Bags filled with toiletries, toys, sweets and school supplies
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When Oscar Oliver walked into a refugee center in Poland last month, he didn’t know what to expect.
The 12-year-old boy from Barrie, Ontario, traveled halfway around the world to donate food to refugee children forced to flee war in Ukraine.
To his surprise, he was first welcomed not by other children, but by their mothers.
“All the moms out there wanted to hug me,” Oscar said in an interview with CBC Kids News.
“I wanted to cry because they were so sad and happy to be able to give something to their children.”
After a month of fundraising, Oscar traveled to Poland on April 15 to bring 440 backpacks full of toiletries, school supplies, toys and sweets to refugee children.
Millions of Ukrainian children were forced to flee their homes, many with few possessions after Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Although Oscar’s work has helped a handful of families, many of the 6.6 million Ukrainian refugees who left are still living without basic supplies.
“It was life changing. It really helped me learn that one person can change something big.
How the idea came to Oscar
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Oscar learned of children being forced to leave all their belongings behind and flee their country.
Oscar, who is Polish, learned that the vast majority of refugees had left for neighboring Poland.
Having been to Poland four times before with his family, it felt personal.
“I wanted to do something,” Oscar said. “I knew that children in Ukraine suffered from losing their homes.”
It was then that he asked his parents, who regularly raise money for sick children in Poland through their foundation Fundacja Dziecięca Fantazja, if they could help him start a website called “Buy A Backpack”.
Oscar wanted to raise funds for 200 backpacks, which would be filled with toys, school supplies and treats that Ukrainian children go without.
Oscar has set a minimum donation of $50, enough for a backpack full of supplies. In just a few weeks, he harvested enough to fill an entire truck. (Image submitted by Garry Oliver)
Oscar also decided that he would fly to Poland to personally deliver the bags.
From there, Oscar asked his school to mention his campaign on their daily announcements, and he began doing interviews with CBC, CTV and other outlets to spread the word.
In just a few weeks, Oscar had greatly exceeded his goal of 200, raising enough money for 440 backpacks.
How Oscar felt when he arrived in Poland
Oscar arrived in Warsaw, Poland on April 16 with his mother.
As soon as he arrived, Oscar headed to a charity where the backpacks and supplies he had bought with the funds raised were stored, and began packing the bags one by one.
Oscar chose his supplies carefully, thinking about who the backpacks might go for and what it might mean to them. (Image submitted by Garry Oliver)
Two days later, Oscar drove to a refugee center in Warsaw with a truckload of 440 backpacks.
When he entered, he immediately felt a sense of grief in the room.
It made him cry.
“The look on their faces was very sad, because they lost something really big,” Oscar said.
Many children were there with their mothers only, because their fathers had to stay in Ukraine and fight.
“They didn’t know what was going on, they didn’t know where their fathers were,” Oscar said.
Bring a little joy
After telling them about the backpacks, all the mothers in the refugee center started helping Oscar get the backpacks to their children as fast as they could.
After arriving at the refugee center, the mothers were eager to help Oscar deliver his 440 backpacks to their children. (Image submitted by Garry Oliver)
“The kids were trying to get as many things out of the backpacks as possible,” Oscar said.
“They were hugging the toys, they were so excited.”
Oscar spends time with a four-year-old girl named Lily at the refugee center. She traveled from Ukraine to Poland hitchhiking with her grandmother and father for five days in a row. (Image submitted by Garry Oliver)
Oscar’s mother, who accompanied him to the refugee center, said the people Oscar met were incredibly grateful.
“Many were crying, because someone wanted to help them (…) and because they saw their children smiling for the first time since they were in Poland,” she said.
Oscar said he felt overwhelmed with all the thanks from Ukrainian families.
“I was just happy to be able to give them something they could keep, [to let them know] someone was thinking of them,” Oscar said.
After his experience in Poland, Oscar said he saw the world differently.
“It was life changing,” Oscar said. “It really helped me learn that one person can change something big.”
He wants to find other ways to give back in the future.
“I would like to be part of my parents’ foundation to help sick children in Poland,” Oscar said.
“I’m determined to do more after what I’ve seen, so I have to keep helping.”
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TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Submitted by Garry Oliver