Emmaus Europe

Taking Action With Emmaüs 

Youth Camps : a shared and exciting adventure!

Every year, a number of Emmaus groups across Europe welcome young people – and not-so-young people – to spend time in the groups, and get involved in a solidarity initiative. Known variously as  “summer camps” and “youth camps”, but with the same outcome: a great experience and meaningful interaction.

Organising a youth camp is very simple.” From the outset, this comment provides reassurance for those wanting to embark on the adventure. The comment was made by Julio, the leader of Emmaus Peruwelz in Belgium, who has been organising summer camps for 14 years. In most cases, the young people travel from all over Europe, and stay with the group, sharing meals and their time with the companions. While room sometimes need to be made to host the young people, the companions are often happy to give up their rooms for one or two weeks. In fact, it is often the companions who keep asking how many people have registered, as they can’t wait for the camp to start.

The summer camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina has a different slant. Every year since 2006, Emmaus-IFS has been organising camps bringing together over 100 young people. The original idea? “Bring together in Srebrenica young people from all over the world, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality or faith, so that they meet each other, and help the local communities to break down prejudices and barriers (…) [with the aim of] promoting tolerance, living together, and equality for all, in a post-conflict country, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina,” says Mirela, an unparalleled summer camp organiser. Logistics are obviously more challenging because of the size of the camp, but are very well organised, with the help of a large number of volunteers. A real adventure, which gets underway many months before the young people arrive!

What are the logistics in most cases? “We primarily advertise on the Emmaus Europe website, and word of mouth also works very well” says Julio. Each group manages its own registration process, and help can be provided by Emmaus Europe and Emmaus France. The latter has created a website devoted to volunteering opportunities in the French Emmaus groups: Emmaüs Expérience. While the organisation of a camp obviously involves a long-term commitment, notably answering the young people’s questions and managing arrivals, the groups are not alone in this adventure!

And it is worth it. Welcoming new people into the group very often gives a fresh boost to community life, and creates a special ambience for the fortnight, month, and even longer. This summer breeze is a break from the daily routine, and gives a fresh boost to companions’ commitment to their work, while guaranteeing a fantastic and meaningful holiday for the young people. These work camps are also the opportunity to begin renovation work (painting, reorganising the premises), and enable the groups to start new initiatives thanks to the extra hands on deck (create a vegetable garden, environmental awareness-raising, etc.)

This open-minded approach enables the young people to discover the vibrancy of the Emmaus movement, and is often the first step towards getting involved as a volunteer or employee. Julio is one of the first examples: following several Emmaus youth camps in Spain in the early 1970s, he got involved and has been living the Emmaus adventure for close to 50 years! As participants, we cannot afford to be indifferent to this opportunity to get to know the movement. This worthwhile experience enables the young people to offer practical help, meet new people, learn new things, and also have a good time. Whatever the person’s level or skills, they are welcome, and this often makes them want to return!

Mirela, from IFS-Emmaus, agrees: “Most of the volunteers who have taken part in the camp stay connected to Emmaus in one way or another. (…) It all begins and ends with volunteering!” We could not say it any better.

The Emmaus-ISF 2019 summer work camp, Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The IFS-Emmaus 2019 summer work camp, Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina - © IFS-Emmaus

Two young people from Emmaus Satu Mare unloading a container.

Two young people from Emmaus Satu Mare unloading a container from Emmaus Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, May 2022, Romania - © Emmaus Satu Mare

Container loads – solidarity that goes beyond donated goods

Meeting with Jean-Philippe, the leader of Emmaus Satu Mare, Romania. He tells us about how container loads are arranged, but above all, reveals what underpins these initiatives to share donations between the Emmaus groups who receive a lot of donated goods, and those who receive less.

Can you give us a quick overview of Emmaus Satu Mare?

Our community is home to 25 young people aged 18-30. They are care system leavers. They are particularly vulnerable, and most of them have experienced trauma during their childhood and teenage years. They come to us with major interpersonal, educational, inclusion and other issues.

We are therefore at a crossroads between a community and a social enterprise. On the one hand, the community: the companions learn to live independently, take care of themselves, etc. All of this is linked to in-depth educational work: getting back into education, individual discussions and support groups on certain topics (managing emotions, relationships, etc).

And on the other, the social enterprise: two furniture shops, bric-a-brac…which give the young people work experience, and enable Emmaus Satu Mare to cover its costs.

Where does the stock for the two shops come from?

Just like most Emmaus groups, we collect locally, but this is inevitably limited: there is no culture of giving in Romania, and we receive poor-quality donations, and even waste… There is a real risk of waste being sent to landfill when it is dumped in wheelie bins, as recycling facilities  have not been developed here.

Most of our stock is therefore supplied by solidarity container loads, sent by Emmaus partner groups with whom we have forged strong links.

What underpins this type of partnership and connection between Emmaus groups?

While the financial support provided by the solidarity container loads is vital, these partnerships are also the chance to forge real relationships with the other groups in Europe via companion exchanges, group visits, etc.

Many of our young people undertake internships in our partner groups. They spend several days or weeks there, preparing the next load, and also learn a lot about life outside their community. They “fly the nest” as it were, and find themselves in a new yet protective setting, which turns upside down their habits (new language, rubbing shoulders with older people, etc.). Most of the young people come back more mature, with increased self-confidence. These exchanges are truly beneficial. They have been referred to as a “companion Erasmus scheme”, and that definitely rings true!

And when difficulties arise during their time at a partner community, it constitutes an opportunity for them to learn about their limits, and gives us ideas on how better to support them. We are lucky enough to have trusted partners, who are willing to “give it a go” alongside us.

From a logistics perspective, what does “sending a container” actually involve?

First things first: it isn’t difficult to send a container! There is a little bit of admin, which is relatively easy to complete. We find a haulier at our end.

The challenging part is the “content” of the container: the quality and quantity of donations. A truck that is only 70% full will have an impact on the profit generated, and on our economic model. Likewise, a load of poor quality goods is very likely to end up in the bin, with the risk of being sent to landfill. In both scenarios, the environmental impact will also go against the values that we champion at Emmaus.

The new issue is the rising cost of fuel, and Romania has not been spared. Currently, a container load generates turnover of €7-9,000 for Satu Mare, while transport costs amount to roughly €3,000 (as opposed to €2,200 last year). The quality and quantity of donations are therefore crucial to making a profit from the load and in order to be in keeping with our principles.

What is an ideal load then?

One that combines interaction, quality and quantity! One option is for the young people to travel to the sending group to select the contents of the container, help with loading, and motivate everyone to load the container as well as possible. Although this costs money, it is really important for forging long-term relationships, and as stated above, it is a great experience.

Another good practice (for the sending group) is to carefully study the receiving group’s needs. The idea is for the goods to be what our local customers actually want to buy. Last year, we met two groups, and together we drew up a detailed list of our needs: furniture style, knick-knacks, type of crockery, without even taking into account how items are packaged, “knocked about” during loading, shipping, and unloading. All of these issues are important!

We have longstanding links with other groups who are up to speed with our needs, and we feel “at home” when we take part in loading a container.

What would you like to say to a group that wants to get more involved in international solidarity and in container loads in particular?

Container loads are a very “Emmaus” way of undertaking and receiving solidarity. They are tangible, as they involve the companions, employees and volunteers in the sending group; this generates a real and palpable benefit for the receiving group’s companions. Container loads are not just another activity; instead they are part of Emmaus’ DNA:  donations to Emmaus are shared, providing work for an entire community, and bringing it alive. And it’s a wonderful adventure!

Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to add?

There is always more to say! We are very grateful to the Emmaus groups who have been supporting us for a long time. And we recommend that those who are still unsure do embark on the adventure, with us or with other European groups who also need donations, in Romania, as well as in Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in the Baltic nations!

Emmaus Oselya’s daily life has been turned upside down

The group has been supporting people fleeing the fighting right from the start of the conflict. Emmaus Oselya has provided support, handed out food, offered accommodation, counselling, and so on. Natalia, leader of Emmaus Oselya in Ukraine, tells us about the community’s daily life, which has been turned upside down since the beginning of the conflict.

How is your community involved in supporting displaced people?

In April, around 50 people came every day to our social support centre in Lviv to take a shower, get their hair cut, do their washing and change their clothes, get something to eat, receive medical care, or simply relax and chat. This makes for a total of over 600 meals handed out, around 100 loads of washing, over 500 items of clothing donated, and close to 200 showers. All of these services are delivered by the community’s companions, who know all about the difficulties of life on the streets. This creates a rapport with the beneficiaries, who are forced to seek help because of the war.

However, our social centre is small – two small rooms and a bathroom. Since the start of the war, the number of people coming to the centre has continued to rise, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to welcome them properly and provide them with support.

Our Emmaus charity shop, located in Vynnyky in the Lviv suburbs, is close to our community house, and reopened in April. However, the air raid warnings and risk of being bombed force us to take refuge in bomb shelters and close the shop regularly. This is having a major impact on our income-generating activity, which is so important for our community and our customers. Once again, thanks to the funding provided by the Emmaus groups, via the Emmaus Europe Ukraine Fund, we are able to maintain our community life and help the displaced people and war victims.

The Lviv charity shop only opens three times a week. On the other hand, the furniture restoration workshop is practically back to normal, and people are placing orders once again. We are delighted about this.

In April, we received a container of humanitarian aid from the Emmaus groups via Emmaus Lublin (the third since the start of the conflict). We are working with a range of associations and volunteers across Ukraine to provide support where it is needed most. In April, we helped the children’s hospital in Chernihiv and Buda Hospital in the Kharkiv region. Much-needed humanitarian aid was delivered to Ovruch, Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

Your community supported the homeless before the war. How are you organising your solidarity work at this time?

Our day-to-day solidarity work continues despite it all, and we are helping everyone who needs it. We distributed around 800 lunches on the streets in April, in addition to the work done at the social centre.

We are also helping the residents of Lviv who are hosting displaced people by providing bedding, mattresses, pushchairs, etc.

We were unable to organise our traditional Easter events for homeless and vulnerable people in the Lviv Region because of the constant threat of air strikes. However, we did hand out 250 food kits in the city centre. We are also meeting the needs of war victims and displaced people: clothing, shoes, toys, and books for 50 children from Mariupol who are now living in Vynnyky.

What do you currently need?

The social support centre premises and equipment are old. We haven’t currently got enough washing machines for all the displaced people to wash their clothes. We are therefore eagerly awaiting the start of the new building reconstruction work so that we can set in motion this initiative.

We also have a major fuel issue in Ukraine, we have to join long queues to buy 5-10 litres of fuel, the maximum authorised amount. We also still need a lot of humanitarian aid to help the regions that have been liberated, and those where violent fighting is continuing, and where people need daily assistance.

How are the companions dealing with the situation?

We currently have 30 companions living in the community. As ever, we are continuing with our everyday work (collecting donated goods from donation drop-off containers, sorting the goods, etc.) This year’s celebrations for Orthodox Easter were not festive. We got together for a breakfast, and we arranged a ceremony to commemorate our community’s founder, Olesya Sanotska, who died six years ago in April 2016. She lives on in our hearts.

An additional companion has joined our three companions who had already enlisted in the armed forces. They are dear to our hearts, and we respect their desire to defend Ukraine.

Our companions are working hard. Air raid warnings are very frequent and often the companions do not want to make their way to shelters, because the raid is far from the community. It is tough for everyone, both physically and mentally.

Nevertheless, the Oselya community’s work is important and enjoys a high profile in Ukraine. A US journalist showed great interest in our work and visited the community to make a report about our daily lives.

How do you see the future?

The situation in Ukraine is very tense, and the war is intensifying. The war, with numerous crimes perpetrated by the Russian army, is calling into question the future of democratic values.

We do all our work with great faith that Ukraine will emerge victorious, and the hope that our country will soon experience peace, and that we will be able to resume a normal way of life.

We express our profound gratitude to all the Emmaus groups for their help and support for our work, and for our struggle for the European values of solidarity, justice and friendship.

© Emmaus Lublin

© Emmaus Geo

Georgia: Emmaus Geo is supporting refugees

The war in Ukraine has triggered a wave of solidarity in Europe and around the world. The Emmaus groups located in the countries neighbouring Ukraine are helping refugees, with each group running initiatives that draw on their know-how, such as the initiative run by Emmaus Geo in Georgia.

Since it was founded, Emmaus Geo has been working with the Georgians displaced following the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia in 2008. Working in several locations in the Tbilisi suburbs, on the brownfield sites where many displaced people have settled, Emmaus Geo hands out clothing, hot meals and food. This Emmaus group also helps them with their administrative and legal formalities.

Since late February, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Emmaus Geo has been doing the same work with Ukrainians fleeing the fighting: handing out crockery, clothing (over 500kg since early March), beds for children, and food. Thanks to Emmaus Europe’s Ukraine Fund, the association is going to be able to provide over 500 hygiene kits for refugees.

At the present time, over 30,000 people from Ukraine have taken refuge in Georgia, and roughly 500 new people arrive every day. They travel by plane or car, via Poland, Armenia, Austria or Turkey, in the main.

Just like Croatia, Georgia has had strong links with Ukraine since the various wars that have brought it into conflict with Russia. In 1993 and 2008, Ukraine supported the Georgian army by sending soldiers to fight side by side with the Georgians. The Russian invasion has further strengthened the bonds between the two countries.

Emmaus Geo – the movement’s first member group in Georgia

Emmaus Geo was founded in 2015 and aims to help the most deprived people in Georgia by supporting and housing vulnerable people, and handing out essentials (clothing, food, school supplies, etc.). An Emmaus group since 2017, that same year also saw Emmaus Geo acquire a residential building enabling the group to house five companions involved in its income-generating activity. The association’s main activities are collecting and selling clothing in two shops located in Tbilisi and Kvareli, as well as outreach work with vulnerable communities in the Tbilisi suburbs, supporting roughly 300 families.

Coordinated solidarity in response to the situation in Ukraine

The Ukraine Fund, comprising donations made by Emmaus groups worldwide, supports the everyday work of our groups in Ukraine and Poland. This fund is also used to support one-off initiatives set up in the countries of Eastern Europe to primarily house and support refugees. Emmaus Europe centralises the donations and is supporting the groups based on the Ukraine war-related expenses that they incur every month.