Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th last year brought death and destruction, provoking Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War Two with nearly eight million Ukrainians fleeing the country.
As a result, Rotary Foundation trustees reacted amazingly quickly. The war in Ukraine was classified a disaster and within a matter of days, the World Fund made Disaster Response Grants of $25,000, available to any Rotary district directly affected by the conflict.
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The Republic of Ireland was one of the first countries to open its doors to the refugees and in District 1160 (which is Rotary in Ireland) we were exposed to their plight right from the start.
Last April, Rotary in Ireland was one of the first districts within Great Britain and Ireland to be allocated a Disaster Response Grant. Even before that, virtually every club in the district – both north and south of the border – had started to fund-raise, in a show of determined support for Ukraine.
Only a handful of those clubs were engaged in hands-on, face-to-face support projects with refugees, however the $25,000 grant was divided amongst five of them.
Rotary in Ireland forwarded a spending report to The Rotary Foundation in early August and, within three days of the grant being signed off, we submitted a second request which was agreed almost immediately.
That second tranche of $25,000 was divided amongst a further five Rotary clubs to support their projects. It is our intention to apply for a third grant.
For the past six months, Rotarians have never stopped rising to the challenge and Rotary is now recognised as the go-to organisation by those refugees arriving in Ireland who are in desperate need.”
Rotary clubs worked in tandem with other service organisations and government agencies who were confronted by a seemingly endless stream of families who arrived on these shores from Ukraine. They were exhausted from travel, hungry, in shock, with many lacking language skills. Most had little or no personal possessions.
The idea of preparing ‘welcome packs’ was simply inspired.
These included essential clothing, fresh underwear, snacks, basic medical support, footwear, pet food, pyjamas, slippers. We also consider items you might not immediately think of: phone chargers; toys to keep the children amused; and books.
Accommodation had to be secured, kitchen equipment bought or leased, bedding sought along with cooking and eating utensils, crockery, washing machines and dryers, food supplies, toiletries, warm clothing – the list of phase one essentials was mind-boggling!
As a result, Rotary Foundation trustees reacted amazingly quickly.”
Once the families settled, phase two requirements quickly came into play. Here we focused on English classes, swimming lessons, on-location childcare and counselling services, children’s play areas, bicycles for mobility, and training for employment.
For the past six months, Rotarians have never stopped rising to the challenge and Rotary is now recognised as the go-to organisation by those refugees arriving in Ireland who are in desperate need.
Rotary Disaster Response Grants maybe just a small part of the total amount of money spent – but they are a very welcome and important part of the support Rotary was able to give and which became available just when they were needed.