(This is email sent out to the PolishOrigins newsletter subscribers in April 2023 )
The war in Ukraine continues. War atrocities on and off the battlefield, prolonged stress, uncertainty about the immediate and long-term future are a daily reality for the people of Ukraine. It affects everyone, soldiers on the front lines and ordinary people living in towns and villages, young and old. It is hard to imagine what a traumatic experience they have been living through for more than a year now. This time will leave an indelible mark on everyone.
Young people with immature psyches are particularly vulnerable.
Each of us was once a teenager. If you are a parent or grandparent of one you are even more aware of how confusing, challenging, and crucial this time in a young person’s life is. This is when their personality and attitudes are being formed. If they are not fortunate enough to meet supportive, inspiring people on their paths their lives are pushed in a direction that is not necessarily best for them. This is a time when they are particularly susceptible to outside stimuli, now so much amplified by technology that connects everyone to everyone. Add to that the constant fear and shock of war in the country you live in, and all of your life’s challenges are taken to a whole new level…
Over the past year, our friend Alex, a genealogist and tour guide from Zhytomyr, Ukraine, has been providing us with updates on events in his life since the war broke out. We shared his stories with you in this newsletter. So many of you responded to the messages and helped by sending aid and words of support.
We tried to help Alex with some of the projects as well as helping refugees by working with local aid organizations in Poland. My family, as well as thousands of others across Poland, hosted refugees in our homes (and some still do).
In May of last year, while Alex was in Poland, he contacted me and asked what I thought about setting up a charitable foundation together. The idea was that we could have a greater impact and leverage by formally establishing a non-profit organization and working in an official, organized way with other institutions and volunteers in Poland, Ukraine, and perhaps other countries.
Since then, whenever we have found time between our everyday duties and projects, we have been discussing the idea with ourselves and some other people.
We didn’t want to duplicate the activities of other aid organizations that have many years of experience in their specific forms of aid. Our area expertise is genealogy (history) and tours, which we have been doing for more than a dozen years. That’s why we came to the conclusion that the best thing we could do now would be to offer historical tours for young Ukrainians in Poland.
The decision was made and we started working on the project. We spread the word to a small group of people and their response was encouraging. Some of them became active in the effort even before the foundation was formally established.
We named the designed tour the History, Healing, and Hope Tour. We wanted it to be a 12-day tour through southwestern Ukraine and southeastern Poland.
These are the goals we set for the Tour:
- To educate tour participants about their shared history and to facilitate mutual understanding between Ukrainian and Polish youth.
- To provide a safe and nurturing environment for Ukrainian youth traumatized by war.
- To give the young generation the opportunity to build connections on a personal and community level.
- To empower young people to make responsible decisions in the present, so they can build and influence the future for themselves, their families, their communities, and their nations in the years and decades to come.
Our partner organization is the Zhytomyr Community Foundation http://www.fondgromady.org.ua/en/ . They recently announced the tour and are collecting applications for the tour from youth from schools in Zhytomyr and Zhytomyr province. Zhytomyr is now home to many internally displaced families from eastern parts of Ukraine where the front line is.
The tour will lead through western Ukraine (Lviv) and south-eastern part of Poland. The tour is designed to raise awareness of Poland and Ukraine’s common roots. One of the most important parts of the tour will be meeting Polish teenagers and traveling together to places connected with common history.
You can read more details about the tour here: https://puorigins.org/tour .
On the page About https://puorigins.org/about you will find more information about our motivation and vision for the Polish-Ukrainian Origins Foundation.
The first edition of the History, Healing and Hope Tour is planned for this June. More than a dozen people have been involved in the project so far. In addition to Alex and myself, they were members of the Foundation Council: https://puorigins.org/council-members. Their rich life experience, feedback and time commitment helped us a lot. There is also, mentioned above, the Zhytomyr Community Foundation, headed by its dynamic leader, Zhanna Solovyova. The website and all IT development was done by Nikita Vitkovsky from Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine, who currently lives in Ireland with his mother and brother. Members of the PolishOrigins team, led by Kasia Tonia, have been working on all the organizational details of the tour.
Of course, the main part of the project is still ahead of us. We hope to be able to realize the first History, Healing, and Hope Tour in June this year.
By April 20, we should have applications from the youth in the form of stories either written by them or recorded on video. We will publish some of the stories on the Foundation’s blog: https://puorigins.org/blog/ (now you can find there Alex’s story: https://puorigins.org/alexs-story/ and one of the Council members John Kalec report from his visit in Poland: https://puorigins.org/krakow-december-2022/ ).
So far we have managed to raise about 1/4 of the amount needed to realize the tour for 15 teenagers from Ukraine.
We know that there is a great interest in the tour among teenagers and their parents who contact the Zhytomyr Community Foundation.
The tour is financed solely by private donors. We do not cooperate with any political or religious organizations (as it is clearly stated in the statute of the Foundation: https://puorigins.org/pdf/statute-english.pdf par. 1 p. 3: “The Foundation is apolitical and not affiliated to any religion”). We want to focus on ordinary people and try to have an empowering impact on their lives, not on realizing the agendas of any political, social or religious groups.
(Note: None of the organizers add overhead to the actual cost of the tour; none of them make a profit. If there is a surplus of donations collected, it will be used to cover the operating costs of the Foundation and for future editions of the tour).
If you think you can be one of the people to help make the first tour a reality you can make your donation here: https://puorigins.org/donate/ . We would also be honored if you could contribute to the mission of the Foundation by sharing your experience on the Foundation Council (there are still a few openings) or in any other way you can think of. We are in the very early stages of something that we hope will have a positive impact on many young and maybe not so young people.
If you think there is someone who might be interested in the project, in supporting the tour and the mission of the Foundation, please forward this message to them.
At the end I would like to share with you one of my dreams that I wrote about in my personal note for the Foundation: “(….) To sow in them (young people) a sense of empowerment – that no matter the external events, they are the decision-makers in their own lives. They are the ones who can ultimately influence the future for themselves, their communities, and even their nations.”
P.S. We will send another newsletter with children’s stories to the PolishOrigins subscription list. But if you are interested in receiving more details about the Foundation and its projects in the future, please subscribe to the Foundation’s newsletter using the form on the right side of the website: https://puorigins.org/ (below the “Donate” button).