"We are together, and this gives us the strength to act, love, and help others," - Tetiana Stawnychy, President of Caritas Ukraine
"Tetiana, a year ago, you officially became the President of Caritas Ukraine. It was undoubtedly a very difficult year. Could you kindly share your impressions about this time?"
"Despite the significant difficulties and challenges that I encountered, I feel gratitude in my heart. I am grateful that I am part of Caritas and have the opportunity to serve people in such a difficult time and be part of the network of an organization that provides daily assistance and support to those in need. Thanks to the leadership of our Church, the bishops, my colleagues in the national office, the directors of the regional cells of Caritas, employees and volunteers, and also thanks to God.
When I first took the office as the president, I tried to meet people as much as possible, get to know them, and listen to them to develop my vision of the organization and its work strategy. Meanwhile, the organization continued to move along a predefined trajectory. And then the moment came when it was necessary to move from contemplation to active actions, drawing their own conclusions and offering their own concept for the further development of Caritas in order to actually lead the organization. This time was also a period of preparation for the potential escalation of Russian aggression. It was very important for me to find a path that would take us through this difficult time so that the organization, which has been operating in Ukraine for almost 30 years, and which is a practical tool for active service of the Church, was capable to respond to the challenges of our time and continue to develop and improve itself."
"What inspired and motivated you most in your work this year?"
"Every visit I make to a local cell is always a great joy and inspiration. It's an opportunity to tap into the activities of our managers, social workers, psychologists, consultants, volunteers, and people who implement our joint assistance projects and put our ideas into practice. The stories I hear are touching, sincere, and real experiences that convince me that in our attempt to help, we are moving on the right path. Each of my visits to Chernivtsi, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, Stryi, Poltava, Kamensk, Ternopil, Kryvyi Rih or any of our local centers is always a new experience of communication and motivation. I am also very inspired by the moments when I manage to find solutions to some problems, solve some difficulties when something "worked" and bore fruit."
"After the full-scale invasion broke out, Caritas has been actively changing and growing. What are the challenges it faces today, in your view?
"I am sure that Caritas is ready for all these changes. Our experience and history have prepared us for such scaling." Our institutional capacity allows us to swiftly change priorities, attract new donors and partners, and provide assistance to an ever-increasing number of people in need.
During the 5 months of the war, Caritas provided assistance to more than 1,300,000 people – this is actually an impressive figure that we would not have been able to cover under any circumstances if not for our well-developed network throughout Ukraine and our practical experience in responding to emergencies. In particular, the social service development project has become very relevant for expanding the network. And now, this area of our work is very effective – the parishes with which we previously worked to develop social service are now actively involved in responding to the humanitarian crisis.
Unfortunately, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine will only worsen, and our main task is to respond accordingly. Help people living near the front line or in territories that are constantly being shelled, as well as IDPs who were forced to leave their homes due to the war and often simply have nowhere to return.
For ourselves, we consider several levels of aid: basic humanitarian aid, such as food, hygiene kits, and shelters, as a response to the primary needs of people affected by the war. Further, we are talking about psychosocial support, and further socialization – an opportunity to restore human dignity, and one's own capabilities.
We have many examples when our wards, having received help and a little rest, themselves join the work of Caritas as volunteers or even employees. For me, this is an example of very deep solidarity and unity, which helps us to survive and continue to overcome difficulties."
"We all understand that, unfortunately, the war continues. How does Caritas plan to further modify its own humanitarian projects?"
"We are ready to provide basic emergency care for as long as it is necessary. But we are already working to help people "get back on their feet" and regain their own autonomy. Here we are talking about psychosocial support, work with children, restoration of housing, where possible, assistance in employment, training or retraining if necessary, and assistance in starting one's own business. Another important area of work for us is peacebuilding or, in other words, strengthening social cohesion – working in communities, promoting mutual understanding between different groups of the population, and integrating displaced people into new places of life.
War creates chaos and tension. Therefore, our task is to work in contrast to the chaos, establish relations and communication, and strengthen solidarity. Love, attention, and support heal even the most serious wounds. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, we read, "Love never ceases." The main task of Caritas is to show this love – to help those in need, change the situation, and heal. Moreover, I am sure that this is a reciprocal process – when both the receiver of aid and its provider are healed.
People who have lost everything, who have to start life "from scratch", who have suffered a trauma, among other things, may lose the ability to plan, think strategically, and feel confused and abandoned. That is why our approach to assistance is systematic and comprehensive – we do not solely "give fish" at the first moment when it is really needed. We also teach fishing step by step. We have considerable experience in implementing the "case management" system, when we accompany a person in different instances, at different stages, in different needs to solve various issues, the purpose of which is to help restore ability.
"Now, much attention is being focused on helping people affected by the war. What about the projects of Caritas that ran until February 24?"
"To date, all our projects that involve children and youth, home care, centers for young people with disabilities, wherever possible, continue to work. We continue to seek support for them to ensure their sustainable funding for the coming years. In the end, I think that over time, all our projects will be intertwined in a certain synergy. Over time, there will be no question of whether a person in need is an IDP or not – Caritas works to help those who need it. This is our mission. We have a well-established work methodology and a systematic approach to assistance provision, which helps us make the most of our resources and capabilities."
"Do you now attend many meetings outside of Ukraine, meet with a variety of people, what do they usually discuss in the context of Ukraine?"
"Even before I started traveling abroad, even at online meetings, I very clearly felt a lot of empathy, empathy, solidarity, and respect – for us as Caritas and the Ukrainian people. And it was really impressive, I tried to pass it on to my colleagues as much as possible. When I arrived at the Caritas Europe regional conference in Athens and then in Rome, even now, I don't have the right words to convey this extraordinary sense of support that I encountered there. When I returned home, I felt how much this support gave me a sense of strength, inspiration, unity, and motivation to continue working. In fact, we are all made for relationships; we find our fullness only in communication with others, and such meetings are very important for me.
At the meetings, I always talk about the importance of this manifestation of solidarity in Ukrainian society and the world. I reiterate that all the efforts that Caritas Internationalis and our partner organizations, and finally all of us, invest in the development of employees, management systems, and network development, have become a powerful platform for us, thanks to which we have been capable of a decent response to the humanitarian crisis.
Unfortunately, we can't foresee everything right now, and we can't plan everything, but the fact that we are together – and in the broadest sense of the word, it gives us a huge advantage – is a force that will help us meet any difficulties, any challenges with dignity and give them a decent response. Being together gives us the strength to act, love, and help others. I am honored to lead Caritas in these extremely difficult times.