What a week. First off, a huge thanks to all of you sent cash and for all your supportive notes. Lots of requests for an update, so here we go.
Since March 5, $56,000 received; $54,000 spent or committed. Most recent commitments: $700 diesel for Didi (see note at end); $7,500 seed funding as we turn our volunteer drivers' group into a non-profit for organizational, transparency, and liability(!) reasons; $4,500 for direct support in Romania through a contact (represents 80% of her budget). Approximate numbers, Canadian dollars, to me directly.
You all keep asking how we coordinate all this stuff. The answer is: on the fly, but getting smarter each day. I think this could accurately be called the Smartphone war.
I'm co-managing a group on WhatsApp of 40 local volunteers here in Vienna who are angels and doing everything from finding free or subsidized housing through to cleaning, vacuuming, and stocking up these places, some of which haven't been used in years. I'm on other groups of volunteer drivers where we are writing to each other about border delay times, and jumping in for emergency pickups for each other. In these past two weeks I've become so close to people and had to rely on people whom I've never met outside an iPhone screen. Here's to give you an idea of how we are organizing the border transports -- basically we have people feeding in help requests from social media and converting these basically to support tickets that we pick up.
Here's what it all looks like:
Yesterday's Border Run
Monday afternoon I headed to Ubľa at the Slovakian/Ukrainian border and stayed the night at a hotel ready for a tough pickup Tuesday morning. My passengers were Olena, a 70-year old math teacher and her severely-disabled husband and 94-year-old father. They made it cross-country by some absolute miracle from Kharkiv, where their neighbourhood was bombed, and I wanted to be at the border the minute they got there to take them onwards to Vienna, which is Olena's favourite city.
Driving there I went through Hungary, driving back through (little did I know) Slovakian mountains
Moving disabled and elderly passengers from police van to my Passat, now with pimped out folded down seats and air mattress
I was really worried about this one to be honest but my worries were ill-placed. My route planning is as sophisticated as putting my home address into the GPS. This should be better thought through for longer trips, more challenging trips, and trips through sometimes difficult terrain: and these drives count for all three. The return drive took me through the Tatra mountains of eastern Slovakia, where the roads are steep, winding, and nevertheless have a speed limit of 100km that is vigorously enforced by the car on your tail. I asked Olena if her husband, laid out on the air mattress in the split seat back, was ok, and she said he was fine. Then half an hour later: "Ryan, Ryan. Please, my husband. He says." (Oh shit, I think). "Do you have any Pink Floyd?" I swear, it's these moments I will never forget as long as I live.
There's a concert hall in Vienna /
Where your mouth had a thousand reviews /
There's a bar where the boys have stopped talking /
They've been sentenced to death by the blues
It's a song that has meant lots to me for years and is also deeply connected to this city that I love, and I really had to fight back tears of joy and relief and just pure feeling as this serenaded us home. I'm fighting them back as I write this to be honest.
Today, tomorrow, etc
My awesome team of volunteers has found a beautiful apartment for Olga and Anastasia, which they approvingly checked out today. The owner is going to furnish it this weekend, and offering it free of charge for the year ahead. Not everyone escaping this terrible war is going to be so lucky but we are depending on the generosity of people where we can and they are showing up spectacularly. We have so far placed dozens of refugees in Vienna and around and are working on everything from benefits registration to school enrollment to groceries to sightseeing and socialization. Everyone has relatives (all their men, for example) back home and we have to make sure to prevent feeling isolated in a strange land.
My "family" Olga and Anastasia meeting with landlords of their new apartment. They move in this weekend.
7 new friends arriving at a new home sponsored by my friend and first border run copilot Eva
My focus for the next bit: transportation capacity. Many of the volunteer drivers, like Didi, pictured below, are using their own wheels and, critically, covering all the gas themselves. For a retired teacher like Didi, doing multiple border runs a week, that can easily run to €1,000 ($1,400) a week. Lots of these volunteers have blown through savings and lost jobs already after just a couple of weeks -- that's not sustainable. I am buying and long-term renting some "people movers", aka 9-person vans, and organizing to have them customized to handle disabled passengers. Funding that comes through this next week will be focused on building out this capacity; after that I expect I'll need to re-focus on housing and integration.
Dietmar (Didi), a retired teacher, has a big van because he is also in a band. He is driving tirelessly to and from the border and has rescued more than 100 people since this began. He is burning through not only his pension but also all his savings. I am sending him money for diesel to shore him up a bit.
How to Help
Cash, direct to Ryan for immediate use on the ground, via interact e-transfer or paypal at rglittle -at- gmail.com
Contact me directly if you or anyone you know can help charter planes to Canada (think sports teams, bands)
If you’d rather donate to Canadian charities, some friends and me have hand-selected 4 and set up a fundraising page at CanadaHelps