• Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, a modern and impressive Roman Catholic basilica on the outskirts of Warsaw dedicated to Saint Maria Faustina
    Wojciech Bieńkowski

This week included a good series of meetings with Allison, Jessica and the Polish lawyer in Warsaw working on obtaining Unbound Europe its charter as a Polish government-recognized foundation, from which EU NGO status flows. I also had the privilege of representing Unbound at a press conference Thursday in Krakow conducted by Goya Foods’ CEO, alongside several of Goya’s partners in its relief efforts here in Poland and Ukraine (no speaking part for yours truly, thank heavens). The week also started with my introduction to the next arriving Unbound team, and while I did not think any group could match the impressiveness of the last team, it appears this one will. I also wanted to take a couple of paragraphs to comment on food, culture and the current “vibe” in Warsaw and Krakow, but this is ending up longer than I wanted, and so those comments will need to wait for a later update.  

Monday was spent meeting with Allison and Jessica (from Waco who is Unbound’s Development Director—try the Chick-Fil-A next to Baylor, I hear it is pretty good), and then meeting with the wonderful Polish lawyer my former law partner Karen referred us to. As the Project Director for Unbound’s efforts in Europe, Allison’s preparation for the lawyer meeting was essential, and she was very well prepared. Lawyer Patrick had sent us a list of documents and issues to cover in the meeting, and Allison, along with Stephanie of Unbound Waco and Fort Worth (a strong lawyer in her own right and also Allison’s mom—now the pieces fall into place and make sense!), worked up good written responses to Patrick’s list (with a bit of editing by YT). We went over related issues Monday morning before our Monday afternoon meeting with Patrick. Allison and Patrick largely conducted the meeting, and at this juncture I should say again how very impressive Allison is. I have seen ten-year- to twenty-five-year lawyers run such a meeting into a ditch, and this second-year law student handled it with preparation, poise and aplomb. Jessica and I hardly needed to say a word. 

Without going into the boring details, this process takes about six months, and is far more complicated than “just” chartering a Texas non-profit (in large part because Polish foundation law is very exacting, there are very beneficial tax gift consequences after two years of operations, and the EU recognition as a European NGO that comes with Polish foundation status is well worth the effort). There are several layers of complexity to this foundation effort, and Allison navigated those with Patrick brilliantly. Patrick is very talented—for a lawyer—at explaining complicated things in simple terms, and we came away with all of our questions answered. By today the process is well underway, thanks again to Stephanie and Allison.

I dare say Allison will now be able to ace her second-year A&M Law Entities final exam (on corporations, partnerships, limited partnerships, LLCs, corporate shield and formalities, etc.) before the first class is over, with the added special claim of having overseen the formation of a Polish/European NGO entity, something I might wager even the professor has never done! 

The last third of our meeting with Patrick was spent hearing his particular take on the Ukraine refugee crisis. He called phase 1 the “heroic” phase, and that is now transitioning to phase 2, when the tasks will become much more difficult and complicated. He spoke eloquently about what his circle of friends is doing to address the situation—seemed like everyone he knew in Poland was doing something significant to help. For me this was another highlight of this meeting. 

As if Monday was not full enough, Allison scheduled our first introductory Zoom call with the incoming team for that evening. After basic introductions, I came away convinced that this next arriving team will be as strong, in some ways differently and in some ways similarly, as the first team I worked alongside. I cannot wait until they get here next week.

Tuesday and Wednesday morning were spent on housekeeping and some law practice work, and then at Allison’s and Susan’s request I took the train from Warsaw to Krakow so I could attend the above-referenced press conference. At this juncture, please allow me to confirm how totally civilized the Polish train experience is. Tickets purchased online (Allison, of course, not me!), clean well-marked and well-lit train stations, clear signage, well-organized, clean trains, spacious seats. Three hours down to Krakow, almost four back, all for about $32 US! About the same time it took me to drive from Warsaw to Krakow and back (going over 150 km in some stretches).

Goya Foods is a good collaborator with the Houston Unbound office, and I was there—in a non-speaking-to-media role—mainly to show that Unbound was supporting the Goya efforts in Poland and Ukraine, and to deliver samples of our new anti-trafficking cards that Goya and its partners had tentatively agreed to distribute with their relief supplies. Goya has already donated over 1 million pounds of food to the Ukraine relief efforts. And I should say here that the Goya Foods CEO, Bob Unanue and I could not disagree more on matters political. But that is the great thing about the Ukraine struggles and in particular the human trafficking problem: they cross all political and philosophical lines as to the right thing to do. Barbara Jordan once received a touching handwritten note after delivering her epic Watergate Impeachment hearing speech (I am paraphrasing here from memory): “You are Black, I am White; you are a female and I am a male; you are from the South, I am from New England; you are a Democrat and I am a lifelong Republican; but let me just say how much this Yankee appreciates your expression of good old Texas common sense the other night…” That is the way I felt after Bob Unanue (and the four other Goya partners) had delivered their remarks. Bob’s residency outside of Houston has apparently caused him to absorb “some good old Texas common sense.” He spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the human trafficking problems arising from the Ukraine refugee crisis (over half of his prepared remarks), and succeeded in powerfully tying Goya’s response to the war in Ukraine to his Catholic faith, and our conversation after was absolutely delightful and I thought helpful to Unbound’s mission. 

I’d like to talk a bit about the other four speakers at the press conference, since they were emblematic of the NGO and other non-profit response to this horrible Putin-caused crisis. But first I want to remind you of numbers each of you has already seen this week: 14 million Ukrainians displaced by Putin’s War; 6 million fleeing the country with an estimated 1-2 million returning so far, to heaven knows what; more than 3,500 civilians killed. A total of almost 8 million refugees are expected to leave Ukraine (temporarily or permanently) by the end of next month, out of a total population of 44 million. A huge majority of those fleeing are women and children. Poland has taken in over 3.2 million refugees, with Romania taking more than 900,000. And now we have this chilling number: the searches for “Ukrainian escorts” in the UK has increased by over 660 percent—the traffickers are no doubt creating demand by exploiting the most disadvantaged. Patrick, our Warsaw lawyer, reported that there has also been a huge increase in “offers” on Polish social media of “caretaking/caregiving jobs” (including room and board) that are being established as exploitative in the extreme.

The press conference was at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, a modern and impressive Roman Catholic basilica on the outskirts of Warsaw dedicated to Saint Maria Faustina. Goya’s Bob Unanue spoke longest and stayed away from politics. Clearly this is a big passion of his (in my visit afterward with him it also became clear he is very concerned about trafficking in Texas). Sister Teresa de la Fuente (correctly spelling Teresa, like my mom) from Our Ladies of Divine Mercy was a very impressive public speaker; I wish I’d had a chance to talk to her more. Her sermon-like remarks to the assembled press working in the themes of, yes, divine mercy and the best way to answer evil. Michael Caponi from Global Empowerment Mission (GEM) kept it short, but they are making huge relief efforts here with almost 1 million pounds of food donated by Goya. Szymon Czyszek was the most impressive speaker. He is Polish, a lawyer and in charge of the Knights of Columbus development efforts in Europe. The Knights have a long-term presence here. Szymon told the John Paul II 1979 Poland visit story I included two updates ago, which is the tie-breaker for most impressive remarks!!! His grandfather was in Auschwitz. I had a great conversation with him after. The Knights are also working on long-term phase 2/3 problems, including jobs. For example, they are partnering with Indeed, the job-search company.

The last guy was with Aerial Rescue—ex-military volunteers that focused in Ukraine on getting orphans and other vulnerable Ukrainians out of war zones to safety. They have similar roles after national disasters all over the world. They are winding down in Ukraine (for now). Speaker was Jim Zumwalt (pretty sure Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in his family lineage) and he also spoke passionately and knowledgeably about human trafficking—his view is that it is a greater black-market dollar-wise than drugs and arms sales. In my discussion with Jim and one of his fellow volunteers after, they were thrilled to hear more about what Unbound is doing.

Thankfully, no media-speaking role for me but met all the main players after and they seemed very pleased someone from Unbound was there in attendance. New Unbound cards for distribution to refugees were well received—simple two-sided cards in Ukrainian with a QR code that takes them to a website with information on safe travel and other resources. I had a good conversation with the GEM contact for getting Unbound cards in relief boxes and at distribution centers—so overall well worth the trip. Following up with those contacts (and Unbound on those contacts) was my main Friday project. Next week will be spent in preparations to meet the next incoming team and for heading back to the border.