Local Girl Scout collects essential items for Ukrainian refugees04/19/2022 03:54PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
It is not often that the title of “hero” resides in the personage of an 11-year-old girl, but recently, with help from her mother Sarah and the kindness of friends and family, Olivia Ward of West Chester recently earned such an accolade.
Olivia, a sixth-grade student at Stetson Middle School and a member of Girl Scout Troop 41126, played an instrumental role in gathering a carload of diapers, baby wipes, formula, infant toys, stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books that will soon depart the Philadelphia International Airport for hospitals and holding stations throughout Poland.
Through her efforts, Olivia’s month-long gift-gathering campaign – coordinated in conjunction with the Philadelphia-based United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, Inc. (UUARC) – will reach Ukrainian families currently seeking exile in the wake of a Russian invasion that has led to one of the largest refugee crises in European history.
Since its founding in 1944, UUARC has provided aid to thousands of refugees who came to the United States, as well as assisted countless Ukrainians throughout the world.
UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, recently reported that nearly five million Ukrainians have left the country since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. As the country’s major cities and small towns continue to be bombarded by Russian military forces, evacuees have boarded standing room only trains and buses, often waiting for transport as long as 24 hours to be removed from the country.
Often, they have arrived in Poland carrying with them the most rudimentary of belongings, and are met at the Poland border by volunteers who have mobilized to provide food, shelter and transportation to cities across Europe. Of those fleeing their home country, 90 percent are women and children.
“I didn’t like seeing the kids like me having to leave everything behind, and I knew that it was hard for them to have to do that,” Olivia said. “By being able to send them things, I knew that it would be able to make their lives a little bit better.”
The impetus to act on behalf of Ukrainian refugees began when Sarah Ward, Olivia’s mother and her Girl Scout troop leader, saw a flier calling for relief collections that was posted by Alexandra Bula, the parent of a Rustin High School student, where a similar program had also gotten underway.
“I reached out to Alexandra and told her that my daughter would love to be a part of this,” Sarah said. “At first, Olivia was looking to donate Girl Scout cookies, but I told her that there might be something more that we could do.”
Soon after Olivia contacted friends and family, packages began arriving at the family home, which were then stuffed into the family van, added to the contributions from Rustin’s campaign and taken by Bula to UUARC’s headquarters for a flight from Philadelphia International Airport to Poland.
“Going back to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement, my husband and I have made it our effort to talk to our three children about social injustice and social injustices across the world,” Sarah said. “We don’t want to scare them and give too much of the horrible news, but over the past few years, we have tried to show them the bigger world out there, and the little things that we can do to help people.
“That’s what is going to create global citizens.”
Sarah said she sees the same ethics serve as the primary work of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, and the mission of the Girl Scouts as a worldwide foundation, who includes in its Girl Scouts Promise the words, “to help people at all times.”
“We teach our young girls to be strong women who take the lead, and that they are a friend to every girl, no matter what,” she said. “We’ve tried to foster these principles, and Olivia just takes to that. She is a nice girl with a caring heart, and she is always willing to step in and help.”
“Even though we don’t know these young girls and their families, and that they are far, far away, we still want to help them, because in so many ways, they are a lot like us,” Olivia said.
To learn more about The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, visit www.gsep.org.
The United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, Inc. is located at 1206 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19111. To learn more, visit: www.uuarc.org
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].