As families fled the escalating violence in Ukraine, young Scouts like 25-year-old Raluca were among the first responders at the borders of neighbouring countries, offering urgent support like food, accommodation and access to information to help the arriving families as they sought refuge.
It was late February. Hundreds of Ukrainian families started to cross Romanian borders, leaving their homes and lives behind to embark on an uncertain journey.
Being long time Scouts, Raluca and her friend Mihaela were prepared to be of service at any moment, and they knew they needed to mobilize immediately. It was 9:00 p.m. on 26 February, when both Scouts got in their car and drove three hours to Romania’s northern border, Sighetu-Marmației, to lend a helping hand.
“We weren’t exactly sure what kind of help we could give once we reached the border, but we didn’t want to just wait for instructions before assessing the situation, and we knew a plan could take a week or more to arrive. Families were suffering and we wanted to act immediately and coordinate the response based on what we identify at the border, so we headed off to see for ourselves,” explained Raluca.
The situation at the border was dire. Mostly women and children were arriving that night, carrying few belongings and clearly exhausted and distressed mentally and emotionally. Raluca and Mihaela started to ask around if anyone needed a ride somewhere, but it was late at night and they could sense the fear and shock among the refugees. Raluca and her friend decided it would be best to come back in the morning, fully equipped with a strategy and a larger team.
“That night, we got home and sent out messages to our Scout group, mobilizing a whole team for the next morning. We told everyone to wear their Scout uniforms the next day, to give us credibility, and we went back with more cars and a plan to give shelter and accommodation to support the influx of refugees,” she continued.
The following morning, Raluca and her Scout group were a full operation at the border, made up of young volunteers working together efficiently, delivering some supplies but mainly focused on transporting refugees to different cities in Romania and facilitating safe accommodation including developing a network of people who opened their homes to hosting some families.
“We made sure that our team had a Ukrainian speaker. She’s the mother of a Scout who was providing psychological first aid to the women. Her interaction with them in their own language allowed us to understand what the families needed at this time and most importantly gain their trust during this challenging time because we can see they were in shock and reluctant to interact with others.”
The Scouts’ motto is “be prepared” and, as Scouts, Raluca and her team took charge, making sure to cover every need that may arise. The second day at the border the team managed to help 12 Ukrainians, and the following day they helped 40. Eventually Raluca and her team assisted 340 refugees, some with their pets, to reach safety and access the critical information and services they needed in her country.
The team, made up of volunteer translators, field coordinators, and trusted drivers, worked tirelessly to facilitate safe accommodation and transportation for families who needed a place to stay. Scouts from different cities in Romania joined efforts, putting their usual priorities on hold and made this their top priority. The team of dedicated volunteers involved their families, community, and activated their networks to make sure that refugees from Ukraine can feel at home.
During the week, the volunteers coordinated with more Scout groups, establishing shifts at the border and ensured that each team member could get some rest. With the support of their National Scout Organization in Romania, the teams were working tirelessly to support refugees who had just crossed the border.
“We worked day and night that week, but we found it remarkably rewarding as we helped more and more people each day. Gaining the trust of refugees was just amazing and solidified our motivation to continue doing all we could.”
As more humanitarian agencies set up their teams at the border, the efforts of the Scouts became more noticeable, eventually leading to collaborations between the young Scout volunteers and relief organizations. The Scouts supported UNICEF at the Blue Dots, spaces along border crossings that provide urgent and critical information and referral services to the arriving families and children.
“It was extremely humbling to see different organizations and religious groups working hand in hand, relying on each other, and uniting their efforts towards the common goal of making sure that the refugees are protected and that their basic needs met,” expressed Raluca.
The war is having a devastating impact on the Ukrainian population. More than 100 days into the conflict, over two-thirds of the country's 7.5 million children have now been forced from their homes by the war, either inside Ukraine or abroad.
In response to this unfolding humanitarian crisis, thousands of Scout volunteers have mobilized to help meet the immediate and long-term needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. Like Raluca, teams of Scouts are volunteering to help families at border crossings, refugee and migrant centres, transit centres, and more. In the countries neighbouring Ukraine, the Scouts have introduced Scouting activities for young people who fled the war, providing a sense of normalcy, and strengthening their resilience.
“Scouting is the reason we choose this path of service and peacebuilding. It wasn’t until I became involved in this humanitarian response that I realized that Scouting was literally preparing us for any circumstance – the camps we organise, the tents we sleep in, and the responsibility we take at a young age all equipped us to manage the waves of people in need in this crisis,” Raluca shared.
“The values we learn in Scouting unite us to make the world a better place.”
This is just one of the many initiatives that Scouts led in different host countries at the onset of war in Ukraine. Considering the timeliness of these actions and the large volunteer network involved, the World Organization of the Scout Movement has partnered with UNICEF in Romania and eight other countries neighbouring Ukraine to leverage the power of young people and engage with them to address the needs of refugees fleeing the war. With the support of UNICEF, Scouts like Raluca and her dedicated team have the means to lead impactful actions and continue to inspire other young people to do the same.
About the Scouts’ Diary for UAct: Scouts in Humanitarian Response for Ukraine
The World Organization of the Scout Movement European and Eurasia regions have partnered with UNICEF Europe and Central Asia to deliver relief aid and non-formal education to those affected by the war in Ukraine. This partnership covers Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine. The Scouts’ Diary is a series of essays and interviews capturing the experiences of those involved in the project.
GENEVA/BRUSSELS, 7 April 2022 – UNICEF and the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) today launched a regional cooperation agreement to provide critical care and support to children and families fleeing the war in Ukraine.