MAGDALENA KOWALEWSKA: What reflections were accompanying you during your visits to the countries of Near East?
MINISTER BEATA KEMPA: These are places in which one can see enormity of war destructions, lack of perspectives and a feeling of hopelessness. Moral and psychical sufferings which are experienced by inhabitants of these areas are very difficult emotionally. Emotions should be changed into particular actions based on financing, making it possible to bring help as quickly as possible. It is possible thanks to cooperation of the Polish government with volunteers and non-governmental organizations which have professionally been reaching places to bring help there for years. Thanks to mutual cooperation it was possible to carry out lots of effective help projects which became a respond of the Polish government to humanitarian crisis in Near East, in Africa and Europe. As a minister responsible for coordination of Polish humanitarian help, I cooperate with a lot of organizations, among the others: Caritas Polska, Association Help to Church in Need, Polish Medical Mission, Polish Centre of International Help or Foundation of Humanitarian Help ‘Redemptoris Missio’, Foundation ‘Orla Straż’, Salesian Missionary Volunteering.
What is the most important in bringing help on the spot?
It must be brought sensibly, with respect of human dignity, listening to their needs. What is the most important is a talk with inhabitants of countries which we are helping, among the others, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq. I do not mean enforcing happiness in people but sensible bringing humanitarian help with developmental help which may give them a chance to return to normality in a short time. In Near East a lot of Christians are in the camps for refugees, their homes and towns are in rubbles because of bombarding, and also their churches were destroyed. Since the beginning of bringing humanitarian help we have considered projects concentrated on the elderly, mothers and children as priority, which is proven by Yezidi women who had to escape from slavery of fighters from the so-called Islamic State. Their husbands were killed or are still imprisoned. These women live with their children in extremely difficult conditions in the camps. We also bring help there. These women asked us to buy them farm animals. We bought these animals and made farms for them – all this thanks to my cooperation with Foundation ‘Orla Straż’. Both the women and their children thank Poles with tears in their eyes, that they can work on the farm and have their dignity back.
In northern Iraq ‘Niedziela’ in cooperation with , among the others, with the Papal Association Help to Church in Need within the action DOM is organizing collection of means to build flats in Nineve valley for Christians who lost their properties of their whole life because of the fights with the so-called Islamic State.
I am grateful to ‘Niedziela’ for supporting this action. Help to Poles in rebuilding Christian towns destroyed by ISIS, such as Bartella and Baszika, has a great significance. Christians are considered there as excellent people about which the Kurds and the foreign minister of Iraq assured me. We should remember that every donation for these people means a donation multiplied three or five times. We are rebuilding their homes and churches in which they were a community also facing up the enormous danger from the so-called Islamic State. And it is happening thanks to the Papal Association Help to Church in Need at the helm of Fr. Prof. Waldemar Cisło and Fr. Andrzej Halemba. Whereas thanks to the Polish Centre International Help and support from the budget of the Polish country we transported 500 fireproof house produced in Poland, making it possible for Christians from Iraq to survive. It was our gift for the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence by Poland.
Polish help actions are particularly appreciated in Syria where there is still the war.
We bring help not only to Aleppo, but also Homs and other Syrian towns overwhelmed by the war. We are reaching to neighbouring countries where the Syrians escaped to in order to save their life. Polish help is visible in camps in Jordan and also in Lebanon or Iraq – although this last country announced that it had overcome ISIS, the situation of Christians and religious minorities is very difficult there.
On this occasion it should also be mentioned that the Polish government could react to sudden crisis connected with bombarding and war actions conducted in the Eastern Ghouta. With participation of Fr. Prof. Cisło and non-governmental organizations projects were realized in which immediate humanitarian help (transport of food products, blankets and warm clothes) was given to half a thousand people, transport of medications saving life (antibiotics, anti-inflammation medications, pain-killers) was financed for 4 thousand inhabitants. In Syria, beside help connected with providing food and warm clothes and finding homes, also medical help is needed. Projects which were financed by the Polish government, made it possible to provide treatment to Syrian children and adults. What is particularly valuable and highly professional and carried out by the Polish Medical Mission, was a project of making prosthesis for injured women and children recover. Thanks to governmental funds which amounted to 1.9 million zlotys in March 2018, it was possible to establish the Orthopedic Centre in Termanin, the region Idlib, in Syria, after the war collapse, and then 300 prosthesis were made mainly for women and children. There were also necessary rehabilitation and physiotherapy which made it possible for patients to recover and return to complete physical activity. Within the project also Syrian medical personnel was trained.
Together with Poles in Syria, also the Hungarians are helping which is proven by a signed Polish-Hungarian declaration about humanitarian cooperation.
Within this cooperation I suggested the foreign minister of Hungary Peter Szijjarto that the first common project should be building an orphanage for 120 children in Homs. The project costs 1.5 million euro and its realization was planned in cooperation with the arch-diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The orphanage is being built with participation of the Polish section of the Papal Association Help to Church in Need.
There are many voices concerning accepting refugees from Near East to Europe and helping them here, not there.
These people want to live in their geographical latitudes, in their cultures. They miss their homes which they lost because of the war. In a camp in Jordan I met young Syrians. One of them was telling me that he wanted to return Homs with his brother and rebuild a house of their parents there, which had been destroyed, but what was an obstacle was his lack of building skills. We decided to organize professional trainings for young people there, so that they would have complete rights to be employed, not be a so-called lost generation. At present, supported by the Polish government, and thanks to a project realized by UNICEF Polska, 900 young people are learning various jobs in difficult conditions, which will make it possible for them to get employed and earn their living.
What roles do Polish missionaries have in bringing humanitarian help?
Over 2 thousand Polish missionaries risk their life, when bringing help to all continents and giving a beautiful testimony about our country. These are ambassadors of Poland. They can organize help in very difficult regions. In very Africa over 700 Polish missionaries are serving. This is a continent which is generating a lot of refugees. Population of Africa will be a half of the world population in a few years. Definite coordinated developmental help is necessary there. Humanitarian help from Poland also reaches this continent. For example, in the Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda, the Polish government organized 3 medical centres and flats for doctors and volunteers via Foundation Polish Centre of International Help.
Experiences of Poland concerning bringing humanitarian help are perceived in many countries.
I hope that they will be a beautiful example how one can help others in suffering. We, Poles, who have experienced wars, understand well what help means. In this short time, since I have been dealing with humanitarian help, we managed to realized a lot. I am proud, especially of have signed the ‘memorandum of understanding’ in Washington in November 2018 with an American governmental agency USAID, that is, federal Agency of International Development which defines, among the others, general rules of Polish-American cooperation in realizing programs of help and development in Near East. The agreement puts particular pressure on giving help to religious minorities, such as Christian, Yezid communities and also ethnical minorities. Their representatives are mostly the victims of wars and conflicts in countries of Near East, such as Syria and Iraq.
I am grateful to Poles that they are opening up to help others. We are a country of people of great hearts which is proven by many actions and collections for the war victims of conflicts. I thank Polish media, including the weekly ‘Niedziela’ for informing about how we can help those who are in need. I think that this is one of the most beautiful signs of Polish solidarity.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 20/2019 (19 V 2019)