by Jeong Bin Lee and Taylor Bata
After traveling south of Warsaw for about 45 minutes, you will reach a sprawling forest that lays home to the (temporary) Dębak Refugee Camp located in Linin. The camp is set up in kin to a typical college dormitory. Housing complexes circle around a communal canteen where food is served according to the time of day. Around the campus, signs describing areas around Dębak can be found in Polish, English and Russian.
On September 2nd, ASW 10th graders, a few seniors and the supervising teachers made their first trip of the year to Dębak.
The camp houses a variety of people seeking asylum here in Poland. Many come from former Soviet States, the Middle East, and Chechnya.
While at the camp, the students participated in a multitude of activities such as face painting, volleyball, bracelet crafting, and picture drawing.
Volunteers were challenged to connect to the refugees, despite not being able to speak the same language as them.
“I mean, I can speak a bit of Polish, only basic words and phrases, but I was able to communicate with hand gestures to get the point across. A sort of pseudo sign language I guess,” said Haruka S. Haruka said she is looking forward to returning on the next trip.
Along with the ASW’s visit, a clown joined in for about an hour to perform for the large audience of both children and adults. The clown performed a variety of magic tricks, many which involved help from the audience.
Shortly after the activities started, a “feast” was thrown in the camp’s cafeteria with a large variety of foreign dishes, especially the desserts. Some ASW students got to try some of the delicacies such as the cake, and the taste was simply delightful. According to one of the lunch ladies, all the dishes were cooked and prepared by the refugees.
A little after 1:00 pm, as ASW’s volunteers got ready to get back on the bus and head back to ASW, a new group of volunteers, presumably from a different school, came in to continue the fun and the service that ASW has begun.
Teodor Ajder, a member of the ASW Service Learning Department, described some of the challenges people in camp face, including lengthy periods of time doing nothing but eating and sleeping.
“The Polish language classes were stopped for the vacation period and the access to the center’s library was fairly limited,” said Mr. Ajder. According to two young men from Pakistan whom Mr. Ajder had spoken to during the last visit, there are only Polish and Russian books in their library and the refugees would appreciate some donations of English books. This is another aspect in which the ASW could help out the refugee communities in Poland by donating discarded library books and also other materials and equipment which the school no longer needs.
According to Mr. Ajder, Poland has been a destination of particular interest to refugees in recent years. “Poland was a leader in the number of asylum applications received for years,” he said. “Mainly these were from Russian citizens of Chechen origin. In some periods there were also increases in the number of Georgians, or – recently – Ukrainians. Wars, military invasions, and political persecution would be the main motives behind trying to find shelter in this country. Poland was doing fairly well economically during the last couple of years.”
Mr. Ajder underlined the importance of ASW and Poland’s responsibilities to refugees in the country. “With wealth come responsibilities.”