We have three operating principles that we live by at Mend, one of those being “we are better together,” and that is something I truly believe. Especially in times of hardship, when people come together to support one another and lift each other up, everyone is better for it.
I, along with several other Mend team members, took the value of “we are better together” to heart last month (March 22-29) when we went to Korczowa in Poland to volunteer our time to support refugees from the Ukrainian crisis. With the initiative of our CEO Rami Sass, our humanitarian delegation of six team members was able to organize and take time off to help these displaced people.
While it is difficult to describe our experiences and the suffering that our team saw in Poland, I have tried to put it into words. I hope you take away something from our experience, whether it inspires you to support in whatever way you can or simply raises your awareness of the crisis in the Ukraine.
Getting to Poland
Before we could get to Poland to offer our support, we first had to get organized. We worked with two support organizations — Hakhel (Hazon’s Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator) which compiled our delegation from Israel, and JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), which took charge of our delegation once we arrived in Poland.
The prep work was challenging, but ultimately rewarding. It took about two and a half weeks for our Office Manager Florencia, who was organization and logistics of the delegation from the Mend side, to simply understand how our team of six could prepare and be sent over in the safest and most helpful way. Once connected with Hakhel, it took her about three days to coordinate our delegation and get us flown out to Poland. Thank you, Florencia!
With our bags packed and the support of our Mend colleagues, our six-person delegation flew to Poland. On the plane, we didn’t know what to expect. What our tasks would be upon arrival were unclear because, as Hakhel had explained, everything is dynamic as the situation is constantly changing. This rapid shifting of plans was plain to see as soon as we landed in Warsaw.
Aiding and Assisting Ukrainian Refugees
The day we arrived in Warsaw, our delegation was transferred to another city five hours away called Korczowa, as it was determined that our aid was needed there. When we got to Korczowa, we went to a refugee logistics center where we supported new refugees from the Ukraine with getting transferred to other cities of their preference within Europe, for safety.
We met many Ukrainians — from elderly people to young women and children — who had been displaced from their homes, their lives, having no choice but to leave their partners and friends behind. We had to keep ourselves strong for them, but the suffering of so many was overwhelmingly heart-wrenching. Feeling hopeless and frightened, unable to see what their future will be, we were there to offer shelter, compassion, and a shoulder to lean on.
We stayed with the refugees from when they came into the center to when they departed for a new city, which could take anywhere from 24 hours to two to three days. During that time, we got to hear their stories and get to know them as people. Our delegation assisted with taking care of all their needs, such as food, sleep facilities, help and guidance for their next location, translation, and moral support. But more than that, we shared words, tears, and hugs. After a stressful journey to the center, and a longer journey ahead with many unknowns, we helped offer rest and recovery until it was time for them to move forward.
Our volunteer group is thankful for the support of our Mend team, particularly our CEO Rami Sass, as well as the remarkable empathy and understanding from our colleagues. We were supported in so many ways: kind words through various channels (Slack, email, greeting cards), financial support for the trip, and care packages filled with goodies from the CEO. When we returned, we had additional PTO and were offered group therapy sessions to assist us in processing what we experienced together. It is these kinds of acts that made us feel lucky to be a part of Mend. “We are better together” isn’t simply words, it’s action that we at Mend take every day, in various ways.
On top of this delegation effort, Mend as a company took immediate action and contributed to the Save the Children Ukraine Crisis Fund to support those that are displaced and in need of food, shelter, and medical supplies. There was also donation matching offered to each Mend team member, with employees donating to multiple organizations, including the International Rescue Committee, International Committee of the Red Cross, Care.org Ukrainian Crisis Fund, and Nova Ukraine. It can be easy to think that we as individuals can’t make an impact on the world, but even the smallest act makes an impact — whether it’s financial support or volunteer time.
Mend has plans in the works to support Ukrainians fleeing the crisis in other ways, and we will share more as we’re able. My thoughts remain with all refugees fleeing the Ukraine, for all of the volunteers, and all of those we met in Poland.