Workcamp at a School with Ukrainian Refugees


Written by Craig Donnelly from Ireland

September 2022

On Saturday the 6th of August we gathered at a university dormitory in Poznan, Poland where I have lived since the middle of June as a ESC volunteer. There were nine volunteers including me from Ireland but representing Poznan and the Ukrainian coordinator of the project also representing Poznan, one other Ukrainian volunteer, two from Spain (Catalonia and Basque), two from Italy, one from Switzerland and the final one from Finland. The majority of us met up on Saturday the 6th, we actually didn’t start work until the following Monday morning. So Saturday we met and we hung out getting to know each other and our cultures did a small bit of a workcamp project on Climate Justice, cooked dinner together (we would do two people cooking and two different people cleaning each day) and then went to bed.

Sunday the 7th was the first day where we got to explore, we had to be in the city center for midday to meet Natalia our go between for the workcamp and the school and the organizer of the whole project. We met her at the park I suggested so we could just introduce ourselves, then we went onto exploration and I took them to different places of worth including a random traditional dance festival that I did not know existed. For our last location I took them on a tour of the Cytadela (Citadel Park in Poznan) which is a huge gorgeous park in the center of the city with so many historical and beautiful features from an old amphitheater to modern hauntingly beautiful sculptures by Magdalena Abakanowicz and then we headed back to the dorms in three separate groups. Soon after the final volunteer arrived and it was the Ukrainian person named Mila who came from Italy, so I grabbed an electric scooter for the first by and drove round to pick her up and now we had all nine of us.

Monday the 8th was our first day working with the children so we headed to School 26 around the corner from the office I normally work, there was a mix up at first so we left the school and went for coffee and then came back and we were ready to rock. There was about thirty kids, ranging from 5 to 12 so we separated them into two group but they mixed a lot. Ur jobs where to talk and play with them to make sure they where never bored outside of prearranged activities in the summer camp. Outside of our groups games which ended up leading to them doing separate things or the older kids aggressively playing football which we had to but a mini pause on, the arranged activities was sculpting clay with an instructor who Natalia brought in also Ukrainian.

Tuesday the 9th not a lot happened we played games and kept the children busy and we played football with the kids but then I fell to the floor and got a pretty bad knee injury so I retired from the game. The kids got into a lot of fights and arguments with each other but only when playing football so we really restricted it from that point.

Wednesday the 10th was very eventful, the kids had a drawing class so I sat next to my new little friend and we with the same hand drew the One Piece pirate ship and crew which is my favorite story and also one he adores, which I love because there is no cultural separation people just love good stories. Later that afternoon we played a Finnish game called Molkky also known as Finska and it was amazingly fun to the point where I will purchase it when I return to Ireland. That evening we all went to the center and hung out at an international meet up. Laure (Swiss Person) and I scooted there on the electric scooter and it was incredible evening, so we decided the same mode of transport home was the perfect idea, but with one added person my roommate and Basque volunteer Iraitz. Suddenly I lost track of them and tried to catch up before I realized it I was on the ground bleeding from my head, that’s when my two friends turned back and with the help of a good Samaritan got me in an ambulance and to the hospital, the paramedics, nurses, doctors where all amazing. They stitched my head and gave me an x-ray and I was home in less than 3 hours.

Thursday the 11th I decided to not go in to the workcamp but I ended up in just before eleven am because I am an idiot, I was super dizzy the whole day and do not remember a lot of the activities and that night the Italian, Spanish and Finnish went to football match in Poznan, whilst me and Laure played Mario Kart and went to sleep.

Friday the 12th I actually decided to rest, and went in at 2pm just to see all the kids because it was the penultimate day with the kids. My eye was swollen shut one of the kids who I spoke two about wearing a bicycle helmet the same day I had the accident was then inspired by my temporarily messed up face to ask her parents to get here a helmet, so I feel really proud of that. Then we went to the SCI office to gather our thoughts and chat with the organizers of the workcamp and my usual coworkers, we discussed the Ukraine situation a lot and environmental stuff which was more relevant the next day than this day.

Saturday the 13th was our last day with the kids, so we played lots of games and even did a little Olympics with them, at the same time my local friend messaged me on Instagram and told me about what happened with the second largest river in Poland, an unknown individual or group dumped mercury in the river killing thousands of fish, this put a saddened tone on the end of the workcamp, that night we did what young people do when its Saturday as a group, we drank alcohol and clubbed in an LGBTQ+ club (this city is very LGBTQ+ friendly), it was a blast.

Sunday the 14th we made it a tourist day again, we got coffee and then went to the historically poignant Poznan Croissant museum and that night met with my local friends and they took us out, to nice bars and a Czech restaurant, we ended it with a mediocre Karaoke bar.

Monday the 15th we departed, I was first because I didn’t have to leave the city just go to my flat. Later that day I met up with the remaining volunteer Francesca from Italy and we hung out until the evening and then departed, that night I caught Covid.

In summary even though it ended with me injured and ill, (I am very much ok now, writing this two weeks later) I had an amazing time, the kids where fantastic and incredible the intelligence they have to not only be speaking some English with us, but to have already such a grasp on the Polish language even though most of them are only here since the war began a few months back. The other volunteers where amazing people, I care for them all deeply, inspiring people one In particular was Kimmo our resident Finnish old man, To be that age and not have a single bone of cynicism, instead he believes in caring for others, and having hope was truly inspiring. I hope to meet them all again and to try and continue to do some sort of good in the world even if its just distracting kids who are having a rough time.