Thursday 16, January 2014
A month ago, Michał Borkiewicz was mainly known as the owner of two trendy clubs in Warsaw. Today, he is also known as the man who can mobilize thousands of people of goodwill to deliver over twenty tons of humanitarian aid for refugees in the closed container camp of Harmanli, Bulgaria.
UNHCR has talked to the owner of clubs Plan B and Powiększenie and chief organizer of the humanitarian action “Warsaw supports Syrian refugees” as they were loading in the donations of Poles for Syrian refugees, departing today, and expecting to reach Harmanli on Monday.
How did you come up with an idea to organise humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Bulgaria?
It was a coincidence. For some time, I have been interested in the problems facing refugees and immigrants worldwide. I read quite a lot about it, knew about the dreadful situation that Syrian people had found themselves in, but I had no idea what measures could be taken to help them. The idea cropped up when my friend called me saying that he and his traveller friend, Maciej Pastwa, were planning to go to a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria. They managed to organise a campaign aimed at collecting clothes and necessities and handing them over to refugees. The idea seemed insane and a bit crazy. But right away, I thought that if one might travel there and that these people really had such tremendous needs, as described by the media, and there is no organised aid that is able to satisfy their needs, I could band together my friends and colleagues as well and using my network, I was going to organise a similar campaign.
Is it easy to launch such a campaign in Poland?
It is the first time that I have done such a thing. I have almost no experience, but I am trying to act reasonably. My situation is easy in the sense that in Warsaw I am engaged in social and cultural activities, thanks to which I have many channels at hand through which I can reach out to people. Still, I had no idea what the response would be like. I was afraid that there were so many charity campaigns on the Internet, and in particular during the Christmas period, that my initiative would fail without even being noticed. But the response was immense. Even though our actions were not organised professionally and we carried them out during the Christmas break, which is when many people go on leave. I must admit that the response surpassed my expectations.
How great was the feedback?
The number of people we invited to participate in the event on Facebook reached twenty thousand. And there was spontaneous support that grew, creating a snowball effect. People simply saw that this was a concrete campaign that was necessary and really simple. It allowed us to collect more than 20 tons of different items. That is a success. Although now we have the most difficult part of it all ahead of us, that is the distribution of the collected things in Harmanli.
Has anyone complained about the campaign, for example that it is not organised for Poles and in Poland?
I expected such opinions, but to my astonishment, we have not encountered them until later. It was only during the campaign in Poznań, but those were isolated opinions, and people were desperate and helpless. My response to our critics was that if they had other ideas, we would be eager to consider them.
So, your conviction that Poles are willing to help has not been disproven?
Absolutely not. There were so few opinions of that kind that it was a pleasant surprise to me.
I know that you have managed to organise free transport for those twenty tons by a truck. That is certainly not an easy task. How did you do that?
In the very last minute, thanks to my contacts, I got to a company that organized free transport for us through using the services of its distributor. It was a gift from them.
What are the things that you are taking to Harmanli?
Children’s, men’s, women’s clothes, divided into categories to ease the distribution. In addition, toys, baby items, detergents, home appliances and kitchen equipment. We do not want to take lots of food with us, but thanks to being able to save some funds on transport, we might buy as much food as we can afford in Bulgaria after we arrive.
I suppose that you will not load a 20-ton truck on your own. You surely have a lot of people that help you.
That is right. I would not have achieved anything on my own. Many friends and volunteers have helped me who have learned about the campaign on Facebook. Not only do we need help with loading the truck, but above all with sorting, packing and weighing the donated goods.
Is this a one-off campaign? If it turns out to be a success, will you keep the ball rolling?
I am thinking about carrying on the initiative, but I do not know yet in what form. We also have to assess the possibilities of providing help to refugees here in Poland. We have to remember that refugees’ needs and conditions in Bulgaria change dynamically.
Interview by Rafał Kostrzyński in Warsaw, Poland