Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Curtain Up!

Photograph by Anna Rok
With an auspicious and a dripping eye, in Shakespeare’s words, we are looking at today, July 21. It is the day we have been working for and eagerly anticipating the past weeks, but also the day that will end our shared journey: The day of final presentations! 

HIA Poland has invited HIA fellows, friends, speakers and anyone interested in human rights issues to join us at Fawory Café in the afternoon to experience our presentations. Fawory Café is an artistic little café in a nice area of Warsaw. The unconstrained atmosphere created by the innovative surrounding of colored walls, stools consisting of clothes, wooden chairs, design-tables and a delicate bar matches the tone of our presentations. We, the HIA Poland fellows 2012, have collectively decided to dress nicely for this event, all being slightly nervous to present the outcome of a process that has caused a lot of fun and to some extend exhaustion and frustration we learned to overcome being given advice and help by the HIA staff and the Advertising Agency Next. Now we are eager to show our results to fellows and guests. And the audience is curious to see what ideas we have come up with and what solutions we found to advertise human rights issues in a creative, appealing way. However, what the spectators experience is despite the great variety of creative presentations only the tip of the iceberg.  It is the outcome of four weeks of devoted studies and work.

Photograph by Anna Rok
Maybe Monika Mazur-Rafal and Magda Szarota had Benjamin Disraeli’s saying “Experience is the child of thought, and thought is the child of action” in mind when planning the HIA Warsaw Program. After three weeks of input during the International Conference in Sarajevo and the ambitious Warsaw Program with various lectures and site visits providing us with information and thoughts on human rights issues in Poland, we were challenged to get active by creating smart advertisements on human rights issues.  During the input phase, we covered human rights issues from Roma discrimination to women’s rights, approaching the subjects from different angles. The speakers ranged from representatives of the Roman Catholic Church over  the Warsaw University’s Psychology Faculty to the Never Again Association.  

On Friday, July 6, the output phase began by narrowing down the topics to work with. The group chose the three human rights topics the most relevant to both the Polish society and to us: Racism/Xenophobia, Human trafficking and LGBTQ rights.
Photograph by Anna Rok
The HIA Poland fellows were broken into six teams, whereof two working on each one of the topics. The first task was to define a specific human rights issue concerning the given themes. Marek Dorobisz, Creative Director of Next Agency and a man difficult to please, asked us to write briefs defining the main message, the audience, the tone and reasons to believe our message. A seemingly doable job turned out to be quite a challenge. Only with Marek’s supervision and Monika’s and Magda’s help, we succeeded in writing stringent arguments persuading the target group. Each team was then given another group’s brief to work on the second part of the output phase – the creation of advertisements!

Photograph by Anna Rok
Photograph by Anna Rok
Photograph by Anna Rok
After a first paralyzing shock because of the unexpected switch of topics, we got down to work, brainstorming creative ideas to address the given issue. But how to brainstorm a creative idea collectively? A process new to many of us. We used advertisements on similar topics already implemented, pictures related to the issue, catchy phrases coming to mind and we also got inspiration from the American television series “Mad Men” about advertisement in the 1960s. A major problem we experienced during the process that I had not expected was the language barrier, which showed that some expressions or phrases are difficult or impossible to translate from English into Polish.

Photograph by Anna Rok
Each group came up with ideas that were to be proven on Thursday, July 19, when we were invited to the NEXT Advertising Agency. To large parts, the drafts we had in mind were approved to be appealing and interesting and needed only Marek’s and his coworkers’ polish. Groups 1 and 2, working on human trafficking, came up with campaigns against forced labor, focusing on prostitution. Main message was “Check your job offer/contract twice before going abroad” using attractive slogans and images showing the gap between promise and reality.
Photograph by Anna Rok
Groups 3 and 4, concentrating on Racism/Xenophobia, came up with one Diversity Awareness Campaign in Polish public schools using the catchy slogans “No Diversity, No Kebab” and “Openness is worth it”, an eye-catching pun in the Polish language, and Racism in soccer, focusing on the Polish first league using the image of a soccer-ball as a symbol of the cohesion of black and white.
Photograph by Anna Rok
Groups 5 and 6, highlighting the LGBTQ rights, focused on civil partnership for Homosexuals combining the picture of a pink wedding cake holding two grooms with the statements “Something is wrong in the picture”, and, in smaller letters, “the topping should be blue”.  The other focus laid on an Anti-Bullying Campaign targeting young males aged 13-19 using an imaginary “Real Man” who can eat a cow in 5 seconds, but does not bully gay people.

Photograph by Anna Rok
After 3 hours of felicitous presentations with substantial discussions closing the work of 4 abundant, laborious, inspiring weeks, it is time for our farewell dinner. Apart from the collective work, the HIA summer program is very much about people. Living and spending nearly every second together for a month while encountering new cultures in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland forms strong bonds. Going back to life outside of HIA means saying goodbye to people who have become such close friends that it is difficult to imagine how daily life will be without them. However, it is not saying goodbye to what we have all together experienced during the past weeks. We are taking home emotional and professional memories and inspirations. These remembrances will be essential for all of us in the near future (not only due to the Action Project which is waiting for us) and may be significant for the whole life. Besides, plans for a reunion at next year’s HIA International Conference, hopefully in beloved Warsaw, are made.

- Milena Opper (German Fellow)

If One Decision Is Made, The Next Step Is Obvious

Photograph by Anna Rok
On the 17th July the weather condition was not pleasant for polish summer. No sunshine, quite cold outside and refreshing air stopped many people at home and they decided to just stay in bed with a blanket. But if your motivation is strong, unfavourable external conditions   cannot be a pretext to not doing something that you have already planned. If you are ‘real activist’, of course.

So, disregarding the rain, I decided to go for a lunch to the kebab-bar in the centre of Warsaw. I was very inspired by morning meeting of our group with social campaigns trainers and heavy rain couldn’t stop me. “No diversity, no kebab” in the context of xenophobia and intolerance in Poland is the main slogan of our project. It is not a big deal to buy and eat a kebab, even if it is raining, but you can have a nice small talk with the seller, who will tell you more about his life in a host country. Which difficulties does he wrestle with, why did he come to our city, where is he from? Those are the questions, that you can just simply ask and have to no longer wonder why he is selling kebab in these streets in Warsaw. It is not necessary to eat only Polish dishes like bigos, pierogi or żurek all the time. If you leave more space in Polish restaurants for tourists, then they will be thankful for sharing the dishes of your national cuisine. Stomach is not only a way to someone’s heart, it may also be a way to spread diversity and tolerance.

Photograph by Anna Rok
Not all social campaigns of our six groups are correlated to food. Tuesday was the day of presenting our ideas for campaigns, for briefs that have been created by other team. So called brief is a paper, that include more developed concept for interest of public opinion in one social problem. How engage other people in the topic (why should anyone care)? – is the most important question for activists. At the beginning we worked on a different issue. But our trainers decided to switch the briefs: every group till the end of the program continue working on a different brief/topic. For some of us, this idea of switching the briefs was controversial. Developing the new projects could bring some fresh air in them and that was a main goal of this decision. So, on Tuesday every group have presented a couple of ideas for the social campaign. It was not so easy, but also exciting working on the brief of other team. Just like Marina (Ukrainian fellow) said: “Sometimes, it is difficult to find a good solution for the topic of other group” and just give up lovely design. On the other hand, in the opinions of other members, new brainstorming could bring more valuable campaign. Another question was the quality of briefs, that were incomparable and it could happen, that one team receive poorer project of social campaign. After all, the most important thing is not our comfort in one topic, but creating a really multicontextual product created by different minds coming from (living in) diverse cultural and national backgrounds. After consultation with our trainers we got feedback about what should be changed or evolved and we started to develop the most appropriate slogan and create visual designs of them.

Photograph by Natalia Kotwica
 Most of the HIA Warsaw fellows entered the programme with the idea that the world in which we are living should be changed, because some human rights are not respected and people are not equal. Like we discovered during the sessions, lectures and meetings with educators, generally creating our briefs with assistance of Marek Dorobisz, creative director of “Next”, this concept of changing must be referred to local background rather than large global/social environment. Only very specific, concrete and ‘narrow’ projects have a chance to change human mentality and habits of thought. We should also remember, that the human rights issue is a European concept, that is why the carefulness with promoting our ideas is advisable, not only in Non-European countries, but in communities, who have migrated to Europe from Asia, Africa or Near East. However, human rights defenders have to be sure, that their target group really needs help, education and interest, because universal values could be used as a form of cultural, economic or political imperialism. After that, getting a certainty, they can use their motivation and take an action for social change.

Photograph by Natalia Kotwica
At the end of a day, we planned to organize a picnic, but the weather was not favourable. For this reason the picnic took place one day later. All of us brought some snacks and various foods. We were sitting on the grass and had a great time in a quiet environment with a positive energy. That is what people from four different countries, who spent a lot of time working and having fun together needed almost at the end of HIA-programme. All experiences and knowledge, which we had a possibility to get during almost one month, can be very useful in the future. If our motivation ‘to make the world a better place to live for all’ (no doubt it can seem very naive activity) fighting with discrimination in a positive way: enforcing egalitarian values, will be so strong like currently, we received a great opportunity and some skills to do it. I believe, that participation in HIA-programme is not only an excellent proposition to self-development, that will be used for better appearance of person in curriculum vitae. Maybe I am blind. Am I? The future will bring the answer, for myself too.   
- Natalia Kotwica (Polish Fellow)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Equal Rights, not Opportunities

When I think about human rights, our first associations are genocide, human trafficking, or poverty in Africa. These seem to be faraway, but human rights issues are also around us and concern invisible people.  Invisible people can be women and people with disabilities that live and interact with us on  a daily basis. Often we do not consider their struggles, this is why they are invisible. 
Photograph by Anna Rok
The eighth day of our program in Warsaw focused on rights of women and disabled people and civil society. Contrary to all Francescu, both groups have one major element in common: rights of these groups are "invisible" in public life.  Everyone could say that (s)he knows someone who is left-handed (10% of society) but it is not so easy  in the case of people with disabilities (13% of society). Woman rights are a subject of public debate, but there are much still to accomplish to achieve gender equality. As far as civil society is concerned, there are also some problems. Today, one of our speakers pointed out the most important issues concerning this issue.
Ms Anna Dryjańska who is currently working at a nonprofit called Feminoteka was our first speaker. Specifically, she outlined 3 main fields of the organization's aims. First, she explained the purpose and significance of  Feminoteka's hotline "telephone number" for women who are victims of domestic abuse.  Second, Ms Dryjańska elaborated upon the trainings and workshops  Feminoteka organized that dealt with gender inequality. And finally, she mentioned Feminoteka's publications that are available on website (www.feminoteka.pl). She admitted that even though Polish law supports gender equality that it is difficult to see it evident in reality. In Poland, men dominate the political arena - 76% (47% of Poland’s population). Furthermore, although women constitute a majority among graduated people in Poland ( 65%), only 26% professors  are women. By the end of the lecture, we were able to better understand the obstacles women faced in order to progress towards a equal society and how men were integral force in the fight for feminist causes.
Photograph by Anna Rok
Mr Jakub Wygnański, vice-president of Managing Board of "Stocznia", raised many key issues concerned non-profit sector in Poland. The speaker was actively involved in the process of shaping legal environment for that sector.  Mr Wygnański tried to answer the questions: what is the difference between civil and civic society, how to generate philanthropy, how to engage youth in to action in non-profit field. He expressed doubts about calculation methods of civil activism  based on a number of NGO's. According to Mr. Wygnanski , "quality not quantity" makes the true difference in civil society. He claimed also that, even now, especially young people , don't trust institutions. Mainly because of a difficult Polish history. However, a lack of trust in institutions doesn't mean that they are passive in social field.  Also, Mr Wygnański mentioned the  Acta movement, which was an example of how the youth organize of themselves without support of any institutions. 
Photograph by Kamil Mamak

And finally, Ms. Magda Szarota, Board Member of HiA Poland and Communications Director; Co-founder and Board Member of the Association of Disabled Women ONE.pl, talked about the issue of disability from a human rights perspective as well as deconstructed the representation of people with disabilities using the cultural studies approach. At the beginning she scrutinized the evolution of the disability in the history taking into consideration how it is being represented/perceived and how existing trends are being reflected in the law.  She pointed out that in many instances people with disabilities are treated almost as a different category of human beings, which turns them into the extreme "others". Then she went on showing  examples on how those negative trends  could be tackled in an effective way. She also presented different paradigms of disability giving a special attention to the human rights/social paradigm which is also reflected in the groundbreaking international human rights document that is the: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ms. Szarota truly inspired us to reconsider our ideas and stereotypes about the mentally/physically challenged following today's session.
Photograph by Anna Rok
In short, the speakers today inspired me to consider how I could become more involved with women’s rights issues and rights people with disabilities, two focus areas that greatly demand more attention and progress within. I hope to continue to learn more about these pressing matters in the upcoming days as we wrap up our lecture segment of the program.

- Kamil Mamak (Polish Fellow)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Do Not Be Very Exited Of Your First Idea

Photograph by Anna Rok
After all the theoretical preparations and examinations in human rights issues in Poland our group started practical work in developing social campaigns. 6 groups worked on different topics – racism, LGBTQ, human trafficking. Even though two teams had the same broad topic, the focus of each team was very different.

Before our meeting with Marek Dorobisz, creative director of Next, teams tried to choose really interesting specific topics, make plans of their work. Today they finally met to get their first session of feedback of their work.
As for my personal impression I can say, that third rule of Marek Dorobisz – „Do not be very exited of your first idea“ – is really useful.

Photograph by Anna Rok
We thought, that our idea was really good, as did other groups. As the day of feedback continued it became clear that our team and other groups got a lot of constructive feedback. One common mistake for most groups was regarding the subject. It was challenging to pick a topic that was not „too wide and not concrete“. Anyway, this is ours first experience in social-advertisement making, so a lot of mistakes were a natural part of the process. Hopefully, we will come out with better deсisions. Many teams feel that they were able to improve to the so called Briefs, it means a document capturing a concept for a social campaign after the sessions today. We are ALMOST professional advertisers!

The most complicated question personally for me and also for my collegues was „What is the reason for people to believe you?“. Really, why people have to believe what you are trying to convey to them? Everyone has their own problems and care about them. The challenge in developing social campaigns is in both catching people's attention and getting  someone interested in the social problems that you are exposing them to. It is unlikely that the general public believes, that our issues are really important, so we will try to bring them to people.

Generally, all team members looked inspired. Many are looking forward  to the first round of results of our hard work. I am really curious to see results of our work at the end. The only thing that frustrated me and other guys is that only one of six social campaignes will be implemented. Even though the theme of the campaigns were assigned, many have taken ownership of the issue and would really like to see their designed social campaign become a reality. The positive element of the fact that only one campaign will be chosen is the competitive spirit that is really motivating. It is also clear that the experience is not only about who will win the competition, it is about the experience and the opportunity to learn together in a team. 

I think that this Friday was pretty productive and helpful for us, we realized most part of mistakes, changed some points and we are ready to work further on our campaign and get some positive results. Teams have to submit the edited version of their Briefs before they receive their next assignment tomorrow. There is an air of anticipation as the teams await the next step. We are looking forward the presentations we have to plan and ready to work on the next round of projects. 
- Olena Sholomei (Ukrainian Fellow)

Snowball In Vicious Circles

Photograph by Yuliya Zemlytska
If someone held a competition for the title of “group most disliked by the society”, Romani people and LGBTQs would most likely share the first place. The prize they get for it, however, is discrimination on every level of social existence. Today HIA fellows explored Polish realities of both of these groups.

We plunge into the day with a visit to the OSCE/ODIHR office, where Roma officers Dr. Andrzej Mirga and Mr. Stanislav Daniel introduce us to the work of Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues (CPRSI).  The main role of the Contact Point is to assist States with implementation of the Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within OSCE Area. The Contact Point focuses mainly on human right violations and discrimination of Roma and works directly with governments and Roma communities. In practice it implies such activities as site visits, carrying out educational and prevention campaigns, organizing trainings, seminars and conferences, funding and support of on-spot projects by other actors (NGOs, IOs, etc).  It is remarkable that Contact Point is run according to the principle “For Roma, with Roma” – most of its staff members are Roma and a lot of projects are carried out in cooperation with Roma leaders.

Yet despite all the efforts, the progress in implementation of the Action Plan in majority of the OSCE countries hosting Roma populations has been very small. Due to lack of political will to address Roma issues, there is a clear gap between program documents and real improvement work done by the governments. And like other intergovernmental institutions, CPRSI has very limited toolkit of influence on the governmental policies.
Photograph by Yuliya Zemlytska
In the meantime, as Dr. Andrzej Mirga noted, the situation of Roma in Poland is not as disturbing as in other Central Eastern European States. Introduction of the “Programme for the Roma community in Poland” is a clear sign of a political commitment to address the issues of approximately 20 000 Roma people, living within Polish territories. Having taken a closer look at this document, I got an impression that Polish government has profound understanding of Roma issues and developed very comprehensive and well – planned policy to tackle them. The fact that Roma population is not that numerous also contributes to the efficiency of Polish Roma policies. 
However, even in Poland status quo is that discrimination, poverty and segregation still construct day-to-day reality of Roma. Lack of education, unemployment, devastating living conditions are currently the main areas of concern for Roma activists. Education is believed to be a way out. But if a Roma child has to cope with a language barrier (as he most likely didn’t go to pre-school), disfavor of his classmates, bad living conditions and pressure of his family, how well is he or she going to perform at school? Current trend to educate children in “all-Roma” schools may alleviate some of these difficulties, but in the long run leads to even bigger segregation.

It rolls as a snowball of vicious circles. Lack of education results into inability to compete at the labor market, this leads to poverty and affects next generations. Partially, this happens due to traditionalism of Roma culture.
Partially, it is the responsibility of the mainstream society itself. It is also our stereotypes and attitudes that are keeping Roma on the margin of acceptance. Every time I see a Roma on the street, I catch myself trying to hold my purse tighter and looking away. These are unconscious processes that even I - a person aspiring to become a human rights lawyer, am hardly able to control. I also realized that Dr. Andrzej Mirga and Mr. Stanislav Daniel are the first Roma people I ever talked to in my entire life. This fact is eloquent and disturbing considering that I come from a country with rather a numerous Roma population.
This brings us back to the question of nature and origin of negative stereotypes that we studied on our first day in Warsaw. Why are Roma treated this way? Is it the differences in lifestyle and culture that push society to reject and distrust? What can we do to break those mental barriers? How can we decrease the gap between Roma and mainstream society?
Photograph by Yuliya Zemlytska
Still puzzled with aforementioned questions, HIA fellows proceed through the day. Ewa Tomaszewicz, LGBTQ activist, is here to shed light on LGBTQ rights situation in Poland. In her opinion, Polish society is not homophobic – it is simply lacking knowledge about LGBTQ people and their lifestyle. In general, as soon as they learn about the issue, Polish people tend to be quite open to the idea of LGBTQ rights. This perspective of an insider seems rather surprising to some fellows, who have read rather pessimistic reports on homophobia in Poland.
Photograph by Anna Rok
Ewa shares success-stories of three campaigns. All of them are based on the theme of love. “Gosia and Ewa in the air” – a spontaneous and cost-free campaign that sparkled from participation in the contest and attracted a lot of public attention is particularly interesting. It illustrates the power of social media in starting the public debate with no financial resources involved. It also proves that general public can relate to personal stories much easier than to abstract slogans.  Ewa invites us to come to LGBTQ protests in front of the Sejm. For the last few days, since the civil partnerships bill was recognized unconstitutional in the Parliament, LGBTQ activists have been on the front line daily. Finally, they managed to achieve a review of the decision, which will take place next week. This is a truly inspiring example of how civic action can influence legislative policies.
Inspired with Ewa’s energy and enthusiasm, we are gathering in our working groups to design our own social campaigns. The evening goes by in quest for creative ideas.
- Yuliya Zemlytska (Ukrainian Fellow)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Word Use: Integration vs. Assimilation

Photograph by Alex Cardenas

Within the discourse of immigration and the discussion of migrants, often the terms integration and assimilation can be falsely used as interchangeable ideas.  Interestingly enough, it was explained to us that within the Polish context this might not necessarily be true.  Having spoken with Ms Aleksandra Chrzanowska (Association for Legal Intervention) and Ms Katarzyna Kubin (Foundation for Social Diversity) on the status of refugees and migrants, it seemed that inclusion certainly prevailed – at least in terms of EU directives.  As one of our guest speakers mentioned, it has been her experience working in Poland that most working in her field understand the goal of addressing migrants as one of integrating newcomers.  She further explained that to attempt to assimilate a migrant would not allow for a mutual exchange of ideas between the country receiving the migrants and the migrants themselves.  In her opinion, integration was preferred to assimilation given the higher likelihood that a multi-cultural society could be developed from the observance of the “foreign” culture and its potential attributes.  

This is particularly interesting to me given my understanding of how immigrants are received into the United States – where discussions are centered much more on how particular immigrant communities are assimilating to “American” ideology and norms.  The idea that migrants could be regarded as carrying with them positive cultural and social attributes, as mentioned by our guest speaker, is worth further thinking about.  Especially when paired with the question: who is responsible for making sure that this mutual integration process actually makes for a positive experience for both parties? 

Much too often migrants are regarded with xenophobic sentiments for the very reason that they bring new possibilities as to our understanding of normative actions and behaviors.  As mentioned in the different talks from the day, a proper integration process makes for a better situation in which there is respect paid to the migrant’s background, while at the same time, affording them enough skills and opportunities to become economically empowered members of the society that has now become their home.  It seems that in Poland governments are currently responsible for ensuring that migrants be fully integrated through various programs, but can this also occur at the level of NGO’s?  While I am not entirely sure of the answer to this, I am sure of the fact that all players have a role in this process.  From the NGO’s that advocate for more migrant rights and opportunities, to the most local player who simply interacts with their new neighbors and begins the process of social inclusion.  

Photograph by Alex Cardenas
Comparing the discussion on migrants (both those who have been forced and those who willingly migrated) with Ms Aleksandra Chrzanowska and Ms Katarzyna Kubin between our second presentation with Ms Joanna Garnier (La Strada Foundation), it would seem that on the ground, much more has to be done towards inclusion.  Ms Joanna Garnier quickly made mention that many gaps exist in Polish law for the protection of those who arrive in this country through human trafficking means.  One of the gaps she mentioned was that the law currently favors employers over workers.  She gave us the example of reported employers who are fined for contracting illegal workers, but in actuality, the fine is still much smaller than the cost of hiring workers legally.       

Perhaps the comments relayed to our group on the different understandings of integration and assimilation may have been biased through our particular speakers, but the idea of embracing the migrant experience as one of integration and not of assimilation presents a good lesson to how we further understand the changing landscape of human mobilization across different nation states. 
- Alex Cárdenas (US Fellow) 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Capturing Light

Photograph by Anna Rok

Though tired and worn from the past two weeks of the program, each fellow’s face lit up as soon as we entered into Mierz Wysoko (Aim High)’s office on Brzeska Street.  “We work with children here, that’s why it looks so interesting and weird,” Magda Szeniawska, the founder of Aim High, and our speaker today, informed us.  The walls here are covered with brightly colored graffiti, art, posters, stickers, and more, accumulated over the last seven years.  In the center of the room is a rope swing hanging from an overhead beam, and next to it, a metal shopping cart, with wheels and all, that had its front cut off and pillows added to make a comfy and cool rolling chair.  Throughout the room was a smorgasbord of old couches and chairs from different decades, worn from years of use.  Overall, the place had the feel of a high schooler’s personal lair in their parent’s basement; it’s exactly where I would want to be if I were still fourteen.

Aim High, founded in 2005 by a handful of university students and young activists who were interested in mentoring and helping so-called “street children” in the Praga district of Warsaw, has made this place it’s own.  However, Aim High staffers and volunteers have not made this a place for the organization and its staff, but have allowed the youth who utilize this room to re-appropriate this space for themselves.  This is one thing that sets Aim High apart from other youth organizations: here, the youth are mostly in charge.

Photograph by Allen Sanchez
While Magda Szeniawska acknowledged the idyllic and often impractical standard of democratic empowerment for rambunctious and typically “out-of-control” youth, she did tell us, and show us, how it has been working for the past seven years.

Brzeska is a notorious street in Warsaw.  Years ago the government moved criminals, alcoholics, and other ‘problematic’ citizens from the other side of the River to this area, which has since maintained a reputation as being dangerous, impoverished, and undesirable.  It is here where Aim High chose to set up shop and work with “children of the streets.”  For our purpose, “street children” describes youth who often come from a dysfunctional home and in turn spend the majority of their days on the streets.  They have a place to call home, but it may be lacking many of the integral parts of a home: stability, concerned parents, safety, and guidance.

The interesting thing about Aim High is that it does not seek to replace the home or even some of the structural aspects that one may associate with a typical home.  There are no strict rules, few “dos and don’ts,” and no adult figures that are going to scold or lecture you.  What Aim High does is provide a safe space, support, friendly relationships, mentoring, a sense of worth, and guidance for youth who may not have such a foundation in their home or neighborhood.  It is flexible, loosely structured, and youth driven.  It flies in the face of everything we associate with formalized school or home structures, and for this, I am drawn to it.

Photograph by Allen Sanchez
As a high school history teacher, I often-times ask myself, “Why am I teaching this material to these students? When is this ever going to help them in life?”  While I do believe that learning about history can help students in many areas of life, I know that many students hate the thought of history class.  Many students do well in some areas but not in others, and some may learn better by reading instead of by listening.  There are multiple intelligences and ways of learning, and a plethora of student interests.  Unfortunately, traditional schooling caters to only a few ways of learning and covers only a very tiny fraction of academic, occupational, artistic, or other student interests.  Because of this, I believe that the traditional model of education needs to be scrapped in favor of a more innovative, flexible, and student-driven model.

For too long, traditional educational models around the world have forced each and every youth into a model of learning, thinking and doing which is unsuitable for the vast majority of people.  Aim High has broken from this traditional model and opened up its doors for students who “failed” to do well in this confining and paralyzing state-sanctioned model of learning and doing.

At Aim High, the youth choose what they want to do and learn about.  Interested in horses?  Learn how to make a film-report on the animal, present the project to get funding from sponsors, and take your group on a horseback riding trip.  Want to learn about other cultures?  Find traditional costumes, learn about them, and have fun taking pictures of your friends wearing them.  Want a bike? Learn how to weld and build one from local scrap metal.  Want to learn about photography? Make a camera obscura and capture light.

Photography by Anna Rok
This model, of course, is far from flawless.  Students who continue on only this informal path of learning will still fall out of the state-recognized model.  Kids here still fight, swear, spit, and steal.  The difference here though, is that children--not curriculum, standards, or some arcane model of education--are the center of attention.  They are the focus of the program, which seeks, at its core, to instill a sense of worth as well as a sense of values.  When the children aren’t doing well, the model is adapted and re-modeled to work better.  When children stray from the basic rules that are upheld here, they are not kicked out and sent to a “detention center,” as public schools would do, but are counseled into understanding their mistakes and are given options to return to the program.

Photography by Allen Sanchez
It is sad how the most vulnerable group of people in our society is often the first group to be barred from participating in a normal life.  So many of the stories we heard today, and so many of the stories we have encountered in our own lives, are those of young, promising youth who have been denied an equal opportunity at success because their own strengths and interests did not fit into society’s narrow and arbitrary “path for success.”  If the state and its system gave each of these youth a fair opportunity that utilized the child’s own strengths, I have no doubt that the majority of these kids would seize the opportunity and excel.  
- Allen Sanchez (US Fellow)

Get Involved! Just Stand Up For Human Rights!

This is what fellows do every day in their hometowns and especially here – in the HIA Poland Fellowship! This day was unique for all participants because we found out more about social campaigns and started developing the skills to create them. We can use these skills to use social campaigns in action projects in our native countries after finishing the program in Warsaw. After the training we made acquaintance with “Ways of Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance.”
Young human rights defenders from the Europe and USA face many challenges investigating and defending the rights of others. It’s necessary to mention that each participant came to the capital of Poland with certain interest and topics that he or she had investigated. During the training we thought of important questions: “Why should other care?” and “How we can make somebody else to join us and to take specific action?” Political, religious and human rights issues are a subject of our personal interests but indeed none else cares. We need to make enormous efforts in order to develop interest and responsibility in socially passive personalities.
I’m convinced that after this lecture the fellows will develop campaigns and creative ideas in a simple way because of the useful and professional advice, tips and comments from a highly qualified practitioner Marek Dorobisz, creative director of the NEXT.
There is no unique recipe on how to organize a social campaign successfully, but still there are some rules that we must follow. First of all, it is necessary to write a brief. A brief consists of the exact topic, real circumstances we are in, and possible perspectives. Furthermore, some key components such as a precise target group, clear goals, understandable language and motivation to the action after the project should be included to any social campaign. 
After watching diversity of international examples of social campaigns and social advertisement concerning human rights, learning from lecture’s experience we made our first attempt at a social campaign.  I’m persuaded it will be a great support in our Action Projects, personal, and probably carrier development in the future.
Another valuable meeting was with a representative of “Never Again Association” Jacek Purski. This is an organization that makes a positive contribution in combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance. It uses widespread instruments and tools namely abovementioned social campaigns, producing magazine, and publishing books with statistics of racist incidents in Poland. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as Euro 2012, was the 14th European Championship for national football teams. Unfortunately even this event was not without racial intolerance inside and outside the football stadium. There is a big difference between supporters and extreme fans that provoke misunderstandings, fights and beatings. I strongly believe that Polish civil society, human rights activists, and HIA Fellows will promote international tolerance and understanding in every sphere of this wonderful country.  
- Ievgeniia Blazhevska (Ukrainian Fellow)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Getting Engaged? YES – But Where And In Which Way?

Photography by Anna Rok
Where do we stand in Poland roughly twenty years after the fall of the iron curtain? Is everybody in the Polish society benefitting from the same rights? What is the situation of minority groups in Poland today? Is everybody's voice being heard, no matter which color, religion, origin or background? And if not, is it due to discrimination or maybe just ignorance? What are human rights challenges in present-day Poland? And most importantly: what can we in our group do about that?!
Today was a day of reflection, of taking a deep breath from the last ten eventful days and of thinking about what we have learned and experienced so far. But also a day to reconsider what initially led us to the participation in this program and what we want to achieve in the end. Although there are still seven days of lectures and discussions ahead of us, we are slowly beginning to move from the initial input phase of the program to the output phase in which we will develop a social campaign on a specific topic in small groups ourselves. 
Photography by Anna Rok
Taking the different discussions we have already had during the last days as a starting point, we tried to identify the most relevant human rights challenges in Polish society today and how we could address these issues in our campaigns. Apart from the discrimination of people with disabilities and poor medical care for prisoners we identified xenophobia, domestic violence, discrimination against immigrants and the promotion of womens' rights as important issues.
Photography by Maira Kusch
These initial ideas were immediately reaffirmed during the next site visit at the Human Rights Defender’s Office, where main human rights violations in Poland were pointed out to us. The Human Rights Defender, also called Polish Ombudsman, is an independent institution responsible for safeguarding the freedoms and rights of the Polish people. Since I got the chance to visit the Office of the European Ombudsman in Brussels two months ago, it was of particular interest to me to see how the national office of the Ombudsman in Poland is organised and operating. Every Polish citizen has the right to submit a motion to the Defender when his or her rights were violated. However, the Ombudsman can only become active when the rights were infringed by organs of a public Polish entity. On the basis of this motion the Ombudsman has the right to give advice and inform the applicant on available measures provided or refer the case to the competent authority. The Defender’s general motion can also include opinions and conclusions as to how the case could be resolved, which are sent to the government body in question, to request a legislative initiative or   to request the amendment of a right. Although the public entities are not required to comply with these recommendations they have the obligation to respond and this response is transfered to the media, thus building public pressure. In this sense, the Ombudsman possesses the power to really challenge existing nuisances and provoke change. 
Especially appealing to me as an EU citizen and student interested in human rights was also the idea of installing one free EU-wide hotline similar to a hotline in Poland, where victims can get legal advise and information about assistance.
Photography by Anna Rok
Since the Polish Ombudsman is appointed by the Sejm and the Senate of Poland, it was interesting to learn about the work and the experiences of a state office responsible for the protection of human rights in comparison to the position of a nongovernmental organisation, like the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which we had encountered on Monday. Keeping both the experiences and the challenges they shared with us in mind might prove to be really helpful and valuable in conceptualising and designing our own social campains at the end of the program.
- Maira Kusch (German Fellow)

A Lesson in Resistance: Understanding the Polish Solidarity Movement

Photography by Anna Rok
After having spent the previous day at the memorial site in Treblinka, many of us were probably still digesting the impressions we obtained at this former Nazi German extermination camp. On the third day of the Warsaw 2012 programme though, we made a rather big leap and had the possibility to listen to first-hand experiences from courageous people who have been involved in, or supported, the Polish Solidarity movement. 
From the very beginning on of his eyewitness account, one could see that Mr Andrzej Wielowieyski, a journalist and politician having been deeply involved in the Solidarity Movement, has always been, and still is, a fighter.During his speech, he would often clench his fist telling us about his taking part in the resistance movement in Communist-ruled Poland. But his “career” as an activist started much earlier: during World War II he fought as a partisan against the Nazis and was part of the Democratic Opposition Movement. After the Communists took over Poland, he dedicated his life to fighting against the new oppressors, accepting his firing from the Finance Ministry due to his non-conformity. A devout Catholic, he was active in the Opposition Movement, which consisted of several societal groups, amongst them the Catholic Youth. In August 1980, the new independent trade union Solidarity organised strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard, which soon spread around the country. Mr Wielowieyski actively took part in this mass movement as a member of the striking committee, which claimed the 21 Points of Solidarity. In his report, he emphasized the important role women and the Catholic Church played in the movement and also the importance of secretly-produced bulletins as a means of communication with supporters all over Poland. In the end, Solidarity managed to provoke a peaceful transformation that would eventually lead to the fall of communism. For me personally, his report was the highlight of the day and inspired me in a lot of ways.  

Our second speaker, Professor Andrzej Rychard, from the Graduate School for Social Research, was deeply involved and convinced in the Solidarity mass movement. He gave us an understanding of the transformation processes that began taking place in Poland after 1989. The definitions of transformation and transition, and what term could be applied for the Polish case, triggered a controversial discussion later on during our fellows discussion. Particularly interesting for me was his conviction that we can only understand the Polish democratic system nowadays if we know what the communist system and even the pre-war conditions were like. He also talked about Poland’s special role, having generally had a more liberal communist system compared to other regimes during this time. At the end of his speech, Professor Rychard also talked about the Polish society becoming less and less homogeneous while acknowledging its minorities more. It was interesting to learn that some minority political parties already exist. However, they have not entered mainstream politics yet.

Photography by Anna Rok
Our third speaker, Mr Zbigniew Nosowski, sociologist and Catholic activist, was telling us more about the Jewish-Christian relations and the role of the Catholic Church in Poland, which has always been a kind of unifying factor for the Poles during different periods of occupation. At the end, the question of what role the Catholic Church will play in the future was raised. Will the Church remain powerful as Polish society becomes increasingly modernised, or will Poland become more secularized? This is a question we can ponder on even after the eventful day.     
- Melanie Hudler (German Fellow)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Genocide: Memorialization, Memory and Forgetting

The serene beauty of Treblinka makes any attempt to understand its dark past a veritable challenge. In an idyllic meadow, amidst the melodious chirping of birds and calming swaying of trees, lays one of Poland’s many mass graves.  In addition to the gentle sprinkling of purple and yellow wild flowers, thousands of jagged, granite stones pierce the earth like teeth, forming a strangely beautiful garden of death. On this small plot of land, between July 1942 and August 1943, approximately 900,000 Polish Jews from the Warsaw ghetto—roughly 6,000 each day—met their fate in one of history’s forgotten extermination camps.  

The tragic reality that Treblinka remains largely forgotten, hidden in the figurative shadow of the more infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau, can be attributed to its efficient and highly successful record of extermination. Unlike the many survivors of Auschwitz, whose prolific accounts of human resilience went on to enshrine that death camp in the teleology of the Holocaust, only about 60 people survived the horrors of Treblinka. For many of those who emerged from Treblinka with their lives, survivors’ guilt and even complicity with the evil acts committed against others in the camp kept survivors from testifying. Without survivors’ accounts, there can be no memory; without memory, Treblinka was shrouded by a long period of complete silence. 

With the construction of the memorial at Treblinka in the 1960s, a permanent, physical reminder of Nazi crimes was established on the site in hopes that the world would not forget the immense loss of life that took place there. Yet the effectiveness of this memorial, and other similar sites, is difficult to gauge. Genocide memorials struggle to communicate effectively the relationship between mass killing and the retention of memory through structural forms. At Srebrenica, rows of white stele line the hillsides where the remains of victims still being unearthed from unmarked, mass graves are laid to rest during an annual commemoration. Countless memorial stupas in Cambodia, like the one at Choeung Ek, serve as charnel houses for the millions of victims of the killing fields. At the immense National Memorial Centre in Kigali the bones, clothing and identity cards of victims seem to hang within the walls in a sense of suspended animation while hundreds of thousands of bodies are interred in the gardens outside. Although they may be shocking, these memorials give visitors an understanding of the crimes they commemorate.
The perplexing nature of the memorial at Treblinka lies partially in the abstract form of commemoration. There are no physical remnants of the camp or its victims at Treblinka to establish connections to the past. All buildings were immediately torn down once the Nazis had realized their objectives. The authentic structures and property of the victims that often serve as tangible bridges between past and present have vanished from the earth; as a result, the site is vanishing from memory. Today, the thousands of stones scattered about the landscape serve as the primary indication of the site’s importance. Without the educational component provided at the small museum nearby, it would be impossible to conceive of the memorial’s importance. But by visiting Treblinka and learning about Poland’s tragic loss of memory regarding lesser-known Holocaust sites, there is a strong feeling of responsibility to rectify past crimes and revive the lessons of the Holocaust in the international consciousness. But how can this be done effectively? Does visiting genocide memorials really spur visitors to action?

Visiting sites where immense, inexplicable atrocities took place can be profoundly disconcerting. It can be an overwhelming, emotionally exhausting experience that provokes a metaphysical crisis for individuals and societies. It is an eerie, surreal experience to stand in a place where so many people met their fate. One cannot help but sense the void left by all the missing souls. During my first visit to Rwanda, I visited numerous sites that were presented as perfectly preserved, macabre tableaus with no explanation of what had occurred there. They evoked strong and conflicting emotions, but without providing any context for the crimes. I felt particularly frustrated by my inability to comprehend the immensity of the killing. Josef Stalin once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” Herein lies the rub. Without being able to comprehend the fact that genocide is an individual murder replicated on a massive scale, it is impossible to do anything about it. Until we humanize the victims of mass atrocities, mankind cannot mourn, memorialize or move forward towards justice and reconciliation.This is exactly why genocide memorials are so important. At many sites around the world, educational components that balance pathos and ethos help put the complexity of genocide into a broader, human context while also presenting a better understanding of the specific case at hand. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Memorial Centre in Kigali have been particularly successful in this respect. After touring both facilities, I developed greater historical awareness to ground me as I began to understand the progression of events that culminated in two of the most appalling moral failings of the 20th Century. This allowed me to develop a richer sense of respect and responsibility through engagement in a highly personal process of observation, analysis and reflection. After visits to memorial sites, I am always left with new ideas about how to begin the difficult process of understanding the act of genocide and taking action against intolerance. 
First and foremost, consider how to approach genocide. Humanity cannot continue to sanctify the act by placing it outside the realm of understanding. By labeling genocide an abstract, esoteric phenomenon, the topic cannot be approached, studied or understood. Under the right circumstances, all people have the capacity to commit acts of unspeakable evil. Only by humanizing the inhumane act of genocide can one begin to break the subject down and understand it for what it is. 

That is why it is so important to make visits to memorials very personal. Personalizing the visit serves to establish a point of reference for visitors to begin identifying with victims (and even perpetrators), places, and events that seem far removed from their own experience. At the National Memorial Centre in Kigali, there is a narrow corridor called the Children’s Hall. The space is filled with pictures of precocious, smiling children whose adorable images—often the only photo the parents possessed—are accompanied by descriptions of the child’s disposition, their favorite foods, what games they liked to play, their last words and how they met their fate. I was able to draw parallels between children in the display and myself by recalling my own hopes and fears at that age. Thus I began to comprehend how the deaths of thousands of children like me led to an entire generation’s loss of innocence. Sharing my perceptions of these evocative images and stories removes the pedantic barrier to understanding and helps others connect to the issue on an emotional level.

Finally, bearing witness and sharing one’s experience with others is a simple yet important means of ensuring that future generations learn from the failures of the past. From the mass graves of Kigali to the killing fields of Choeung Ek, the hillsides of Srebrenica, and the serene clearing of Treblinka, I have seen the undeniable evidence of humanity at its worst. These sites draw countless visitors each year for a variety of reasons. Those with personal connections come to commemorate the loss of loved ones or gain a deeper understanding of shared experiences of persecution. Others simply come to satisfy a morbid curiosity through engagement in “dark tourism.” There is no right or wrong reason to visit genocide memorials; it is what visitors do with their experiences that matter. Though the term “witness” denotes a certain level of passivity, bearing witness is an extremely easy and important aspect of memorialization and education. Anyone, regardless of their motivations for visiting the sites, can bear witness. After visiting such memorials, it is important reflect on one’s own experience and to tell and retell the stories of those who no longer can. Witnesses must strive to educate future generations about past abuses and honor the memory of the dead by informing others about violations of minority rights while there is still time to act.
Attempts to understand and prevent genocide do not need to be grandiose; small efforts to simplify the problem need to be made and real solutions proposed. We all have the capacity to do good or evil; doing good is not as difficult as it may seem.
- Andrew Dusek (US Fellow)

Some are Born Just, Some Achieve Justice, and Some have Justice thrust Upon Them

If genocide is around the corner again, we will not be able to stop it. If I have learned anything from the past few days, it is that the current human rights education strategy is failing.

Photography by Anna Rok
I’m not suggesting that human rights education based in history has no benefits for society. Such education for the general population is useful for producing gradual long-term changes. On its first full day in the city, Team Warsaw explored these very issues, and the successes of the human rights discipline in creating these gradual changes in society through a legal means. Through a combination of lectures given by experts and professionals such as Janina Pietrzak and Zdzislaw Mach, the group explored the construction of stereotypes and prejudice both in general and also within the context of Polish national identity. At the Helsinki Foundation, we discussed the other side of the equation with Adam Bodnar, learning about educational and legal strategies to fight discrimination. The three presentations were each generally based in different disciplines – law, psychology and history. 
Photography by Anna Rok
The culmination of the day’s work for me, however, was undoubtedly related to the question of what exactly makes a person just, and thus willing to stand up to horrific acts of hatred and violence, and if there even exists an answer to this broader question facing the human rights activist community.
Photography by Anna Rok
While I understand the move to define and set boundaries for what makes a person just, history demonstrates that being just is composed more of action than of ideas. As suggested by commentators in the film “Just People,” we can never be certain of how we may react when put into similarly trying situations. 
But, we can be certain that without training and practice, we will never be able to stop genocide. Human rights education must focus specifically on training activists and people who have realized their inner predisposition and commitment to such issues. Resistance does not often come naturally, and well-planned and effective resistance even less so. 
This is directly related to one of my concerns with the film “Just People.” The film presented Rosa Parks as “just another person,” who’d found the courage to take a stand. What often gets ignored in the discourse surrounding the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is the fact that Parks was a trained and well-connected activist, and her decision to sit in the front of the bus was not random or even the result of the feelings of an individual sick of being discriminated against. Parks made a deliberate and planned decision with the support of a well-developed activist network that was working towards civil rights for African-Americans. 
Photography Anna Rok
When we fail to acknowledge the importance of this activist network and support group, we do future activists and ourselves a disservice. No individual, no matter how committed, can drastically change a system alone. Overlooking the connections between these different activists presents the act of resistance as an individual act first and then an institutional one. Due to humans being naturally social and political, I think presenting such resistance as a group act is crucial.
We don’t expect every person who studies science in elementary school to want to or be able to excel at nuclear science. We train those who show an aptitude for science or a passionate desire to study it. I would argue for a similar approach to be taken with regards to creating activists who specifically deal with immediate response and resistance.
- Simmi Kaur (US Fellow)