The last visit of the Salesian delegates from Rome was a good opportunity to ask questions about the Salesian activities in Poland and the long-term assistance for the refugees from Ukraine. We interviewed Mr. Jean Paul Muller SDB – general bursar of the Salesian Congregation and Fr. George Menamparampil SDB – responsible for aid to Ukraine at the level of the whole Congregation.
Which are the countries that help Ukraine the most?
George Menamparampil: When it comes to global help – material, physical, mental – it is most visible and felt here in Poland. A lot of funds have also been transferred from Germany, particularly from Bonn, but the situation is constantly changing. Every day new financial resources arrive from all over the world where the Salesians are present. Many collections of food, clothes, and other necessary things are made in other European countries. Often this is done by government organizations, parishes, and individual donors.
Do the Salesians in Europe think about some form of long-term assistance and help for Ukrainian refugees?
GM: Yes, we have such plans. We have a feeling that the situation in Ukraine will not end soon, so people will seek refuge outside of Ukraine. In addition, we are focusing on the refugees already admitted to Poland where the number has exceeded 1,200,000 people. We will hire a person responsible for managing the short- and long-term assistance strategy.
What are the most urgent needs?
GM: First of all we want to increase the number of beds, provide food and clothing. We need to develop a plan for the admission of compulsory school children and youth to Salesian schools. I know that 11,000 Ukrainian students have already started studying in Polish schools but we have to remember that there will be many people in need.
So what are the ideas to ensure education for the students?
GM: I think some students will go to public schools. We would like to create learning spaces in big tents that will serve as classrooms.
What about those who want to work?
GM: We would like to help everyone who asks for such help. In the beginning, we plan to create so-called “starter packs” so that the refugees will be independent, regardless of the country they are in. The activities are focused on Poland and neighboring countries.
How do you evaluate the activity of the Salesians in Poland in terms of helping Ukraine?
GM: We can see that everyone is doing as much as possible one could help the refugees. The Salesians in Poland reacted immediately to the needs of another man who found himself in a war situation. Our visit is only to improve humanitarian activities and to introduce a plan of action in the context of the current situation. Aid activities in four Provinces in Poland, but also in Slovakia and Ukraine, will be coordinated by the Province of Warsaw.
How do you evaluate the work of the Salesians?
Jean-Paul Muller: Looking at the last few days, I am very grateful for the prompt response of the Salesian Congregation and the Polish nation, and I am also full of admiration for their activities in favor of the Ukrainians fleeing the war. What is worth underlining is the fact that the situation of reception of such a large number of people proceeds without intercultural tensions, according to Don Bosco’s principle: “You only need and I will help you”.
Today I saw the principal of a Salesian school with a blue and yellow ribbon pinned on his jacket. It is a beautiful expression of unity, rapprochement with the victims, and opening one’s heart to those in need.
Also, I would like to say that we receive news and help from India, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, even Angola, which is usually the party that needs help and money.
What surprises you about the attitudes of Polish families?
GM: We see tremendous and exemplary sacrifice, we see Polish families, Polish priests welcoming refugees under their roof, sharing meals and other goods. Everything is done without questions, without pressure, and with big problems.
JPM: All this shows us the path that each of us should take in such a situation. Europe is integrating and getting stronger, which I am very happy about. These are real actions, not only with words but especially with actions.