tremendously. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”
Donor Liaison, for the Love In Action team