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.
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 Day in the Children’s Center:
My delegation would arrive each morning to the children’s center at 9 AM and leave at 9 PM. From 9 to 5 PM, we ran the children’s center, which ranged from kids anywhere from 3 and up. From 6 to 8:30 PM, we held open a teenage space, for teens from ages 11 and up, with the understanding that older kids wanted a space to themselves, and might be less likely to come during the mornings.
From 9 to 10:30 AM, we usually had a sort of free time, where we would play a mix of games with the kids. In the sports room of the children’s center, we played lots of soccer and mini-volleyball, and taught the kids to play Gaga as well! Outside, we had an arts and crafts table where kids made beautiful artwork that fills the center. There were lots of toys, board-games, and instruments as well in the center we would play with — a highlight for me was sitting and helping different kids who wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
Starting at 10:30 AM, we began with organized activities like musical chairs and duck duck goose (both big hits). We also created a NINJA style obstacle course, using the climbing wall built in the children’s center, which the kids loved.
At 1 PM, we usually put on a movie, giving the volunteers a bit of a rest as well.
Duck Duck Goose
2 PM: The Parade!
At 2 PM, came my favorite part of the day, the parade! Equipped with rice shaker macarenas, and a big boom box, we would do a parade every day with the kids around the refugee center, playing popular Ukrainian pop songs which it seemed that all the kids from age 3 knew! It was one of the happiest moments of every day, and parents would often line around the halls with smiles, singing and dancing along with us. To watch what the parade looked like, click here.
3 PM: Just Dance, and Karaoke
We had lots of fun at this part of the day, taking turns blasting out songs with the kids and dancing along. It was especially fun when volunteers from other organizations in the center came in and joined us, giving us time to get to know them as well.
Afterwards, we’d continue with different games, until we would open up for the teenager center. To see a video from one of our Just Dance parties, click here.
Something I found really exciting was when kids and teens would ask to put on the volunteer vest, and would spend the day helping us lead the activities. In the true style of a youth movement, this taking of responsibility helped the kids feel more involved, and provided a sense of ownership over the space.
It was also great to understand how the different delegations of volunteers that have helped run the center have each added something of their own. Some groups brought in new traditions — for example, the 11th delegation I was with started the daily parade, which was a highlight for all of us in the day. Others built new structures in the center, and helped create artwork around it.