On a mission to help Ukrainian refugees overseas, a Fort Saskatchewan woman brought a little bit of home with her.
Leslie Dunn is volunteering with GlobalMedic, a Canadian charity that provides emergency humanitarian aid and disaster relief worldwide. Currently, she is on a deployment in Moldova, distributing food parcels to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country. In the three weeks that she has been there, Dunn estimates to have distributed just under 80,000 pounds of food alone.
She joined GlobalMedic in 2014 after being inspired by fellow paramedics who were part of the team that responded to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Dunn felt compelled to help.
“I remember clapping my hands together and thinking, OK, I'm delivering myself to these people; how am I going to make this happen? Because I really had that strong desire to come here and help.”
Before her departure, Dunn sent an online plea to Fort Saskatchewan residents asking for donations of stuffed animals that she could donate to children while away. As GlobalMedic deploys within 72 hours, she had a short time to collect donations, but she still managed to collect quite a few stuffed animals during that time. Pet Valu collected 15 teddy bears for Dunn and even went so far as to attach Canadian pins to the bears' ears.
“I moved these teddy bears and travelled for two and a half days from Fort Saskatchewan into the hands of Ukrainian refugees. It blows my mind, and they’re so happy – you can see just how happy not only the mom and child are, but the other people in line for their food bags see this, and they just smile from ear to ear.”
While bringing smiles to the faces of people fleeing violence has been a heart-warming experience for Dunn, she has felt challenged at times. One of the more difficult parts has been to see the pain and helplessness people are experiencing, recounting one man who had travelled for days in the heat with no water.
“I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with at the distribution is several hours into it; I notice the line-up is still growing, and I realise we're not going to have enough food bags,” she continued.
“We do our best to estimate the numbers, and we’re getting really close – we just sort of keep bumping the [hamper] numbers up.”
Language has been another barrier as she’s been learning to speak Ukrainian and Romanian. Tensions have recently heightened in the region, especially being so close to the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, which has come under recent missile attacks. But it’s been the little things, she says, that have made the experience incredibly rewarding.
“I would stay here forever until the war ends at some point if I could. I’ll probably apply and come back again at some point. This time I know to bring more Canadian pins and teddy bears, for sure.”
GlobalMedic volunteers work in three-week rotations and currently have missions in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Bangladesh. Anyone who wishes to donate can choose to donate their funds to a specific cause. Funds have allowed GlobalMedic to provide 15-pounds of high-quality food for refugees. Click here to donate.