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Online Toolkit

Part 3 - The Peace Bag Partners, Projects, and Peacebuilders

Poland

The Polish Robert Schuman Foundation is an NGO promoting active participation, democratic values and intercultural dialogue through activities empowering European integration and educational processes. The Foundation develops programs teaching young people to actively participate in civil society, and informing them about opportunities granted by the EU and other European programmes.

Since the social, political and economic transformation that took place in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990's, the Foundation has organised actions to inform people about different aspects of Poland opening up to international relations. It develops projects that focus on enhancing active participation and civic responsibility, especially among young people. Multiple seminars and conferences regarding the socio-economic situation have been held and attended by students, enabling them to discuss the Polish situation in comparison to other European countries with politicians and experts in different fields.

Currently, the Foundation runs a network of European School Clubs; organises simulations, internet and interaction games; conducts informational campaigns; carries out a number of voluntary work projects; provides training; and organises international school exchanges and youth meetings. The Foundation offers young people an opportunity to get to know their community better, to learn how different institutions function, how they can benefit from them, and also how they can contribute to make them function better. Meetings are held to give young people a chance to meet their peers from other countries, and learn about their culture, life and beliefs. By exchanging experiences, young people become more open to cultural differences, thereby gaining knowledge they can build on for years to come.


International Meetings of European Clubs

Active participation, Intercultural dialogue

The first European Clubs (non-formal structures of students and teachers interested in European matters, EU institutions and integration) appeared in Poland's schools in the mid-1990s.

The Polish Robert Schuman Foundation and Office for European Integration created a database of such clubs, and by the time of the Polish accession to the EU more than 1500 clubs were registered. Their activities were focused on discovering other European countries and getting to know more about the EU and its institutions. The club members would organize local actions to popularize such knowledge, spread information and with time seek contacts for common actions with their peers in other European countries. In response to this, the Foundation started organising international meetings of European Clubs, and each year it invites 90 participants (30 teams comprised of one teacher and two students) from various countries.

The meetings present an opportunity for cooperation between the European Clubs and schools at the international level – a platform that enables students and teachers from different countries to exchange experiences and information, compare activities and look for possibilities to carry out common actions. The aim is to motivate young people to be more involved in current events, and participate more actively in social actions at the local, national and international level. Moreover, they enhance tolerance and understanding by promoting cultural diversity.

Each year's meeting revolves around a different "hot" topic, connected with the current events that are interesting to young people. To make the meetings as interactive as possible, we limit lectures and focus on workshops. In five-day meetings, students and teachers participate in workshops on intercultural learning; prepare exhibitions about their work; or present results of research in their local community. Simulation games enable students to put themselves in the roles of politicians or refugees, and city games help them discover a different side of the city they meet in.

Of course, there are spaces for debates, interviews and cultural exchange. Participants learn to respect other points of view and honour cultural, religious and linguistic diversity. New follow-up projects have resulted from the meetings (including ideas for school exchanges and study visits), and students stay in touch, and bring this experience to their peers. The European Clubs organize similar activities in their schools and local communities, spread their findings and share impressions. In 2010 the idea for the main topic of the international meeting, as well as its course, was prepared by teachers and students, who consulted with former participants.


Meet a Peacebuilder:

Cześć! I am Maja. What is a Peacebuilder in the first place? When I first heard this term, I was slightly confused. Oddly enough my association was Peace Corps and the so-called military "peace missions", which confused me even more. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it is up to me really. I can make it whatever I want it to be: that working for Peace starts in me, thereafter forwarding it to people around me, and consequently, the universe. Constantly working on myself, i.e., accepting myself, improving, learning, trying to do better, to be open-minded, appreciate things and beings around me, show it with my behaviour and share it with others. All these contribute to creating an environment where people live together, communicate with each other and respect one another. Realizing that it is a slow and never-ending story is something I get reminded of every day. I guess that is why I ended up working in the social field – because by creating learning possibilities for people, you get to see enormous changes taking place pretty often. Does my way of living and what I do make me a Peacebuilder? I would like to believe that it does.


The country

Poland faces the challenging issue of asylum seekers, refugees and illegal migrants from Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Asia. As a traditionalist and mainly homogenous society, Poles are struggling to work out new approaches based on developing and implementing more effective and wide-spread inclusion mechanisms.

NGO's promote peace education and intercultural dialogue-related projects throughout the country through non-formal education within a wide scope of actions, such as the protection of minorities' rights, fighting xenophobia, homophobia and cultural encounters. Most educational programs dedicated to youth focus on: trans-border international intercultural dialogue; non-violent communication; prevention and combating racism and xenophobia; minorities (Roma people) and refugees (usually in the regions where refugee camps are located); and inter-religious dialogue.

Debates, seminars, workshops, youth exchanges, and informational campaigns are conducted by NGO's, and are usually financed by state authorities, European Union official bodies or programs.

The Polish state is over one thousand years old. It is the second country in the world, but the first one in Europe that had its own constitution. In the 1980s Poland took the lead in overcoming a totalitarian system and became the world's best example of a peaceful transition to democracy.