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How my friend went the extra mile for Ukrainian refugees

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Mar Dorrio - published on 05/09/22

From the first moment of the Ukrainian invasion, she knew that "doing nothing" was not an option.

When we’re faced with a great tragedy, our conscience awakens us to the need to contribute at least a few ounces of kindness, however insignificant or useless it may seem in the face of the avalanche of the drama.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 9 a.m., I attend a Pilates class with a remarkable soul: Carlota Manrique, an unstoppable and committed woman. From the first moment of the Ukrainian invasion, she knew that “doing nothing” was not an option. She could have hidden behind the excuse of how bad things had been for gyms during the pandemic. She could have thought that helping people in a far-away country was neglecting her own family … but she didn’t. And here’s a spoiler: her daughter couldn’t be happier or more proud of her mother’s decision.

She contacted an association to offer an apartment to refugees—her second home, located on the Galician coast (northwestern Spain). There, she could accommodate four people. The association she contacted assigned her one of the families in need of help: two adult women and a little girl. But she was asked to go pick them up in Valencia, on the opposite side of Spain And, with the same diligence and energetic approach that she transmits while doing squats, she got to work and planned her trip to Valencia.

The costs of this mission were covered with the help of several friends, students, relatives of friends, etc. They collaborated to defray the expenses of the trip, each according to their ability. They flew from Santiago de Compostela to Valencia, and there, at the airport itself, they rented a 7-seater van to return. 

The first moments were very difficult, Carlota tells us. “They had seen and lived through atrocious situations. They were afraid that the child would be taken away from them. They didn’t want to go with us to Galicia. They had a crisis of anxiety …”

“With the help of Google translator, we tried to convey the calm, security and peace that the horror of the war had taken away from them.”

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“They had been traveling for 60 hours: from a bunker to the border, and from there to Spain. They had been eating frugally, in very cold weather, with no showers and in bad conditions. The girl got sick in the car. She was vomiting, and what struck me the most was that she kept quiet. She never complained: she was like a robot, in a state of shock. We suggested they stop and take her to the doctor, but they didn’t want to stop. They weren’t at ease and didn’t trust us: they’d been told that Spain was a country with very tall buildings, and driving along the highways empty of houses and with hardly any lights gave them no guarantee of being safe.”

“We arrived at our destination at four in the morning and they relaxed a bit. The next day, when they finally believed that we just wanted to help them, the expression on their faces changed: they knew they were going to be okay.”

The welcome from the townspeople

“The welcome from the people of the village was and continues to be magnificent: a local restaurant is feeding them until they settle in, some other people take care of their shopping, and so on. With a little bit of good intentions from everyone, we can move mountains.”

Thus ended my conversation with Carlota Manrique, and I agree with her. But I also want to say that, in life as in a Pilates class, we need to see someone doing the exercise to be able to repeat it. Keep doing the right thing in front of us, giving us an example.

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