Saturday, July 3, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End?

By Chloe Zimmerman
After a whirlwind two weeks of lectures, site visits and discussions considering various meanings of the term “solidarity” in Poland, the HIA Polska Fellows were faced with yet another challenge: translating our new knowledge into a simulation game that could be used for educational purposes.
Phase II of the program began on Thursday, June 17th, when we were joined by Senior Fellow Joanna Średnicka and her colleague Filip Tomaszewski of Pracownia Gier Szkoleniowych, a game design company based in Warsaw. With their guidance, we began to consider the potential of using games as a method of human rights education. Games can engage youth in thinking about difficult issues and dilemmas, encouraging them to consider history in fun and creative ways.
HIA Polska Fellows were broken into three teams, each group given the task of designing a unique game about solidarity over the course of eleven days. Nearly all of us new to this process, we faced many challenges in translating all that we had learned here in Warsaw into game form. The group game design process was full of brain-stretching, hurdles and compromise.
Finally the day has come and on 28th June, we presented our final products to the HIA Polska Fellows and staff and Mr. Tomaszewski. Furthermore, we were joined by Christa Meyer of The Foundation EVZ "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future", who was generous enough to donate her time and partake in the game-playing of the day.
First to present were the creators of “Peace-ing it Together,” a game that used various tasks and puzzle-making to teach youth about the history of the Polish Solidarity movement and the realities of negotiation. Below is an excerpt of the puzzle-making negotiation process, played by a few HIA Fellows:

The second game presented was called “Forest Fire.” In this game, participants were faced with a fun exercise that encouraged them to consider minority and majority groups and the benefits of acting in solidarity. Below is an excerpt of the game in action, as played by HIA Fellows, Christa Meyer of Foundation EVZ, and Filip Tomaszewski:
Finally, the third group of Fellows presented a game called “Do it Yourself?” in which participants were presented with a series of scenarios that forced them to consider individual- and community-based decision-making, both related to historical examples and present-day situations. This game was selected to be published by Pracownia Gier Szkoleniowych.
The day’s presentations effectively brought our time in Warsaw to a close, and we now anticipate an enriching and rigorous conference in Amsterdam. As we look back on the past month, we can only begin to realize all that we have learned—about Poland, about minority and human rights issues, about a future of activism and about our own abilities. But I, for one, am already certain of the most unforgettable part of the program: a month-long exploration shared with an international group of some of the most inspiring, passionate and wonderful people I have ever met, and a look forward into continued friendships and collaborations as we return to the world outside HIA Polska. I thank you all for an incredible month, and I can’t wait to see what you do next!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Party Time!!

To mark the perfect ending of our "input phase" and the bright start of our "output phase," we were kindly invited to have a little get together at a beautiful place of Mr. Stefan Twardak, one of our Board Members. We gladly welcomed this opportunity to relax, laugh, enjoy good food, great wine and wonderful company of the HIA family. The following day we went on a tour of Praga, one of the districts in Warsaw with long history and unique culture.We have the following photo evidences. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do :-)

The Solid Solidarity

By Marta Sykut

Fashionable shoes, summer plans, favourite places to go out... No matter what topic we start with, soon leads us to talking about human rights and social justice. “Let's take the turn right,” somebody suggests. “Human rights?” another person asks – and that is enough to start off the discussion. For our group, there is simply no time or place inappropriate for talking about THE topics.

Unfortunately, reflection upon human rights is much more present in our conversations than in Polish social life. It seems to me that Poles have taken many phenomena for granted and have not put them on the agenda to develop a strong civic society. The inspiring activists we have encountered in these last two busy weeks, however, gave us a hint of hope, as they are the ones who have decided to act against this trend.

The last day of the program’s input phase took us first to Praga – the quarter of Warsaw most known for its multiculturalism. There, we were introduced to Magdalena Szeniawska, a co-funder of Aim High Association (Mierz Wysoko). Through outdoor activities (among them, circus methods, urban games, and dancing and capoeira classes), the activists of Aim High try to change community opinions about the so-called “difficult youth” of Praga. At the same time, these activities are intended to boost the confidence of the children and empower them to believe that they can contribute to, and that they are indeed part of, their local community. To achieve this, Magda and other Members spent eight months bonding with the children through various games and circus activities on Brzeska Street before officially setting up the Association. The effort proved fruitful, as they have largely been able to gain the trust of the children and their families—a crucial element for the success of the Association. More information about the mission and activities of Aim High can be found at:

A site visit at the Welcome Centre (Centrum Powitania) was next on our agenda. We were welcomed there by Agnieszka Kosowicz (Polish Migration Forum), Katarzyna Kubin (Diversity Form Fundation), Tatyana Rodnienkowa (Our Chice Foundation) and Ksenia Naranovich (Welcome Centre). The Welcome Centre was initiated by people of many nationalities (Poles, Ukrainians, Belarussians and other), who hold their migration experience of immigration close to heart and who decided to create a place where immigrants first arriving to Poland could find a helping hand. This ranges from providing information and support in legalizing immigrants' stay, navigating visa regulations, and understanding the health care system, to providing Polish language classes and computer workshops, to providing smaller forms of assistance, such as giving a hint about where to go out. The panellists contended that in the case of Poland, the rights of migrants are not violated on paper, but the real problem is the environment, which the newcomers encounter upon their arrival. A lack of openness and the weakness of the legal support system and integration mechanisms are the main reasons most migrants consider Poland as a temporary stop on their way rather than their destination country. On the bright side, however, more and more initiatives emerge, having intercultural education as one of their main objectives.

To sum up an intensive day, two of our Fellows, Gretchen Engbring and Elizaveta Olijnykm, led a creative role-play activity on the topic of refugee issues. We were trying to figure out motivation and interests of different actors involved in the process of migration and their related issues. Accompanied by levity, the role-play gave us some food for thought to be developed in upcoming days.

The long day ended with a projection of the movie “Katyń” by Andrzej Wajda. The discussion, which followed, was challenging, though very interesting. One of the most important reflections was concerning the relevance of “Katyń” in relation to other historical events in the world.

Next begins our output phase, which consists of a novel project this year. Instead of writing a research paper, the Fellows will create an educational simulation game. All our fingers are crossed as we move forward!

"There Needs to be a Will"

By Marta Kubisiak

The theme of our day was one that we often touched on in our other discussions, but never had our focus completely on. Time had finally come for us to fully dedicate our attention to this important topic: "Education and Promotion of Human Rights in Poland".

The first session, "Innovative Strategies for Education and Raising Awareness", gave us some further knowledge on "how these things are done in Poland". Our guests were Alicja Pacewicz, Vice-President of the Center for Citizenship Education, Jerzy Halbersztadt, Director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and Witek Hebanowski, Founder and President of The Other Space Foundation). They shared with us the differences between formal and informal education, advantages and disadvantages of the "in-door" education and the other completely (or not) different tools such as e-tools. We also discussed about various ways of using the Internet as a means to inform and educate people about human rights. However, it was agreed that in cultivating consciousness and awareness about certain issues, it is not effective to rely solely upon this tool. Rather, there needs to be a combination of formal education and other forms of learning.

To get some fresh air and to move on to another equally topic of interest, we changed the location and went to "Sklep z kanapkami" ("Shop with sandwiches"). At this nice restaurant, which serves also as a meeting place for activists and young people, we were welcomed by Ewa Tomaszewska, a journalist and a co-founder of the cabaret Barbie Girls, and Wojciech Szot, a co-owner of Our guests shared their experience of using arts as a means to promote human rights within the LGBTQ movement. Naturally, our discussion extended to the LGBTQ movement in Poland in general, and its difficulties and challenges, including the lack of recognition for their rights in the Polish laws, the stereotypes within the community itself, the future of LGBTQ movement in Poland and differences between the changes in law and the changes in social mentality.

We moved again to the Center for International Relations for our next session, which was probably one of the most controversial debates we have had so far in our program. Our guests, Elżbieta Korolczuk Ph.D., from Women's 8th of March Alliance (Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca), and Paulina Bednarz-Łuczewska, from Kozminski University, came to speak with us about the situation of women in Poland. Holding very different views on some dilemmas such as the pro-choice/pro-life issue, their debate and exchange of arguments were the prefect representation of how divided the Polish society are regarding certain questions. However, both agreed upon some other issues related to women’s rights and treatment such as the fact that Polish healthcare system is far from being perfect, especially when it comes to the treatment and wellbeing of pregnant women that are giving birth in the hospitals. This controversial session left us with many questions to debate and ponder, and maybe also to deal with.

The long day came to an end with the last session led by our Fellows, Franziska Seeck and Agnieszka Skoneczna. We were brainstorming around the fundamental questions related to human rights education such as „who should be the target group?”, „what are the best ways to do human rights education?”, „what are the challenges?”. At the end of this long day, we definitely learned something new and had plenty to think about….a typical characteristics of an HIA day that never ceases to challenge us even after the official session is over. 

The First Floor People

By Johanne Luzyn

As we approached the summer program’s halfway mark, we had a chance to get to know Magda Szarota, our coordinator, wearing her other hat, as a representative of a minority group. But let us proceed chronologically.

Today's program started with an introduction by our director, Monika Mazur-Rafal, who introduced to us representatives of Poland’s Commission for Civil Rights Protection. This workshop offered us a unique opportunity to become familiar with the tasks and challenges of the country’s most important public institution in the field of human rights. Even though the session did not proceed exactly as we had anticipated, the panel discussion afterwards was very lively and informative.

In the second session, we had an opportunity to get to know by our coordinator Magda Szarota from another angle for the first time. She spoke to us today not as coordinator but as representative of the Association of Disabled Woman, also known as After some words of introduction, Magda led the workshop which, in my opinion, was the best we have had so far. By sharing with us her personal story and her invisible disability, Magda brought the topic of discrimination of disabled people very close to us. I was particularly touched by her story as a student living in one of the best dormitories in Warsaw. Being the outgoing and friendly person that she is, Magda befriended other students, both domestic and international, living throughout on the dormitory on different floors. Slowly, however, she noticed that there was not much mingling between the people on the first floor and the others. While everyone was nice, open and friendly, the only difference between the first floor people and the others was that they were sitting in wheel chairs. The questions here are obvious: Why were they not spending time together? Why was there such a gap between the first floor people and the others? Was it the issue of disability? And what is disability? How can it be defined or rather can it be defined? Or is it rather a cultural construct? The discussion we had in small groups after this introduction was very intensive and invaluable and will stay with me long after the program.

Next, we met HIA senior fellows who represent minority groups in Poland and are engaged in different non-governmental organizations. Thanks to the discussion about our visions and ideas as well as the problems and obstacles faced by and within NGOs, we put our idealistic expectations in dialogue with objective conditions. Some of these challenges are now more concrete for us, and we know a bit more about what to expect in our future careers in these fields.

We ended the day with a discussion lead by two of our Fellows, Justyna Byczkowska and Yulia Vasyliv. We discovered that even after such a long day, we were still able to find many important topics to discuss, and no matter how much time we dedicated to dialogues, it never seemed to be enough. With every topic addressed, we’ve learned more. These questions were among a few that we debated: Who should represent minority groups in their struggle for human rights? What do we think about the idea of “positive discrimination”? Where does integration finish and at what point does assimilation begin? Obviously, these are not questions with simple answers. Although they tired us out at the end of today, we came to realize even more how important they are and we look forward to coming closer to some form of answer with more discussions and with our growing experience.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Believe it or not, we do have fun!

HIA experience can be overwhelming at times. Lectures, discussions, site visits, film projection, group activities  and more discussions are among the things that have been revolving around us in this first 'input" phase of our Program. However, don't get us wrong. We don't just sit, talk and listen to lectures. We do go out, hang around Warsaw and have fun! The pictures below are just a few of the many "Humanity in Action" moments outside our daily intensive program. Are you ready to be our witness? :-)