From immediate support to learning and play: how young people powered the refugee response in Poland
Karolina, 22, shares her story of being a camp leader for a group of Polish and Ukrainian children over the summer holidays. She is one of hundreds of young Scouts in Poland who offered their time and experience to support children escaping war in Ukraine
Karolina has been in scouting for the last 15 years. She is passionate about helping others and has been supporting people coming from Ukraine even before the conflict escalation in February 2022. It was natural for Karolina to continue helping children and their families after the conflict escalated. From offering immediate support in the first months of 2022, to helping families who were forced to seek refuge in Poland longer-term, Karolina was always happy she could help families and children impacted by the war.
“We cannot run away and hide; we need to step up and help when people need us.”
During the summer holidays Karolina was working tirelessly on organizing the summer camps for children from Poland and Ukraine. Having spent almost 15 years in the Scouts organization Karolina was the right person to be one of the camp leaders. She was responsible for taking care of a group of 27 children with 19 being refugees from Ukraine.
Even though she worked with kids a lot in the past and already at that time had a very good understanding of the situation of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Karolina felt worried before the start of the camp.
“I had a lot of concerns before the camp started. I was afraid that children would not be able to get along with each other. That they would not want to play together, spend time in the same way… I was worried that due to the language barrier the communication between children would be very challenging.” The first moments were difficult. Children from Ukraine did not know Polish very well and their peers from Poland could not speak Ukrainian. Fortunately, it did not stop kids, especially the younger ones, from trying to make friends with each other and play together. Almost two weeks that the children spent as a group was a long enough time for them and for Karolina to find ways to communicate better, learn and play without excluding any of the peers.
“It took a lot of time and a lot of patience. The time was very much needed. We had to make sure that everybody felt understood. Children were very happy to learn new words and ways to describe things in a different way than they’re used to. The best part was that we were all in this together: learning through play and laughter.”
For Karolina, the help she was offering for the Ukrainian children during the summer camp was a lot different than the immediate support in the first days of the conflict escalation. Having more time with kids helped create stronger bonds among them, learn from each other and overcome obstacles together.
These moments of play, laughter and simply spending time with their peers were crucial for the refugee children. Living in the conflict area, seeing the impacts of war on their country, and being displaced from their homes can leave children traumatized, scared and lonely. UNICEF together with partner organizations are providing psycho-social support and creating safe spaces, where kids can be kids again.
“I talked with children very often and sometimes their stories made me feel sad. They went through a lot. It was incredible to see them playing again, laughing, and joking around with each other. In these moments they could be children again. They could forget about the traumatic experience they have been through.”
“This experience taught me that if we have patience and time there is always a way to find a solution, to communicate better, to help each other. My message to other young people, who may feel lost or lonely now, is that it will all get better. Sometimes we need to put more work and heart into things we care about but if we do, we will always find the best way, I promise.”
The National Scouting Organization organized 443 summer camps and activities throughout July and August. Almost 7,000 Ukrainian children have been able to join the camps. Throughout the past 6 months the National Scouting Organization in Poland reached 676,000 Ukrainians, of whom 187,876 were children and young people. With the support of UNICEF, Scouts like Karolina and other dedicated young people have means to lead actions supporting children from Ukraine and continue to inspire their peer to do the same.