“They arrived with nothing, absolutely nothing. Among the neighbors we have collected clothes, shoes, because they left Ukraine in a car with very few belongings. I started buying a lot of things on E-Bay and when I went to look for them and they said that they were for Ukrainian families, they gave me discounts or they wanted to give them to me out of the blue”, says Brigitte Schumy (63), from Bensheim, the city where lives in Germany, giving an account of the enormous solidarity that has aroused in the German people, the misfortune of these people.
Brigitte says that when Russia’s war against Ukraine broke out, she did not hesitate for a second to do something to help Ukrainian migrants, mostly women with children and older people, who are fleeing to survive. Her social vocation runs in the family: her father, an Austrian national, was the director in Chile of SOS Kinderdorf, an entity financed by Austria that helped vulnerable schools and gave scholarships to the poorest students.
Although she worked as a Lufthansa flight attendant, at the age of 46 she decided to train as a social educator – similar to a social worker – and had to work hard to support her family. She came to live in Germany in 2002, alone with her two daughters and her mother.
“I have worked all my life having very little. My dad helped me with his foot to buy my house and I always lived in fear of being left with nothing. I took care of homes for people with disabilities on weekends, cleaned houses for elderly people and took care of children in my house, from 0 to 3 years old. It was a very hard stage, but happy. When my father died it was a shock for me the inheritance he left me, it was a lot of money”, he recounts.
He admits that he always envied altruistic stars like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for the large number of donations they could make. “He found that they were very lucky to be able to help. Now that I received this inheritance, I told myself that money is worth nothing if you don’t share it. I have always been attentive to where I can cooperate.”
So much so that she gave a friend with 5 children 15,000 euros to make pieces in the attic and they could all sleep more comfortably. “When you help, what you receive is so much more of gratitude, of joy, that nothing pays for it, it is so much well-being that I feel that it is almost as if I were doing things for myself. I don’t want my daughters to feel afraid, which was what I felt for so many years of not being able to pay for something that would go to waste, of not having anything to support us, but I also don’t want them to go on vacation in luxury. The eldest, Carolina, will be a mother in May and she lives in a house that I bought and renovated, but she still has to pay me a small rent”, she reveals.
When the war broke out in Syria, he also thought about hosting migrants, but explains that, unlike what happens with the Ukrainians, many more men arrived than women with children. “The cultural differences were also bigger. On the other hand, with Ukraine there is more affinity and many mothers arrive alone with their children, because the men stay there defending their country”.
Brigitte Schumy wrote to various organizations that were helping Ukrainian refugees and signed up. She explains that it has been tremendously difficult to organize this millionaire flow of migrants, estimated at four million 270 thousand people. Specifically, she offered space for a family of 6 in two different apartments, but located on the same lot.
“I have the apartment on the first floor of my house where my mother lived, who passed away a year and a half ago, which has two large bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a very comfortable bathroom. In addition, another little house next door, the old garage, on the same land, which also has everything. I only made it a condition that they be families or known relatives who need six beds.”
He did not ask for rent, only common expenses. “Many acquaintances told me that I was stupid, that the German State pays for all this aid and that I better put that I receive what people can contribute. And wait to see what happens. The municipality wrote to me and there I learned that there were people who had rented real pigsties to the migrants. There is everything. For this reason, now the process was delayed because they had to visit the houses first.”
A friend of her daughter saw on Facebook that there was a Ukrainian family of 6 who was looking for a place to live. They were in a temporary shelter near Stuttgart, where they shared space with hundreds of other people. “Of course they felt uncomfortable and so I contacted them and told them they could come to Bensheim. They had entered the country on March 8 through Munich, in a Nissan car, from Romania”, she details.
They arrived just two weeks ago at home and the family consists of Ilia, a 53-year-old mother, and her 14-year-old daughter, and her first cousin Alina, 42, with her three children aged 12, 14 and 16. years. “Both moms grew up together because Ilia’s mom died when she was 4 years old and she was adopted by her aunt, Alina’s mom. Ilia has another son in Odessa, 33, and a married daughter who also migrated but lives further south in Germany. The sad thing is that the father of one of them, an older adult, could not travel and was left in the care of a neighbor.
Communication is not easy because the family group speaks Russian. Therefore, they use an app that translates what they say. “The only thing they want is to return to their country, they do not intend to stay. Ilia has a house in Odessa that she has just renovated and she fears that her attacks will destroy it, because she no longer has any money left. 99% of Ukrainians use their credit cards and can withdraw euros, but they are also lucky that in Germany there is a social state and they have to register to receive the help”.
Now, she is dedicated to putting teenagers in boxing, karate and dance classes, according to her own hobbies. “Moms can’t work because they don’t speak the language and they don’t have a profession,” she explains.
For Brigitte, the only possible way out of this crisis is for people to become aware and do good. “Every time you do something for another person, for nature, for living beings, all this goes up in the form of crystals and then that crystal goes down and goodness expands. The more people do this, the greater the shift in consciousness,” she explains.
He realized this when he told others what he was doing. “If you open up, you realize that there are many people who want to do good.” Her neighbors have come to donate many things to her and she receives them gratefully and delighted.