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where in the world is moldova?

07/01/2023 10:29:00 AM


Karen Wisialowski, Chief Community Officer

Where in the world is Moldova? When I signed up to volunteer, my husband asked if it was the imaginary country in The Princess Diaries! Well, it’s not. In fact, Moldova is a small country sitting between east and west and playing an important role in helping Ukrainian refugees. They call themselves a small country with a big heart. Since the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine, Moldova has assisted one million refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Some things to know about Moldova. Its primary language is Romanian but Russian is commonly spoken too. Ownership has been disputed for centuries. In broad terms, Moldova was part of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, Romania in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and then part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991. Moldova declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. Chişinău, its capital city, has wide boulevards, many green parks, and cafes and wine bars on every corner. Its main industry is wine, and that wine is quite good. Moldova is accepted as a prospective EU country which it hopes to achieve by 2030.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, within days, Moldova began accepting refugees. They were welcomed into private homes, shelters, inns, and guest houses. Despite being the poorest country in Europe, Moldova acted quickly, figuring out the bureaucracy later.

In non-war times, Casa Providentei, the organization where I volunteered, serves food-insecure seniors and operates a local preschool. After Russia’s invasion, they pivoted quickly, and within four days, were accepting refugees, approximately 1,200 to date. Early in the war, individuals stayed for one night to two weeks passing through to other locations. Today’s 40 families are primarily long-term residents waiting for the war to end so that they can go home to Ukraine.

When I arrived at the Chișinău airport, I was greeted by United Planet’srepresentative, Dmitri, who was wearing an IsraAID shirt. I felt immediately like I was in the right place to make a contribution. It turns out that Dmitri has also worked for IsraAID2 Moldova since the start of the war.

At Casa Providentei, I did ordinary work: assisting teachers, playing with children, serving meals, entering data, and helping sort donated goods. The simplicity of the work was a reminder of the effort it takes to serve any community well. I was proud to be a part of the process that is helping displaced people find their way. My favorite activity was playing with the children (roughly ages 5-12). Thank you to Allison Steckley and Leslie Weinstein from the PTS Preschool, who shared their game ideas. The kids LOVED Freeze Dance, Musical Chairs, and string games. With the help of Google Translate, we communicated with my few words of Russian and their few words of English. Despite their personal traumatic experiences, the children were full of heart. I miss them.

This experience has nurtured my desire to continue to help. Starting this month, I will be the primary staff liaison for the work that we are doing to help resettle Ukrainian families in San Mateo. Our Welcome Circle has successfully welcomed one family and has applied to host another family soon. Information will be posted as it becomes available.

The rest of my sabbatical was restorative. I visited the Canadian Rockies for a much needed health retreat. And, I was able to be fully present with my parents, children, and husband knowing that my PTS colleagues were taking good care of this community. Thank you to the Board of Trustees and the congregation for your support.

I am very glad to be back at work and look forward to seeing you all online or in person soon.

(1) United Planet, a non-profit volunteer placement organization.
(2) IsraAID, an Israeli NGO which mobilizes and responds quickly to human crises around the world, was one of the earliest first responders. Immediately after Russia’s attack, IsraAID deployed to Moldova. In the first three months, IsraAID served 4,000 people directly at the border and in shelters across the country.


Mon, April 22 2024 14 Nisan 5784