Polish Scouts reactivated crisis structures to create a 24/7 transit reception center for refugees.
When 20-year-old Zosia picks up the phone to tell Aleteia her story, it’s hard to imagine that she’s the one coordinating the work of all the Krakow Scouts at a refugee center at the city’s train station. Her delicate voice does not fully convey her natural charisma.
In addition to her studies in neuropsychology and the math and piano lessons she gives to young students, Zosia Holubowska has been involved in Scouting for eleven years. On the first day of the war in Ukraine, as deputy Scoutmaster, Zosia reactivated the crisis structures that Polish Scouts had set up during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was immediately obvious: to create, in cooperation with the Krakow City Council, a transit reception center for refugees that would operate 24 hours a day. Within two days, everything was set up in a large hall of the train station decorated with huge chandeliers, ready to receive an average of 300 people a day.
Similarly to her initiative in Krakow, throughout Poland more than 3,700 Scouts over 16 years of age (out of a total of 18,500 Scouts) and former Scouts have been involved in helping refugees since the first day of the war in Ukraine. A cooperative project involving 16 regional crisis teams with Caritas Poland, Unicef, local authorities, and Ukrainian Scouts has been set up with a constant hotline to receive any requests for help.
In addition to welcoming people at the border and collecting donations in 25 points of the country, the Scouts have taken the responsibility of being present at train stations providing essential help of all kinds to those arriving by train.
“Those who come to our center stay one night, sometimes only a few hours, before taking another train. All of them are exhausted. They need to sleep or at least to rest a little. We’re there to show them beds prepared for them, and a space with toys for the children. We offer hot drinks, soup, and sandwiches, and cakes and candies for the youngest. We help them to put Polish SIM cards in their phones, accompany them to the right platform, and explain the next steps of their journey,” Zosia tells Aleteia.
She stresses that the golden rule for all those who help refugees is simply “to listen to them and try to figure out what they need.” Indeed, refugees are so scarred by what they’ve been through that they often don’t dare ask for anything. “I remember a lady to whom I showed a bed that was waiting for her. She was very grateful and asked me if she could just… give me a hug. Her gratitude moved me a lot,” she says.
Zosia notes that through this experience, her team is learning in a hurry to communicate in many languages. In this adventure, each Scout reveals real aptitudes of understanding others and offering them comforting gestures. And of course, as she explains, this experience allows everyone to “touch the deep sense of service inscribed in the spirit of Scouting.”
This observation is shared by 17-year-old Stas Kadziolek. He is student at a technical high school in Krakow and has been a Scout since he was 10 years old:
“Being a Scout means always being ready to serve others,” he says. From the first day of the Russian invasion, Stas felt the need to do something concrete for them, he tells Aleteia. Soon, like Zosia, he and his team joined the same reception center at the train station. “All these gestures of aid and comfort allow me to transform my shock into action,” says Stas.
And he gives this recommendation to other Scouts: be perfectly well organized, act in a coordinated way and… unplug your phone regularly to rest. “Otherwise it’s impossible to last in this type of mission,” he says. To his great surprise, he says that he doesn’t miss social networks, on which he used to spend hours. These habits, which were part of his daily life until a few weeks ago, now seem more and more disconnected from him, a bit superfluous.
The sense of service and the relics of the patron saint of Scouts
Fr. Robert Magielka, the Scouts’ chaplain, makes the same analysis, encouraging all the volunteers to remember the very foundation of their service inscribed in the spirit of Scouting.
“Our Scouts have thrown themselves into action and that’s wonderful, but my role is to remind them that they need to keep time for prayer and for personal reflection. Especially since they’re dealing with people who are suffering. In order to confront this suffering and help them in the best way possible, it’s essential to be connected to God and to have peace in one’s heart. I felt that it was necessary to pay special attention to this,” he told Aleteia.
But how do you do that when “the forest is burning?”
Shortly after the war began, Fr. Robert had the idea of taking the relics of the Polish Scouts’ patron saint, Blessed Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski, beatified by John Paul II in 1999, in his backpack and going around all the points of assistance, posts, and reception centers run by the Scouts.
The purpose? For all Scouts to venerate his relics together in order to put themselves in the presence of God. “Our patron saint died at the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Until the last day of his life, he took care of sick prisoners. But all his work came from his prayer. This is what I explain to the young people today,” the chaplain continues.
This inspiration is visible because many Masses, prayers, and online rosaries are being organized by the Scouts all over Poland. “It’s also thanks to this dimension that in the face of this terrible drama, which could paralyze us, nothing is impossible. Like finding in three days a medicine which is vital for a seriously ill refugee, but inaccessible in Poland. In two days, it was brought from abroad. Nobody asks, “Why?” But rather, “How much?” and “Is it enough?” concludes Barbara Sobieska, the Scouts’ spokesperson.