For our first project, the ASW Coalition wants to highlight some of the charities and NGOs that work to help some of our chosen issues—diversity in education, minority rights, and more. Soon, we’d like your help in providing some material support for one of these organisations. But for now, let’s meet our first NGO!
Charity Series: Między Innymi
In October, I snagged a few moments with Elżbieta Kielak, a workshop leader and trainer for the local NGO Między Innymi, to talk about her work and her outlook on diversity in Poland. Our conversation came after a presentation on “Civic Society”, in which she outlined to a roomful of juniors and seniors the myriad ways to get involved in non-governmental service work in Poland and abroad. In our interview, she described how Poland’s diversity is changing, how her NGO helps educate teachers about diversity, and what students can do to address social problems. She also voiced her approval of the Black Protest, a Polish movement denouncing legislative threats to women’s reproductive rights, that had on the Monday before our interview staged a large-scale initiative to show support by wearing black.
A transcript of our chat, which has been edited for clarity, is below.
Lucas James: What social issues does Między Innymi focus on?
Elżbieta Kielak: Mostly, now? Counteracting hate speech, discrimination… how diversity is treated in Poland, and what do we do with diversity.
What do you find are the biggest problems related to diversity or hate speech in Poland?
The problem in Poland is that Poland is still thought to be a monocultural country. And it’s not. Everyone thinks because the Polish people are white, they are the same. But they are not! Because in the statistics, ninety-eight percent of the people are Catholics. But when I come to a normal public school here in Konstantin, not all of them are Catholics. In fact, half the group is not Catholic. So this monoculture you see here in Poland, it’s not true, but people still think that this is true.
And now, with this political situation we have in Poland, when the government is against all “different things”, which are not white, Catholic, or of Polish history… This is becoming an issue in education. Here in the public schools, we have Vietnamese students, and some don’t take part in religion lessons, [even though people think that] that the minority has to act like the majority, that they have to do what the majority is saying. But the minority has its identity, many identities. We also want to make this somehow visible—so there are many issues.
So what it is that Między Innymi does that tries to address some of these problems?
First of all, we try to get funds for teacher’s education. Because there are many, many teachers in Poland who are interested. [These are teachers who are] probably not members of the majority group, or they know that they have different minority students, that they have homosexual students in class, and they think “why do people say that’s not true?”. So there are many, many teachers who want to do it.
Now, we have internet courses talking about refugees, and we have 170 teachers [taking these courses]. Last semester—the course has four modules in four months—we had 104 teachers. So it’s like, now we have almost 300 teachers. They are interested in talking about refugees, for example.
Or in this action counteracting homophobia, there are also teachers who are interested in it. Even though the government is saying [here, Ms. Kielak’s face contorted into an exaggerated stern glare] “NO”.
So the political level is coming very much to schools now. [For example,] the Black Protest. When I was here at school Monday, I was seeing teachers in black. Maybe they couldn’t go, but I said “OK—fingers crossed, go there and fight!”. So this is happening here.
One last question—what do you think is the most powerful thing that we as individuals, as the students here, can do to counteract some of these problems?
First of all, talk about them. And say they exist. I mean, homophobia exists. And probably here as well.
And discrimination exists. And probably here as well, even though when I come here, there are different faces on the [self-portrait] plates in the primary school, and they are different people coming from different places. So the first step for me is to say: “OK, yes, this exists”. I mean, I also have my stereotypes, probably, about people coming from different countries and what they bring with them. But the first step is to say, I agree, I have these. And now I can do something—I can read, I can go to trainings, I can talk with others, I can watch movies, whatever. But first we have to say, this is happening and talk about it. Just talk about what we can do, and try different things—brainstorm!
Thanks very much for your time.
According to the organisation’s website, Między Innymi utilises the expertise of “experienced intercultural trainers, coaches and psychologists” like Ms. Kielak to help develop diversity awareness in education. Providing “training modules” like “Stereotypes and their Effect on Intercultural Contacts”, it seems to take the growing multiculturalism in Poland as a focus for its educational efforts. It’s striking how similar its stated goals correspond with ours here at The Coalition. Its home page calls for “real, intercultural DIALOGUE”, very much like we do. And Ms. Kielak’s willingness to take an impromptu interview with a student seems to showcase the authenticity of this value in her work. Między Innymi gets the official ASW Coalition Stamp of Approval!
—Lucas James, ASW Coalition Editor