The Homefront: ‘A real gift from a real person to a real child’
When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine a year and a half ago, the world watched transfixed and dismayed. Many of us thought, as we often do when we view news coverage of world tragedies both natural and manmade, “What can I do to help?” It’s a sincere question, one that lingers with us sometimes briefly, sometimes for great lengths of time, sometimes reappearing with each news update. Time passes, news stories of the next latest tragedy nudge the former ones to the back, and we once again wonder, “How can I help?”
The plight of the Ukrainian refugees drifted from our view as other world events shoved in. But the numbers still grow. From the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and full-scale war has caused the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis since the Second World War. In 2022, nearly one third of Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes. By the end of year, an estimated 5.9 million people were internally displaced by the war, while nearly 5.7 million refugees and asylum-seekers from Ukraine were recorded across Europe.”
To bring that home, if every citizen in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming left their homes for somewhere far away, they would total fewer people than the number of Ukrainians forced to leave their country. And that many again are displaced inside the country. The thought is staggering.
I beat this drum for two reasons. First, no family should ever be forced to flee their homes in fear. Their plight still haunts me, probably because I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the heartbreaking videos of crying children stumbling along behind their laden parents, dragging sacks of whatever they could grab. How do you dismiss those images? I can’t.
Second, I’ve found something to do about it. It’s a simple thing, but one with far-reaching consequences both for givers and receivers. I volunteer for a humanitarian group called AMAR. One of its locations is in Romania where they help Ukrainian refugee families survive their forced homelessness. Romanian officials, organizations and families have been mostly supportive and willing to help these homeless families. But resources get stretched thin.
Our AMAR Romanian director put out a simple plea for hats and scarves for Ukrainian refugee children. These families fled with what they could carry. Winter is coming, and they are in need. AMAR’s goal is to provide a tangible gesture that gives not only warmth to children’s heads, but warmth to their hearts too as they realize they are not alone, they are still loved and, most importantly, they are not forgotten.
AMAR’s founder and president, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, England, is keenly aware of the thoughts, dreams, fears and needs of those refugees — especially children and women. Her request for hats and scarves for the children has spurred a growing wave of woven love. Friends, church groups, knitting guilds — an unlikely assortment of good-hearted people is anxiously engaged in this cause. Included in each donation, per the founder’s request, is a small tag of a couple of words of encouragement and the first-name signature of its creator. “It’s a real gift from a real person to a real child,” the baroness said, underscoring the magnitude of a gift to a child from someone half a world away.
The project’s Facebook group, at https://bit.ly/45UlPa8, offers more information, including hat sizes and deadline dates, as well as chatter, pictures and encouragement. A direct email to me will yield the same info. This is how you can get involved if it sounds like something you’d like to do. The big picture hope is we intentionally decide that hand wringing is past, not just in this episode of the world’s tragedies but in all the others we see.
It’s an unfortunate reality that we could become desensitized to our inner desire to help because, in the absence of knowing what to do, we shove it away. Too many repetitions of that and we might be able to shove everything away — even when we could actually help.
For the sake of the world–and for the sake of ourselves — we should never let that happen.
D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.