Could you start by introducing us to your story with “ Chlebem i Solą” ( “With Bread and Salt” )?
I am a co-founder. We started acting for refugees as a group of friends in 2013. It was the moment when the war in a neighboring country, Ukraine, was starting. The war was also in Syria where I was in person in 2010. I also studied in Bosnia and Indonesia. It seemed to me that in Poland there was no awareness of what was happening in the world. We started organizing fundraisers and events.
In 2015, the topic of refugees was heavily politicized. There was a lot of fake news and negative information. A large part of the society was against accepting refugees, so we started organizing actions. We founded the page http://uchodzcy.info to spread reliable information.
In December 2017, we registered as the “Polska Gościnność” (“Polish Hospitality”) foundation: http://polskagoscinnosc.org/en/
We changed from an informal group to a formal organization. Many people who were active in the “Chlebem i Solą” initiative still support the foundation’s activities. I am the coordinator, I keep it together. The children’s program is supported by the entire team.
Short video: example of initiative of “Chlebem i Solą”
What values are important to you in the implementation of the With Bread and Salt initiative, as well as in your life?
I feel like I have different resources that many people don’t have. We were born in a country that, although it has many shortcomings (maybe not compared to the West), and which feels an ethical obligation. SOLIDARITY. We try to make the refugees independent, so we do not do anything for them, but educate them so that they can be independent.
It is important to be aware of your own motivations, e.g. if someone feels better in a group of people who are in a worse situation than him/her. There are about 125 volunteers supporting the Foundation’s activities on a regular basis in the programme that supports kids in learning.
What practices do you use in carrying out your mission?
Striving for independence and privacy. To accompany, to listen if someone wants to share something. Include refugees in society, contact them and educate them.
What motivates your actions?
I see a need and I feel attached, and at this stage I couldn’t give it up. When I see success, e.g. with working with children. At the beginning while getting aware that there is so much to do I consciously chose to work with children because it is very rewarding. It makes me happy and drives me all the time. Most of the time I have to deal with something that doesn’t work, because if it worked, you wouldn’t need to deal with it. So I still have to remember what works. The needs motivate me a lot, as I am aware that if we don’t do it, no one will. Also because I can see a change! Personally, I work a lot and it gives me joy and it drives me.
What difficulties have you experienced? What may discourage you?
Frustrating situations happen almost every day. The fact that I had to answer the same question three times. The lack of resourcefulness. Resourceful people don’t come to us. Joint plans for refugees are not being implemented. Difficulties are also ingratitude in detail.ed issues. Failure to meet deadlines and obligations by people from Poland or refugees.
For us, as NGOs, there is no permanent funding. I cannot develop my vision because there is no stability. The work is very engaging, so I have to set my limits.
Had you been involved in initiatives related to solidarity activities before your activity in “With Bread and Salt”? I studied and traveled. And then, in parallel, we were running the Post Tourist initiative connected with awareness of global interdependencies, causes and consequences of tourist behavior.
What is solidarity for you?
An important concept here is another person and opening up to another person. It is an attempt to be compassionate. More broadly, it is something you do towards the other person, because you probably can’t be only towards yourself. Being open to the fact that sometimes you have to sacrifice something, the opposite of selfishness. I wonder if it implies the pursuit of equality. The important thing is that we act for the benefit of the other person. It is opening up to other people. We can also talk about a group of people acting in solidarity and then this group aspect is also important, so it seems important to be in solidarity with each other. We have a clear division into helpers and those who are being helped. I try to make sure that the people we help need as little as possible.
What future do you see for Chlebem i Solą?
For me, it has stopped being developmental a bit and I am a bit tired. I would need a six-month break.
Hopefully the things we do will start to act more systematically. Unfortunately, there are also fewer and fewer refugees. For now, we are developing more and more because we see more and more needs.
What advice would you give to others who want to start working in a similar area?
What needs people have. Look and think more broadly to which of your needs you respond to. Think about your motivation, for me it is very important. Everyone has some complexes and their own unresolved needs.
How to awaken in people a sense of solidarity?
This genuine motivation is important because there are different people. My motivation appears frequently, for instance in the awareness of being privileged. For example, I wanted to “crush the PIS” (Law and Justice party in Poland): this is an expression of my opposition to what the government is doing. Sometimes it’s a willingness to share what we already have. It is also important to support people in the responsibility they take on them.
(Interview recorded by ArteEgo)