Meeting with Fundacja Panorama, Wroclaw in Poland.
The Panorama Association began officially in 2011, but their founding work dates much longer. Helena leads Panorama as the project manager (but based in Poznań) and her executive team includes Urszula Sulima (president of the organisation), Grażyna Ochman (treasurer and financial officer), Katarzyna Ochman (project coordinator) Barbara Drabicka-Klint (language course coordinator) and Elżbieta Boral-Wojdalska (language teacher). Panorama also works with several mentors such as Olena, a native Ukranian woman who lived in Poland for over eight years with deep understanding and knowledge of challenges of recent migrants.
The name of the organisation partly comes from the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice, an inspiring battle and an uprising that define the courageous and soaring spirit against the many adversaries in Poland’s long history of foreign oppression (a panoramic painting of this battle, exhibited in a museum built specifically for this purpose, is a landmark of Wrocław). Also, the meaning of broad outlook on both challenging and pleasant times and events in a lifetime (as panoramic) carries through in the organisation’s vision of its mission and work.
Before the Fatima project, Panorama worked on various areas such as internship placement for students from Eastern European countries (initially for medical students only but now other disciplines as well) and organising inspirational speaker series for young career women (from 25 to 35 years of age). More recently, three years ago, Panorama started mentorship programmes for high school students and young professionals. The mentorship programme became more prominent in the professional industry as well as in social organisations in Poland, and Panorama has been one of the first to promote in the region. Through their early lessons learned, Panorama has exchanged ideas with and influenced other more significant mentoring schemes such as Busola in Warsaw.
Due to its voluntary staff structure, Panorama does not have yet a permanent headquarter. Instead, it borrows spaces from benefactors such as the Academy of Fine Arts and an owner of the residential house in Ulica Terenowa. However, with the growing demand in interests and number of participants, there is a need for a centralised, affordable and safe space for Panorama activities.
There has been a massive influx of migrants from Eastern European and ex-Soviet Federation countries in Poland. In the past six years, an estimated two million people sought a settlement in the country. In Wroclaw, this represents ten per cent of its 650,000 inhabitants. Ukrainians are the biggest amongst the migrant communities. Many of them come with a temporary visa and seek an extension and permanent residency, but there are also some Ukrainians who have Polish ancestry, which makes the transition less complicated in obtaining Karta Polaka (Polish Charter or Polish Card).
Most of the Ukrainian migrants work in construction and manual work industry for men and hospitality for women. There is also high demand in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector for those who speak English and have qualifications.
Ukrainian women who joined the Fatima project came either single or with family. Although there are growing interests in providing settlement support services by the municipality and social organisations such as Panorama, the local Ukrainian community-based organisations have organised both formal and informal services to help the recently arrived. It is likely that more collaboration between the Polish local government and local Ukrainian communities will improve the migrant integration situation in Wroclaw.
Although the Fatima project is an extension of the broader work that Panorama has been doing already, thanks to the Fatima project, Panorama is now serving the Ukrainian women for the first time. Serving the specific needs of these participants helped extend Panorama’s social network and build new relationships. The gained experience will also help convince the prospective funders in their work and scaling up of the project.
In the first year of the project, Panorama hosted two groups of women (totalling 40 participants), and this year another two groups with over 30 students are taking part in the project. The courses cater to two broad categories of a beginner and intermediate level. The classes are held for 42 weeks (six to eight hours a week) on Saturday and Sunday in a residential area outside of the city centre. Despite the distance and intensive hours, the Fatima women are genuinely happy to come to learn. For most of the women, the weekend is the only free time they can use to attend courses (and many of them working more than one job).
Despite the childcare duties, many work commitments, and health issues of their own and their families, the Fatima participants are hard-working and extremely motivated women. Many of them are also mothers and their public engagement outside their home is limited. Fatima project breaks the isolation from their strictly work-house environment and allows them to meet other women in a safe and comfortable setting. Most importantly, the Fatima women feel empowered and assured by interacting with the Polish teachers and staff and having their approval (of their presence and language skills) gives them assurance and comfort of being accepted and encouraged. This positive feedback and feeling they get at Panorama are an invaluable lesson and value for the Fatima project women.
There are some concerns that the free-nature of the project could negatively impact on the motivation of some participants. The municipality-run language courses, for instance, charge a symbolic 10 Polish Zloty (PLN) per class, which when combined in a whole term would amount to 300 PLN (approximately 60 GBP). Such an amount is enough to keep students committed but not too expensive as a financial barrier for economically disadvantaged women.
Ela, the teacher, also noticed that there is an initial enthusiasm that carries the beginner level students to rapid progress, but then, once they realised that they could manage well enough, their motivation and drive tapered off amongst the higher-level students. To help carry the momentum, Ela introduced a more vocabulary-based test to keep the ‘advanced’ students more interested and challenged. They are doing more vocabulary tests this year.
Generally, the Ukrainian students think less creatively and are used to the more memorising-based learning approach. The Soviet-era education system is top-down, strictly formatted in its instruction, so students find it difficult to adjust at first in Ela’s teaching methods. However, the students soon find enjoyment in various exercises that they do in Fatima classes such as the picture describing an activity, which generates many laughs from students and the teacher alike.
Ela’s approach to her curriculum also changed from the first-year groups to the current ones. Instead of the formal language structure and grammar, Ela focuses more on practical and more everyday-oriented lessons. Ela also realised some critical limitations of adult learners who have to learn a new language through the lens and framework of their native-language structure and association. With this understanding, Ela can better explain using relatable examples to lessen women’s learning challenges.
Panorama experienced some difficulties regarding mentoring, as people coming from the former Soviet-Union countries, because of their negative communist experience, do not like to open up and talk about their difficulties etc. Some of the participants perceived mentoring as an evaluation of their performance instead of a helpful relationship based on mutual trust. Some of the mentors, however, have been able to achieve a very meaningful connection with their mentees, as time passed by.
For similar reasons, the journaling has been difficult for both the students and teachers. Although some of the students were used to keeping their own private journals and enjoyed journaling, most participants treated it as a boring task and an unnecessary obligation. They have found their own journal entries unoriginal and repetitive, they didn’t feel that it helps their self-reflection. The teachers and mentors felt uncomfortable when they had to remind the students to write something in their journals, knowing that the students themselves were not motivated to do so. Focus-groups and informal meetings, as well as individual stories provided by those participants who express a wish to share their experience, seem to be a much better way to assess the influence of the project among the beneficiaries.
Once the Fatima participants graduate from the project, there is no official follow-up or assistance mechanism to help them continue their learning journey. Many of the alumni wanted to continue learning higher-level Polish, but there were no plans to accommodate them. The limited space and scope of the Fatima project (for instance the strictly set hours of instruction per student) meant that the project cycle could only fund a given amount of hours to new students. (Some of the alumni are, however, still in touch with Panorama and even participate in other projects such as Busola and Red Glow).
Panorama wishes to have a more permanent structure to have student residence and cultural centre to host its activities in a venue that is centrally located at the heart of the community that they serve.
The Panorama staff (who are mostly Polish) also find dealing and working with Ukrainian women enriching and opening their minds to new possibilities and potential expansion. The cultures and histories between Poland and Ukraine go back centuries, and they are deeply intertwined. There are still some issues from the past which are very painful to talk about for both nations, as well as prejudices against Ukrainian migrants. But if Polish people can have a real encounter – as the work Panorama is striving to do in creating a safe space and context for both peoples to meet and share their thoughts and experiences openly – then there may be more things in common to relate and empathise with their Ukrainian neighbours. For instance, the similar treatments and hardship that the Polish migrants went through in Western European countries such as in the UK are powerfully relevant and relatable to Ukrainian and other migrants in Poland.