Note: Journal of Manolo Betancur’s trip to the Ukraine-Poland border, from May 9 to 17, 2022, with the aim of delivering the aid collected by friends and clients of Manolos Bakery to people in refugee camps.
By Manolo Betancur
My first impressions of Poland
What has most impacted my soul and my way of thinking has been the people, I don’t know how to express it, so far I haven’t found selfishness in this society. It is something that does not exist, on the contrary, it is in the human nature of the Poland people to say yes:
Yes we are here to help you, yes we are here to do something for you, yes there is food for you, yes there is water for you, yes there are services for you, yes there is help for you.
I totally believe in American society, in its way of thinking and feeling, including Colombian society, I take as an example the solidarity with migrants from Venezuela in my country or in my other country, the United States with immigrants in general, where people from different countries regardless of distance, origin, race and beliefs in hundreds of thousands of cases.
In many ways, this place in Poland reminds me of the best of Colombia, the people are very polite, very nice, very friendly. There are many beautiful stories, the coffee is good, the food is good.
The way I have been treated by the Methodist Church has been welcoming, everyone who represents the community in Kansas, North Carolina and the whole community in Poland is amazing, they are all very good people.
It is also good to analyze the contrast between communal Poland and modern Poland, although in general the Poland people are very sincere and kind people, but at the same time they have also suffered a lot.
Although they have had drawbacks, this has not prevented them from getting ahead and maybe those are the things that we lack in Western countries.
Many times we complain because the water is cold, because the food is not hot, because the meat is not tender, because the wine is not at temperature, or whatever, in reality we complain about everything.
But when someone actually makes you see reality, when you have suffering, it is when you begin to appreciate more the gift of God, that is why we must enjoy loving, breathing and everything we do.
That’s one of the biggest things on my mind, thinking about what we do and how we feel and think.
A symbolic gift
We went to the Methodist Church of Poland where the Bishop is, at the beginning of the war the building was used to shelter elderly people. In one room about thirteen people sleep, in the other about twenty people sleep.
There is an image of the Nazi occupation in Poland, and there is a very interesting story, the pastor of the church negotiated with the Nazis so that the building survived to serve the community.
The building is over a hundred years old and has undergone several renovations, one of its many objectives being to teach people.
We were at a dinner with the bishops, we talked about the house of hope, a place where the Ukrainian mother can be with her children and where she has the opportunity to start a new life.
It’s hard to see how this house can be financially supported, so I gave them the idea to create the bakery of hope.
Then we went to the exhibition center (similar to corferias in Bogotá or Colombia Moda in Medellín). My respect and honor to the people who are there, it is one of the largest places in Europe to receive refugees.
They have twenty thousand beds, these days they are receiving medical assistants that they need in the hospital, they do not have to pay anything, neither lodging nor transportation. This place is owned by a wealthy person and he lends it for free.
Tons and tons of food are received every day, all donated by different non-profit organizations in the European Union. It is an impressive and very well implemented logistics, nothing compared to our countries of origin.
I can also see the sadness in the faces of the people and the children, although I can see how the little ones are entertained and transmit hope.
There are older adults and I think a lot about my father and my mother, which moves me. If I were in that position, everything would be destroyed and my life would have no meaning.
I want to share a photo of the letters that children make, which has moved me, the gift that a child gave me became something very symbolic for me, I would have liked to take a photo of his face but it is not allowed.
After this we went back to the hotel and went to the old town, we ate well, I like the way people eat here, the taste is different, everything is different. The taste of the beer, the women are beautiful and of course all the culture and history that is here is abundant.
I came back to the hotel a little late to rest a little, I am preparing to go to the Polish-Ukrainian border, a new experience that I will tell you about.
Tears came out of her eyes.
We were in a farm where some missionaries escaped from the Ukraine, very good people with a beautiful, transparent heart, people of light who make the world a better world.
They sang a song about hope, about love, about light for Ukraine, tears came out of their eyes, they made bread for us, fresh bread, a recipe from Georgia, delicious.
They shared stories with us, they shared with us what the people of Ukraine need and what we can do for them.
One of these people had a tailoring company, she makes clothes and her dream was to bring machines from Ukraine to improve her business but they were destroyed.
She still wants to work and live, so we decided to donate $1,200 of the money I had collected, plus the people I went with also gave her their share.
With the money she raised she can now purchase three industrial machines for her to start her business here in Ukraine.
We continue our journey.
Then we continue to the border, I am speechless, it is incredible, I keep trying to understand and I will continue to think about everything that happens, I ask God for wisdom to understand the greatness of the heart of the people of Poland.
At the border, people who come from Poland to here can transit without any problem, there is no type of customs or migration control, there is a notice that says
“Welcome to Poland, here you are safe, here we help you”.
A completely incredible logistics to receive them, transportation, health, even food for the animals, people from all over the planet, Chinese, Arabs, Asians, Spanish, Americans, waiting for all of them.
I think that the whole world should learn from the greatness of the heart of the Poles.
Definitely every time I ask them why is your heart so big? they respond, we try to do our best.
They don’t know the word selfishness or the word I can’t, they don’t think twice about doing something, it’s incredible how much love these people have.
I believe that the suffering they have endured throughout their history has softened their hearts and made them great.
Once again it is proven that something very great can be done, to want is to be able, we must transmit and reproduce everything that comes from the heart to generate change.
Finally while I was in the car some words of my inspiration came out.
I thought about the experience of having shared with the missionaries in the Ukrainian field, that although their bodies are here, their souls and their hearts are in Poland.
Although God caressed us through the sun, the breeze, the flowers, it reminded me of a beautiful place from my childhood, the countryside of my town, where its beauty was accompanied by the sounds of bombs, of war , so that’s why these lyrics came up.
Last night I was one of the interpreters for a Ukrainian/Spanish woman and this is what she had to say:
“We spent almost 2 months in the basement -with 3 other families- and my father was sick and getting worse. I went out to get help. 48 hours later when I came back he was dead. We took him out and my dead father couldn’t have a funeral, a burial.
We left his body in the streets. Then I decide to escape, Russian soldiers kidnapped me, tortured me, no food, nothing. Finally 4 days ago they let me out and now I’m on my way to Spain.”
Listening to her, I remember when I was an ESL student and I used to complain, why am I learning English? – I was wondering-.
Last night God gave the answer.
Without my learned English, I would not be telling this story.
Don’t wait for the cold dead of war to knock on your door.
Anything will help change this world.