Dear Parents and Friends,
My name is Ori Shaham and I’m the Rosh Chinuch (youth educational leader) for Hashomer Hatzair USA. Three weeks ago I joined the 11th and 12th Hashomer Hatzair delegations to the TESCO refugee camp in Przemysl, which is on the Polish border with Ukraine. Volunteering with these delegations in the Hashomer Hatzair children’s center was perhaps the most meaningful thing I have ever taken part in, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to join.
I wanted to share some of my experiences and reflections with you all. Whatever I can’t describe in words, I hope the pictures and videos will do some justice :) There is a lot here, so I’ve split it up into sections. Feel free to scroll and look through as you wish.
The work we’ve done in the children’s center and our humanitarian aid in Ukraine has been possible because of the generosity of our community. Going forward, we also plan to create a youth center within Ukraine, in Kharkiv, to help with the rebuild of the city. Many of you have donated to make this possible already. If you would like to donate again or spread the word, you can do so here: https://campshomria.com/blogs/news/yachad-for-ukraine.
A little context:
The TESCO refugee camp is located in the city of Przemysl, on the Polish border with Ukraine, and is inside of what used to be a massive supermarket (TESCO is the name of the supermarket chain and is how everyone refers to the camp). TESCO is the largest refugee camp in Poland, and tens of thousands of refugees have passed through here since the war has begun. The TESCO camp is the initial stopping point for refugees crossing the border into Poland, and serves as a place where refugees figure out which country they will be continuing onwards to. The vast majority of the refugees in the center are women, children, and elderly. Most refugees stay in the center from the range of a few days to a week, while others stay there for multiple weeks. As you enter the camp, there are booths with representatives from different countries across Europe and Asia working to resettle individuals, as well as booths from various humanitarian organizations. Families sleep in rooms of what used to be storefronts within the supermarket, with rooms being split up by the countries families are moving onwards to.
Since March, Hashomer Hatzair has been operating a children’s center within TESCO, where parents are able to drop off their kids during the day. The children’s center allows parents time to go to the various agencies and figure out where their family will be moving onto next, and provides relief from the added stress of occupying their children throughout the day. For kids, the center provides a space of normalcy and joy, much needed in a context where war has disrupted so many parts of their childhood.
The entrance to the TESCO refugee center in Przemysl.
The entrance to the Hashomer Hatzair children’s center in the TESCO Refugee Camp