It’s been over a year since we started volunteering at Help Ukraine: Valencia. For us and everyone else it was an immediate response to a humanitarian crisis.
Tanks were rolling onto Ukrainian soil. Bombs were falling. People were dying. Families weren’t safe in their own homes. Thousands were leaving the familiar and heading into the unknown. For many the unknown was Spain.
A year later Spain has authorized 170,000 temporary protection entry permits for Ukrainians. This provides immediate residency and work permits. 63% of those who have gained this protection are women. By age group 33% of the Ukrainians who have sought protection are under the age of 18. The Valencian community has welcomed 46,154 Ukrainians.
Other support has been slow to materialize. Only 15% of working age Ukrainians have found a job in Spain. Elsewhere in Europe the average is 40%. A 400 euro a month stipend has recently been provided, but without a job and a steady income finding housing is problematic. For too many people the uncomfortable choice is allocating insufficient and dwindling resources for food, or having some kind of roof overhead.
At ‘The Center’ lines and wait times tell us needs have steadily increased. I am proud to say what started out as a seat-of-the-pants grassroots response has adapted and become more efficient. Ongoing needs continue to be met.
There were days when volunteers dipping into their own pockets, generous donations from friends and family, and pure strokes luck kept shelves from being completely bare. There were days when needs were greater than our combined good fortunes.
Grassroots organizations depend upon inspired moments to keep moving forward. Good ideas need to be recognized and embraced. At ‘The Center’ the right people were there, and the right people showed up. Heavily discounted fruit and vegetables are purchased from the shop on the corner. A bakery provides day old bread. A partnership with a foundation was negotiated. The foundation provides three jam packed car loads of food every week. Donna and I walk to a bulk food store (Nasty Plastic) and bring back big bags of rice. Everyone is giving what they can. There’s a closet full of food for emergencies.
Most importantly a strong international team has been created. People who used to be part of the line have stepped up and shown us how it should be done. (Employers who aren’t hiring Ukrainians are making a big mistake!)
I’d like to say that in a little over a year some breathing room has been created. Uncertainty has always been baked in though. While politicians engage in geopolitical maneuvers and posturing, lives and futures continue to be at stake.
Tomorrow’s needs are unknown. With your help and support ‘The Center’ will be there and ready for whatever comes. A little more than a year on I have no doubt about that.