Faith In Action—an update from Ukraine

This week, as we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, we are sharing reports and stories from our partners on the ground.

By Simon Chambers, Director of Communications, ACT Alliance

Budolai is the head of Healthy Cities, a local NGO partner of ACT member CWS in Balti, Moldova that added support of Ukrainian refugees to its portfolio of caring for the most vulnerable people in Balti. “Faith without action is dead,” he says, as it is his faith which drives him and his family to do all they can to support their neighbours, be they Ukrainian or Moldovan. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT

Budolai is an energetic NGO (non-governmental organization) leader in Balti, Moldova. He is also a person with a strong faith. His organization, Healthy Cities, was created several years ago to help the most vulnerable people in the city. Last year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and refugees began to cross the border into Moldova in great numbers, he saw a need to reach out to this new group of people in need.

“I wanted to help because it is the right thing to do,” he says. “This is part of practicing our faith. Faith without action is dead. If you see a person in need and you just close your eyes, that is wrong. The Church should be an answer to people’s needs.”

And Budolai and Healthy Cities began to meet those needs.

“We began by helping with transport from the border. I would be there for weeks at a time, and my wife Katya supported me in this,” he recalls.

“We looked around to see where the greatest needs were, and it was very clear that while there was lots of help in Chisinau, there was no support for refugees in Balti. The mayor was asking for help. So it was an easy decision to work here.

“Our distribution center is near the mayor’s office, and the UNHCR cash distribution centre, which makes it the perfect location for in-kind support.”

Healthy Cities works with ACT Alliance member Church World Service to provide all kinds of services that the refugee families need. From food to hygiene items to diapers to clothing and bedding, they have it all.

Valentina helps sort donated clothes for refugee families to choose from at the Healthy Cities distribution center in Balti, Moldova. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT

“We don’t give packages of specific items to the refugees,” Budolai says. “It is better for them to come and choose the items that they need. We have carbohydrates, vegetables, proteins, meats, beans, cooking oil, dairy products, jam, dumplings. They take what they need and what they like to eat. This is important so they have their dignity.”

Healthy Cities in Balti, Moldova provides a “shopping” experience for refugees who can choose the food, clothes, baby supplies and even toys that they want and need from the distribution center. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT

The other areas of their work are centered on the needs and dignity of the refugees as well. They offer Romanian classes, child care, psychosocial support, legal help, youth engagement, arts and crafts, and livelihood skills trainings.

“Learning Romanian helps the refugees to integrate into Moldovan society,” he says. “And this is an important part of protection for them. When you speak the language, you meet people, you get to know the community and they know you. You know who to talk to when there are problems.”

Healthy Cities helps about 1,500 families every week with their programs. And this can be hard for their staff and volunteers, so they are also paying attention to supporting their team, many of whom are themselves Ukrainian refugees.

“We held a session for our staff on how to avoid burn out, and we had another workshop for our female staff to help them talk about issues they may be facing,” Budolai says.

And it is easy to see how they could be facing burn out as they support not only refugees in Balti, but also in many northern Moldovan communities. “We get orders from the north, from mayors there, who use Google forms, WhatsApp, Viber, or other ways to let us know what people need,” says Katya, Budolai’s wife, who handles all the orders from outside Balti.

“Here we have supplies for one order that is supporting 98 families, 190 people,” she says, pointing to a large pile of boxes and bins full of various foods. “Some days this room is full to the ceiling with supplies, then the next day they are all gone to the north.”

Even as they have massively increased their work supporting Ukrainian refugees, Healthy Cities continues to fulfill their original mission, to support vulnerable Moldovans. Budolai’s faith drives him to do everything he can to support people in need, no matter who they are or where they are from. “Sometimes,” he says, “we don’t have the resources to help. One time, I gave a man all the money from my own pocket, because it was all I could do.”

Budolai and Katya truly put their faith in action, and are making a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of Ukrainians and Moldovans through their work.

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