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Andezu Orionzi of Alight has been on the ground at the Poland-Ukraine border to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing war in their homeland.

Alight in the Darkness: An Interview with the Humanitarian Organization Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

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As a #PeopleFirst organization, our primary goal is to ensure our neighbors are cared for. We have the pleasure of working with wonderful businesses and people who extend that same #PeopleFirst promise to their own communities. One such organization and Choice client is Alight. Alight is an organization that provides humanitarian assistance to millions of displaced refugees, helping people to rebuild their lives with dignity, health, and self-sufficiency. Alight provides health care and clean water, shelter, protection, and economic opportunity to more than 3.5 million people in 19 countries each year

Andezu Orionzi is a Global Connections Activator at Alight and has been on the ground in southeastern Poland on the Ukraine border to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in their homeland. Orionzi spoke with Rebecca Deelstra, Insurance Advisor at Choice Insurance, about how Alight is providing critical life-saving services to Ukrainian refugees.

Check out the video interview with Alight’s Andezu Orionzi below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rebecca Deelstra: Can you tell me about your current mission and what kind of activities you have going on at the Poland-Ukraine border right now?

Andezu Orionzi: Alight arrived on the border of Poland in Ukraine just four days after the conflict. Our teams have been working in kind of a dual pathway. As we approach emergency response, allied, with our international humanitarian experience in many different parts of the world, we understand that when people are displaced, again for different circumstances, in this case, violence and conflict, people are on a journey of migration that:

  • One, it’s probably never anticipated;
  • Two, it’s a complete disruption of life;
  • And three, they’re looking into the future that seems a bit uncertain right now.

When Alight landed on the border of Poland and Ukraine earlier this year, it was providing critical life-saving services. Whether that was working with other humanitarian actors, like medics or hospitals who are providing even things like tourniquets and freeze-dried plasma. Relative to people’s health and safety, the temperatures most of the time were subzero. We were sending out in droves of hundreds if not thousands of blankets, mittens, and scarves to keep what was really a mass displacement of a majority of women and children, since most men aged 18 to 60 are staying in Ukraine as part of their armed forces. As Alight is working in this critical emergency response manner, we can be agile and show up and ask people what they need and deliver on that or also look ahead to understand that within conflict when somebody has moved it’s generally not the end of their journey. As we all know, there is no end date for when a lot of people can go back to their home in Ukraine or if their home is still there.

RD: At Choice, we have a #PeopleFirst culture live out in our communities. I’ve always thought of Alight as having a People First culture but on a more global reach. Can you describe what that might mean to you and Alight?

AO: I absolutely love the term #PeopleFirst and it is totally fruit of a similar tree to a concept that Alight uses that we call human-centered programming. When we think of people first or human-centered approaches to our programming, we understand that at the end of the day, the person who will receive the outcome of the decisions that are being made are humans. Alight has a belief that there is a simple human justice just in the opportunity to build a life and our life circumstances may have changed, conflict, drought, famine, whatever may have happened to an individual in their life. Each and every person deserves the chance to not only live up to their potential but to build a meaningful life in the way that feels best to them. As we think of people first or human-centeredness, it means that we’re asking the community members themselves to work alongside us to design solutions that will hopefully be culturally and contextually relevant, that will provide security and safety, joy and dignity, and a pathway for them to be the designers alongside us in that process

RD: Do you know how many Ukrainian refugees you have assisted?

AO: Since February 24, 2022, 7.2 million people have been displaced out of Ukraine. That does not include the over 20 million people who have had life disrupted still in the country. About 3.6 million people have crossed Ukraine’s border into Poland. The highest border crossing is exactly where Alight was on the ground for those first days. We’ve now expanded into Poland, but we still are at that major border crossing. So again, the people who’ve made have just received a blanket or hat or mittens in the first few days. We’re providing short-term housing through our partnership with airbnb.org. We have housed just under 2,000 people who have stayed as Airbnb guests directly as a pathway through Alight. In addition to that, we have guides who are working along the border right now who will expand into the rest of the country. They’re Alight team members, most of whom are Ukrainian, but they go to transit centers and help people who might need help reading Polish on their train tickets. They help people with short-term accommodation. But they’re also just providing a sense of comfort. But we are incredibly proud of our guides and our local support team who are touching hundreds if not thousands of people every day.

RD: You should be proud! Can you tell us where the greatest need is now from Ukrainian refugees?

AO: Alight has a partner organization we work with called Kuja Kuja. They’re a radical feedback and data collection organization. As we started to respond to the Ukraine crisis in Poland, we worked with Kuja Kuja to provide surveys, in Ukraine and in wider Europe, directly from Ukrainian community members. The questions can be boiled down to simply “What do you need most right now? What do you not have support for?” Some of those answers that we’ve been getting very consistently throughout the conflict are help with economic support and livelihoods. There’s a lot of day-to-day life disruption. Families are split apart and most people have either left or lost their jobs.

RD: How can others help support Ukrainian refugees or Alight’s mission?

AO: We are so incredibly grateful to work with a lot of already amazing organizations on the ground. When Alight fundraises through our website www.wearealight.org, those funds can be used to not only work on the programs that Alight is developing but to bolster the people who are directly supporting displaced Ukrainian community members here on the ground.

RD: What are some things you would like people that are disconnected from the war, either here in the U.S. or in other countries. What would you like them to know about Ukrainian refugees?

AO: It’s been an absolute jarring experience at times, and I think that comes twofold. Alight absolutely recognizes that conflict and war and displacement is an experience that we hope that no human should ever have to go through. We work with many different people and supporters who share that and know that people are experiencing different things. We speak to those people who are displaced to see what their experience has been. However, the other piece of it, and this comes back to #PeopleFirst or a human-centered approach, is understanding how joyful and hopeful people can be. We’ve seen an amazing outpouring of support from the international community and the Ukrainian teammates and community members we work with feel that tenfold and they share that gratitude very regularly. They have such a love for Ukraine. There are really brief moments where we will be working with our teammates and somebody will just ask a silly question like “What’s your favorite cuisine?” and somebody will say “I love Chinese food” or “I love Italian food.” And then you’ll get to a teammate and they’ll say “I love Ukraine so much. I just love Ukrainian food.” That energy really is something that I always love to share with people that I have the opportunity to speak to about this current situation. We absolutely recognize that support is needed and there are humanitarian crises that continue to happen. But we look at everybody that we’re working alongside correctly as whole beings, and they show up as whole beings. That’s just something that I would love people to know.

 


 

If you are interested in learning more about Alight or supporting their humanitarian mission, visit their website at: wearealight.org.