For a week, Sarah Roulette had been praying for an opportunity to help Ukrainian refugees. God answered her prayers through fellow alumna Cayla Metzger, who needed a photojournalist to join her on a mission to Poland.
Roulette and Metzger spent one week in April volunteering with Aerial Recovery Group in Rzeszow, a Polish city an hour and a half from the Ukrainian border. The Nashville-based nonprofit sends teams of trained volunteers to respond to manmade and natural disasters.
When Aerial Recovery Group saw that Metzger, a Nashville resident, had coordinated mission trips, they asked her to help coordinate their humanitarian trip to Poland and Ukraine. Metzger sought a photographer and videographer to join the team, and she knew of Roulette’s remarkable photo and video skills from their college days.
While a PBA student, Roulette was a director for the Emmy Award-winning film Four Families in Mafraq, which follows the stories of four Syrian refugee families living in the Middle East. Roulette now works as communications coordinator for Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches.
Roulette felt “very led to help in some way,” with the Ukrainian refugee crisis and followed her former professor Dr. Mike Griffin’s advice to “put your ‘yes’ on the table and give it to God.” She was open to helping in any way she could. When the opportunity to use her photojournalism skills popped up, that was even better.
“My heart with journalism is to give a voice to people who are experiencing unimaginable hardship and hearing and honoring their stories,” Roulette said. “My trips with PBA equipped me well to handle the weight of that. I owe a lot of that to what I learned in intercultural studies.”
Metzger is director of communications for Su Refugio, a nonprofit serving orphans and widows in Paraguay, Peru and Argentina. As a PBA student, she was part of a team of students who designed and executed a public relations campaign for Su Refugio, where she later interned.
Both 2020 graduates say their PBA experiences opened the door for them to effectively serve Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Half of their team – the special ops military veterans – went into Ukraine to evacuate orphans from bomb shelters to vetted safe houses within Ukraine’s borders. Orphans, who are susceptible to human trafficking, must remain in the country because they are in the custody of the state, Metzger said.
Metzger and Roulette worked in the refugee camps in Poland, aided by two or three translators and the Google Translate app. Just a short drive from Ukraine, “life around us was very, very normal,” Metzger said
But for the refugees, life was anything but normal. Moms who gave birth just before crossing the border hadn’t yet been seen by a doctor. A physician assistant did medical check-ins for the new mothers, people with head colds and people whose prescriptions were running out.
Mothers and grandmothers who flee are left to care for rambunctious young children alone because men are required to stay in Ukraine to fight. The Aerial Recovery Group team put together a trampoline for one camp and a sandbox for another to help keep the children entertained.
Roulette’s job was to get to know the people in the camps, interview them and photograph them. On one occasion, she sat in a coffee shop in the mall uploading her photos while the rest of her team shopped for luggage, suitcases and supplies to deliver to the camps the next morning.
Roulette was especially impressed by Nina, a 14-year-old girl who was excited to practice her English. A hairdresser on their team spent the day giving the refugee women and children haircuts, and Nina helped translate the styles.
“It was sweet to see Nina be used in that way at such a young age,” Roulette said. “She had so much light and love in her. She is one of the sweetest and most compassionate people I’ve met.”
Roulette and Metzger were among the younger people in the group and learned much from those who were older. Roulette was very ill on the last few days of the trip and was encouraged by the way the other women cared for her. She also worked alongside another experienced photographer on the trip.
“What a gift it was to serve with those specific people and see their hearts,” Roulette said.
Photo 1: Sarah Roulette shows photos to a little girl who fled Ukraine. Roulette volunteered to serve Ukrainian refugees in Rzeszow, Poland, with fellow PBA alumna Cayla Metzger.
Photo 2: Sarah Roulette poses for a photo with Nina, a Ukrainian teenager who helped translate, and another girl she met while serving refugees in Poland.
Photo 3: PBA alumna Cayla Metzger plays with a little boy in Poland, where Metzger and fellow alumna Sarah Roulette served Ukrainian refugees.
Photo 4: A medical professional from the Aerial Recovery Group team checks on Ukrainian refugees living in Poland.
Photo 5: Cayla Metzger and Sarah Roulette pose for a photo with their Aerial Recovery Group team.