On December 16, 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers from Germany, Austria, and Lublin went with Agata (front row third from the left) and her entire family to visit and care for the children at Pogodny Dom Orphanage. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Poland | 2023/12/16

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Tzu Chi Foundation has been actively helping Ukrainian refugees in Lublin, the largest city in eastern Poland. From emergency relief to ongoing support for the elderly and continuous aid to The Little Prince Hospice, the foundation's work has been unwavering. With the collaboration of volunteers from Germany and Austria, as well as support from Tzu Chi headquarters in Taiwan, Tzu Chi’s footprints of love continue to touch more lives.  

Ripples of Love

Agata is Polish and a PR secretary for the mayor of Lublin. She came to know Tzu Chi through her friend Anastasiia, a Tzu Chi volunteer from Ukraine. Since Tzu Chi began collaborating with Caritas Lubelska to assist Ukrainian refugees in Lublin in April 2022, Agata frequently brought her husband and two children to join the relief efforts. Inspired by Tzu Chi's philosophy, she became a dedicated volunteer, actively participating in Tzu Chi activities.

Agata (left) and her family are long-term volunteers at the Pogodny Dom Orphanage in Lublin. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

Agata's family have also been long-term volunteers at the Pogodny Dom Orphanage, a government-run institution about six kilometers from the city center of Lublin. Upon learning that Tzu Chi volunteers from Germany and Austria were visiting Lublin again, she extended a special invitation for them to visit and care for the children at the orphanage. Pogodny Dom currently houses 78 children, two from Ukraine and the rest Polish.

On December 16, 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers from Germany - Shu-wei Chen (陳樹微), Wan-Chen Tsai (蔡婉珍), Zhi-xiao Yen (嚴致孝), Wan-xuan Jiang (江宛璇), and from Austria - Yueh Ying Liu (游月英) and Hui Ju Chen-Atlas (陳惠如), along with local Tzu Chi volunteers, joined Agata's family in visiting Pogodny Dom Orphanage.

The walls of Pogodny Dom Orphanage were adorned with beautiful paintings, all handcrafted by the children residing there. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

Upon entering the orphanage, the volunteers were delighted to see the walls adorned with beautiful paintings. The deputy director in charge, Elżbieta Nycz, proudly said that these were all hand-painted by the children themselves.

Elżbieta explained to the volunteers that, while the orphanage was government-operated and received basic expenses, external support was essential for additional items such as furniture. The children greatly benefit from external care and encouragement. The residents here are typically children abandoned or placed by the court due to parental neglect as a result of alcoholism, gambling and other factors. Ranging in age from newborns to seventeen years old, they reside in six large rooms, each accommodating thirteen children.

To foster a sense of belonging, the orphanage organizes the children into small families, with dedicated staff assuming parental roles to care for them and make up for the gaps.

From Vow to Action

When the Tzu Chi volunteers arrived, the children were already patiently seated in neat rows, awaiting the unfamiliar Asian faces. A hint of nervousness was visible in their expressions, showing a sense of seriousness.

The volunteers played the video "From Vow to Action" and introduced Tzu Chi from Taiwan to the orphanage staff and children in Polish. Everyone listened attentively. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

The volunteers played the video "From Vow to Action" and introduced how Tzu Chi originated from Taiwan and how it assists those in need worldwide. The orphanage staff and children all listened attentively. The volunteers also shared Taiwanese rice crackers, a taste unfamiliar to them. Initially, the children were hesitant; but, after being reassured by the volunteers, they eventually savored the nutritious Asian snack.

Hui Ju Chen-Atlas from Austria (left) explained that the charm was a combination of the Chinese character "愛" (love) and the English word "Love." (On the right is Ukrainian Tzu Chi volunteer Anastasiia.) | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

With the Christmas holiday approaching, volunteers led the children in singing lively Polish Christmas songs, instantly filling the room with joy. The volunteers then distributed gift cards and "love" charms. Hui Ju Chen-Atlas explained that the charm combined the Chinese character for "love"(愛) with the English word "Love," symbolizing not only the gift but also the love and care brought by Tzu Chi volunteers.

This teenage boy was so happy to receive the gift card and “love” charm. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

The older children were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected gift cards. The younger ones, not fully understanding the significance, raised concerns about potentially losing the precious gifts. Thankfully, the orphanage guardians could assist in safeguarding them. Each child received a winter gift worth six hundred Polish zlotys (about US$148.43). Considering their young age, the money will be split into monthly installments of two hundred zlotys (about US$50).

Wan-xuan Jiang (江宛璇, left), working in Munich, presented a love charm to one of the children at the orphanage. Standing next to her was student volunteer Zhi-xian Yen (嚴致孝). | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

Pogodny Dom Orphanage houses many adolescents entering their teenage years; they show signs of rebellion. Tzu Chi volunteers interacted warmly with them, despite language barriers. Although verbal communication was limited, the older children felt their sincerity and gradually let down their guard. Those who could speak English better began chatting with the volunteers.

Deputy Director Elżbieta Nycz (left) of Pogodny Dom Orphanage presented certificates of appreciation and cards to the volunteers. A young boy dressed in a Superman costume then delivered Christmas gingerbread cookies which brought joy to everyone. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

Initially the children were somber, but the warm interactions eventually brought out their smiles. Elżbieta Nycz presented certificates of appreciation and cards handmade by the children to the volunteers. Additionally, they received Christmas gingerbread cookies handmade by the children as a gesture of gratitude. The task of distributing the cookies was handled by a young boy dressed in Superman costume -- a delightful surprise for everyone.

Not only did the little superhero distribute cookies, but, during the subsequent tour of the facility, he displayed gentlemanly manners by rushing ahead to open doors for everyone, expressing his honor to serve.

Yueh Ying Liu (游月英) from Austria (right) offered a loving hug to the children and warmed their hearts. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

Despite coming from broken homes, many children, due to the efforts of the orphanage, showed resilience, excelling academically, and developing different talents. Touched by the genuine care offered by Tzu Chi volunteers, the children responded with sincerity.

Wan-Jen Tsai (蔡婉珍) from Germany hoped that the caring actions could make the children feel loved and respected even during their confusing teenage years. | Photo Shu-wei Chen | Pogodny Dom, Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/16

After the visit, the volunteers had a discussion; they decided to continue caring for and accompanying these children in the future. Adolescents are the pillars of the nation's future, and the hope is that these actions of care will help them feel loved and respected during their confusing teenage years and guide them towards a positive and happy future.

Click the link to watch From Vow to Action.

2024/01/07| ◎Hui Ju Chen,Shu-wei Chen, Chu Xiu-lien/Europe