Encounter with LWF refugee staff in Poland
(LWI) - Fleeing war, and coming to a strange country is a challenge. Even more so, if you do not speak the language, or any foreign language at all. Like in all other country programs therefore, LWF in Poland does not only work with local staff, but also employs refugees from in its centers.
“I had to flee Ukraine, it was terrible. I had to leave my home, my job... I was forced to leave my country to protect my children,” says Olga, who worked in a state bank in Odessa before. Working with refugees is not new to her, Olga has been assisting internally displaced people from the Donbass since 2014. She believes that as a refugee, she best understands the situation of the people LWF supports. At the same time, being able to work helps her and her family, not only financially: “This job makes me feel needed,” Olga says.
Joy and relief
90 percent of the staff in the LWF multipurpose cash assistance centers in Poland are refugees from Ukraine themselves, says Allan Calma, LWF Global Humanitarian Coordinator. Calma set up the centers in Poland together with the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, an LWF member church. “It made more sense to recruit refugees since the work entails active engagement and information gathering with refugees from Ukraine.”
For the people seeking assistance, it was a relief to be welcomed by people from their own country. “We could see the joy and relief from visitors to the center at being welcomed and attended to by fellow Ukrainians. More importantly, from experience in working in other refugee contexts, LWF knows how critical it is for refugees to be able to engage in gainful employment and become self-sufficient.” Calma adds.
Working in the center helped me find a balance in my life after coming to Poland. It helps me not to think about all the terrible things that are happening in Ukraine right now.
– Anastasia, refugee from Ukraine
“Working in the center helped me find a balance in my life after coming to Poland. It helps me not to think about all the terrible things that are happening in Ukraine right now,” says Anastasia, a law graduate who already worked in Canada and Turkey as a business administrator. Now she works as an usher in the MPCA enrolment center in Gdánsk, and handles complaints. Sometimes she also steps in to translate.
Finding a new place in life
Many of the staff in the LWF centers are refugees who have the necessary skills and speak English well, some are Ukrainians who have been living in Poland for some time already. Some have been living in both countries, like Elizabeta, who came to Poland in 2015 for her studies, but regularly went back to Ukraine to work in the summer.
After the beginning of the war, she left her job at a bank and started volunteering, before LWF recruited her as a clerk and interpreter for the center in Gdánsk. “I feel useful to other people, and I can help those who need help the most”, says the young woman, who also worked as a child therapist.
At the same time, employment with LWF gives refugees the means to pay their bills. “Every day, when I look at my children, I know that I have someone for whom I have to live and work. My children give me strength. I can’t give up now. I have to support them.” says Andrzej, who was self-employed as an entrepreneur in Ukraine. Working in a different field gives him new skills that he might need in his new life.
Working in the MPCA centers is also an opportunity for the many refugees who do not speak Polish, as it requires some English and daily interactions with fellow Ukrainians. “Finding a job was not easy”, says Viktoria, who with her family lived off savings for months until she found employment with LWF.
Worry about loved ones
Viktoria registers refugees for financial assistance in the LWF center in Ostróda. She is happy to have a means to support her family, even if it comes at a price. Working with refugees also brings back the trauma of war and displacement.
“We survived the hell of war, but every day we listen to new tragedies of people who fled to Poland”, she says. At the beginning of the invasion, her family hid from the shelling in the basement for two weeks. When they got out, their neighborhood was destroyed. “I will never forget the sound of a rocket flying overhead,” Viktoria says. “When my children hear a plane, they want to hide under the bed. Fortunately, all my relatives are healthy and I know that I cannot give up, because I have to support them.”
The LWF Global Humanitarian Coordinator, Allan Calma, is well aware of these difficulties. “Refugee staff do find it challenging to hear the horrible experiences from the war that those who come to the center share with them, especially as they themselves are still coming to terms with their own trauma,” he says. “However, they all say that the benefit of being employed and supporting fellow refugees at the same time weighs a lot more than the difficulties.”