A group of BYU students and professors recently returned from a memorable study abroad trip to Poland serving in Ukrainian refugee centers. The students provided medical aid, taught classes on health and wellness, and donated thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies.
“I’m endlessly grateful to have been offered the resources and access to be part of this project because of BYU,” said nursing student Nadia DeVol. DeVol, who is half-Ukrainian and fluent in Russian, served as a translator while working with refugees. “I have family in Ukraine, and I had been praying for opportunities to help these people who are going through so much. BYU gave me these resources and led me to professors who made this happen.”
Under the guidance of BYU nursing professors Cynthia Johnson, Dr. Julie Valentine, and Dr. Leslie Miles, the students spent much of their time offering aid and teaching classes at Jednosc, a cultural and educational center in Poland for refugees. The center was created by seven Ukrainian teachers whom Valentine and Miles met during a study abroad trip last summer.
Valentine and Miles, along with DeVol, and fellow BYU students Jed Fuller, Niles Herrod, Brenna Wilkinson, and Saydie Clark, created a non-profit organization called Unity for Ukraine to support the efforts of Jednosc.
“We created Unity because we want these Ukrainian teachers and their school to thrive,” said DeVol. “They are helping women and children who have had their lives turned upside down and we want to see them be successful.”
The eleven public and global health nursing students taught classes they developed during the semester on topics such as anatomy, managing stress and anxiety, and dealing with trauma. They offered basic medical aid by checking vitals, offering one-on-one comfort, and delivered needed medical supplies.
“I’ve gained a deeper respect for and perspective on human life,” said recent BYU graduate Brenna Wilkinson, who served as an interpreter and translator at the center. Wilkinson, who co-founded Yedding as a BYU student, recalls a conversation she had with one mother who spoke to her about the trauma her son was dealing with after being forced to flee their country.
“I asked her for clarification to make sure that I had heard her correctly when she said her little boy had seen shootings and bombings. She looked at me directly and said ‘Of course.’ Her matter-of-fact response put things in perspective for me.”
DeVol says that the experiences she had in Poland providing aid have already become a foundational part of her BYU experience and she’s motivated to extend Christ-like love and healing as she prepares to serve, lift, and lead in her future nursing career.
“Tragedy abounds but the work we did was less about tragedy and more about the strength of the human spirit and about the obligation we have to help because we’re human and it’s good,” she said. “I’m grateful for any chance to be part of helping and it’s not about me or about us but it’s just good and any good should be done and can be done anywhere.”
Wilkinson says the experiences she had at BYU – both inside and outside the classroom – have elevated her awareness of others and caused her to look outside of herself.
Niles Herrod, a BYU student studying finance and Russian, said this study abroad has motivated him to focus on what truly matters - faith, family, and relationships.
"When it comes down to it, relationships and serving are what life is really about," he said. "When you show love towards others you feel love back."
The experiential learning experience was funded through the BYU Kennedy Center and the College of Nursing’s Global Health study abroad program, exemplifying BYU’s commitment to helping students develop their full divine potential.