Two teachers from Salinas helped bring hope and respite from the war on the Polish-Ukrainian border. | Monterey County NOW Intro
Agata Popęda here with the humble confession that since I joined the Weekly in mid-July 2021, I have never had so much fun, nor felt so much sense of mission, as when I was working on the story that I invite you to read now. The cover story of this week’s print edition of Weekly, titled Respite from War, is about a trip to the Polish-Ukrainian border in which two teachers from Salinas, Patricia Matulas Mason and Gabrielle DeVilla, spent a few weeks teaching English – and hope – to 29 children. Ukrainians from the neighboring region of Yavoriv. Through their stories, I was able to connect with wonderful people who bring hope there, on the ground, on the NATO/EU border. In a way, I was also able to return home.
Ever since the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022 erupted so close to my first homeland – I’m from Poland and became a US citizen in 2012 – I’ve been looking for ways to locate the story. I fell in love with Ukraine on my first visit in the late 1990s, tried my first bowl of solianka and heard young Ukrainian men sitting outside cafes singing Cossack songs into the night. If they don’t sing of love, they sing of freedom and that’s what Ukraine is all about: preserving autonomy in the great game between East and West.
But apart from the big games, life goes on and the war does not wait for Ukrainian children to grow up. The relief summer camp in Cieszanów began as an American initiative by the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, who visited the Polish-Ukrainian border town of Medyka in April 2022. The idea was to create an English summer camp – an opportunity for some education and lots of fun. When local union leaders shared this idea at meetings across the United States, they were shocked by the response. Hundreds of American teachers from all over the country wanted to be a part of it, including the two from Salinas who were selected to join.
In mid-July, a bus with 29 Ukrainian students, aged 10 to 16, from Yavoriv, Ukraine, crossed the Polish border. They were accompanied by their adult carers and a guitar on their 50 kilometer journey west. With the Polish Folkowisko Foundation and NATAN, an Israeli nonprofit humanitarian organization, as facilitators, these students were joined by 30 local Polish children and 15 American educators.
The aim was to provide respite from war, learn some English and connect between cultures. This is the story of what happened.
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