REGION – “They do not want to stop their education, problem is they do not know Polish and cannot connect with their teachers in Ukraine.” With this simple statement, Tomasz Michalik, President Elect of the Bialystok (Poland) Rotary Club asked John Bob Siemienowicz, Governor of Rotary District 7870, which includes 59 individual clubs in southern New Hampshire and southern Vermont, for help.
Michalik further explained that a large number of school-age children had become refugees from their native country of Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. They lacked the means to communicate with their teachers in Ukraine to continue their education. While Poland offered them access to its public school system, most of the children did not speak Polish and instructors lacked knowledge of the Ukrainian language.
To further complicate matters, the Polish education system requires eighth grade students to pass an examination that is conducted in Polish to continue their secondary school education. The Ukrainian students, due their inability to understand the Polish language, would probably fail this test.
What was needed were tools that would enable the children to communicate with teachers in Ukraine where schools were still in operation. The key element to resolving this dilemma was laptop computers with access to the internet.
Acting on this request, Siemienowicz arranged for $13,000 through the district’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Ukraine for the purchase of 50 basic laptop units.
In addition to helping Ukrainian refugee students continue their education, the district was also involved in helping pregnant Ukrainian refugees and refugees with medication needs who are not supported by the Polish state medical program.
In the case of the former, the Bialystok Rotary Club was assisted by the district. As described by a representative of that club, “These Ukrainian families didn’t have the opportunity to give baby showers and associated gifts… so our Polish counterparts are doing their best to be the substitutes providing that support. They are truly relying on the kindness of strangers in every way”.
Thus far, Siemienowicz estimates that District 7870 has raised over $150,000 to support the needs of Ukrainian refugees.