Bocas del Toro, Panama, June 2022
Here comes a copy of my recent newsletter sent to friends via emails. Hope, you enjoy the updates:
I hope you are all well!
Summer has arrived to the northern hemisphere, while it seems like some of you suffer from cold in the southern part of the world. Here in Panama and the Caribbean, we are in the middle of the rainy and hurricane season, which I actually like (perhaps not storms as such, but I like a nice, healthy downpour while it is warm). While you get out of the city, Panama looks so incredibly green these days. Last weekend I went to the mountains of El Valle de Anton, just 120 km from the capital, the experience was absolutely stunning. Pure green, dramatic hills covered with heavy and grey clouds bringing tropical rain. Loved it (here are some pictures from Panama, including the trip to El Valle de Anton: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Nbkavju8ZKRCqwKZA. I will be travelling more in this week, and then in July. Today in fact, I am off to the Caribbean coast of Panama to a place called Bocas del Toro, supposedly one of the nicest part of the country, which I do not know yet (the Panama picture album will feature pictures from there). Then, later I will go to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I was told it is one of the nicest cities in the region, so I wanted to take an opportunity to see it, and some other bits in the country. It is likely to rain a lot, but I actually do not mind that much. As I mentioned, I actually tend to enjoy rains. At the end of the month, if all goes according to plan, I should be travelling for work to Colombia. I will be working in Bogota and in the communities along the border with Venezuela. I will write about this some other time, though.
I recently went to Europe and Brazil too. When in Europe, I had a chance to spend some time with Mum and friends moving around Poland, Slovakia and Romania (https://photos.app.goo.gl/S39ph7YH3z1znEnE6; https://photos.app.goo.gl/toUh7a1vx5k2g5uHA), and was deployed for a month to support our work in Ukraine (https://photos.app.goo.gl/67HcSfZH59kc6WHr9). I had the most wonderful Easter break, and appreciating the amazing sites of Romania’s Transylvania. I expected Transylvania to be beautiful, but it surpassed my expectations. The breathtaking nature, sophisticated architecture of towns and cities, and above all very, very warm and kind people. When in Poland, I actually enjoyed the atmosphere in the country. As you know, Poland along with many other countries in Europe are now responding the challenge of hosting refugees escaping Ukraine. Wars are always tragic and bring human suffering in the way that is difficult to rationalise. However, my experience tells me that wars, when affecting you directly, bring best out of people too. This is what I saw in Poland this time. The massive mobilisation of resources, good will, ideas, personal time and energy to welcome those fleeing war. I met countless families inviting strangers to their home. I was, for example, touched by a story of the Ecuadorian/Ukrainian family fleeing the war from Kyiv. They ended up in my little home-town and are re-starting their lives in there, with help of ordinary people and local organisations, who just made things possible. Then, I was charmed by an amazing young Afghan student of the University of Warsaw, who decided to dedicate his free time to help the Ukrainians arriving to the new city. He knows too well what wars and conflicts mean to your sense of security and well-being, and as did not hesitate to give his helping hand.
I do not want to write too much about Ukraine. I realise that being Polish, I may have my own biases towards what you see in the country. I will just write that most of the time there, I spent in Lviv and the western part of the country. Likewise in Poland, when in Ukraine, I was overtaken by people’s solidarity, kindness and the amazing resilience. Perhaps, this story that I wrote when I was there will give you an idea of what I mean.
Right after Ukraine, I went to Brazil’s Recife in northeast to respond to severe flooding that hit that part of the country. I need to say that I was not prepared for the mission emotionally. What I saw in Recife demoralised me (here come the pictures from the deployment: https://photos.app.goo.gl/cELACXoGhtoQQzYXA). The disaster of Recife just threw in your face what poverty and injustice means in pure practice. Yes, the rains were severe and dramatic, but it is only the residents of favelas (poor urban neighborhoods) that suffered. Those living in upscale parts of the city hardly noticed anything happening. Over 130 people died buried in mudslides, countless houses were destroyed. People’s lives were shattered and it happened so, I dare saying, because of indifference, racism, lack of empathy of those of us, who have power and responsibility to act. People suffered because of lack of preparedness, lack of plans, lack of vision in terms or urban and environmental planning. People suffered only because there are poor, and their voices are not considered to be worth-listening, because their rights are abused over and over again in all spheres of their lives. Brazil wore me off and challenged me more than any other recent experience. Lastly, also in Recife, I met a group of remarkable humanitarian workers (our partners), whose dedication make things slightly more bearable for the affected people, while essentially everyone else is failing them. Well done and my highest respect!
In other news, you should be happy to read that Tahir is now in the process of obtaining his Canadian citizenship. He is doing amazing, and now has his own little business (actually doing very well). We are already planning to meet sometime in autumn. I miss him terribly, but we talk often and appreciate the opportunities that Skype offers us 😊.
I hope to be able to hear news from you sometime soon! Please take care and do write, when you can!
Sending you all lots of love, Roman
El Valle de Anton, Panama, June 2022
Last week, we were all busy with a three days long seminar, during which, we tried looking at the humanitarian trends and challenges in Latin America, and adjust our organisations strategy for next year. Albeit, the exercise was a useful experience, it was physically difficult, as it involved long sessions of sitting. My back clearly did not like it very much and protested vividly by demanding movement and exercise. So to ease the pains, on Saturday, I decided to head to the hills of El Valle de Anton, some 120 km towards the west from Panama City.
I had a wonderful day, enjoying clouds, rains and amazingly fresh and vivid green of the tropical forest. I walked a great deal, took some photos (look towards the end of the album), and got back to the city in the evening refreshed and happy!
The week ahead of me, will be busy with closing my recent mission to Brazil, and making sure that the projects that will follow as the floods are handled administratively and ready to kick off. I am also going to be planning my mission to Colombia (hopefully, it will go ahead as planned), and my short holiday afterwards. The plan is that I will visit the country's capital, Bogota, to meet with partners and authorities to find out the level of preparedness to respond to disasters such as floods or forest fires, so that we can also do our own homework and adjust our organisation's response tools accordingly. That should be a week full of interesting brainstorming with firefighters and civil protection personnel. As I still have plenty of holidays to take, if I make it there, I will try staying an extra week to enjoy the country's touristic attraction. As I love hot springs and spas, I would like to stay around Pereira, the place famous for treatment of muscular challenges (hot water springs). I think my spine and muscles will enjoy the experience a lot. Keep your fingers crossed, so all works out nicely!
Coordination meeting with agencies participating in the flood emergency response, Recife, Brazil, June 2022
My deployment in Brazil to respond to floods its consequences around Recife has been exhausting so far; both emotionally and physically.
The destruction that the rains have caused is enormous and cost nearly 130 lives. In addition, thousands of people are displaced as they needed to flee their destroyed houses.
Perhaps what is the most significant experience during this particular emergency is lack of response from the authorities. Despite a fact that the emergency has been ongoing for nearly 10 days now, the government's support to its own citizens is nowhere to be seen.
On the other hand, it is heart-warming to observe human solidarity. Hundreds of people, even if vulnerable themselves, rush to help their neighbours by hosting them, cooking for them or offering them basic hygiene materials to survive their personal tragedies and proving that humanity goes strong among common fellow-beings!