Tuesday, June 22, 2010

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: http://mierzwysoko.org.pl/eng

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!

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