On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a devastating attack on Ukraine from multiple directions, resulting in a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes and fled in harsh winter conditions. In response to this tragedy, Tzu Chi volunteers swiftly initiated humanitarian aid efforts in March. They not only distributed aid directly but also forged partnerships with eleven other NGOs, including ADRA, WORLD HOPE, ISRA AID, International Red Cross, UNICEF, Salesian Missions of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Caritas Society, among others, to ensure that the displaced Ukrainian people received timely assistance.
The Seeds of Tzu Chi in Opole
One area where Tzu Chi extended its support was Opole, a city in southwestern Poland, which had received a significant influx of Ukrainian refugees due to its proximity to Ukraine. Initially, there were no Tzu Chi volunteers in Opole, but the arrival of refugees and the dedication of local entrepreneurs, Radoslaw Atlas and his wife, Hui Ju Chen-Atlas (陳惠如), both deeply committed to public welfare, led to a strong connection with Tzu Chi.
From June to the end of July 2022, Opole witnessed several large-scale aid distributions at its stadium. Tzu Chi provided gift cards, cash cards, and blankets to Ukrainian families in need. Since December, Tzu Chi has collaborated with the University of Opole to organize Polish language classes; they aim to improve the employment prospects of the refugees. Throughout 2023, Tzu Chi has continued visits to refugee shelters, delivering blankets and providing care to those affected.
In October, Hui Ju, a Taiwanese national, returned to Taiwan to visit her family after the COVID-19 pandemic. She had a heartwarming conversation with Master Cheng Yen at the Kaohsiung Jing Si Hall. Encouraged by her husband, she took up the mantle of Tzu Chi's work in the region. Hui Ju has been tirelessly assisting individuals and organizations, organizing language classes to help Ukrainians adapt to their new lives. Consequently, when Tzu Chi volunteers from European countries took turns caring for people in Poland, Opole naturally became a vital stop on their mission.
In late July, a caring team, including German volunteer Shu-Wei Chen (陳樹微), Austrian volunteer Liu Yueh Ying (游月英), and German volunteers Huang Bao-Lian (黃寶蓮), Chen Shu-Nu (陳淑女), and Tsai Wan-Zhen (蔡婉珍), who had known the couple since the previous year, visited Opole.
Looking for Partnership
On July 26th, accompanied by Radoslaw and Hui Ju, the care team visited the Social Activity Center, a subsidiary organization of the Opole Social Bureau. This center has been operating 24/7 since the start of the Russian invasion, assisting refugees in their settlement. Tzu Chi volunteers have built a strong bond with the center's staff, including Ms. Agnieszka, who had been instrumental in facilitating their aid activities. The volunteers also met Mr. David, in charge of the Opole branch of the Red Cross; both organizations expressed a desire to collaborate in aiding the suffering population.
The Social Welfare Bureau takes care of young and old
During the visit, Tzu Chi volunteers had the opportunity to engage with children in the "Summer Child Care Parent Classes" provided by the Social Affairs Bureau. They introduced Taiwanese culture and Tzu Chi's philosophy, fostering cultural integration and spreading love among children from Poland and Ukraine.
The elderly were not forgotten; the Opole Social Bureau has offered numerous activities for retired seniors, ensuring their retirement was both fulfilling and enjoyable. Tzu Chi volunteers presented gifts to the elderly and made an effort to include everyone, ensuring that even those with mobility issues could participate and feel the warmth of the volunteers' care.
Ms Ansika, Secretary of Social Affairs, was unable to meet the volunteers due to her absence on a business trip. She left a message conveying the heartfelt gratitude of Bureau for Tzu Chi's continuous support to Ukrainian refugees in Opole, whether through gift cards, cash cards, or essential goods.
Furthermore, Tzu Chi volunteers donated 6 washing machines and 6 dryers to Opole University of Science and Technology's Socrates Dormitory, which housed around 300 refugees. This act exemplified the fruitful collaboration between Tzu Chi and the local government, thanks to the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Atlas.
The volunteers noted that Radoslaw and Hui Ju exemplified the spirit of Tzu Chi – loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. These dedicated individuals have become excellent advocates for Tzu Chi's mission.
Tzu Chi is our Family!
Before departing, the couple hosted the volunteers at their home, where everyone enjoyed a warm, family-like dinner. During a tour of their home, Radoslaw revealed that the tiles on his bathroom wall featured bodhi leaves -- this prompted a meaningful discussion about the story of the Buddha's enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The bond between the volunteers and this remarkable couple was palpable, as they recognized themselves as part of the Tzu Chi family.
The Tzu Chi volunteers left Opole with fond memories of their time with this extraordinary couple, eager to continue their mission of compassion and aid for those in need worldwide.
A Jing Si Aphorism says: “To be brave enough to undertake responsibilities is an inspiring force.”
Join Tzu Chi. Let us spread Great Love to the needy.
Story by Shu-Wei Chen, Chu Hsiu-Lien, and Hui Ju Chen-Atlas