NGO – inspired Evolution

karolina mroz_nova

Interviewer: Lea Linin
Photos:Dom Pokoju

Karolina Mroz is the most high-spirited, boisterous, ebullient, energetic, enthusiastic, exuberant, fun-loving and vivacious person I have ever had the privilege to meet. It seems that the adjectives I have listed above only attempt to describe the true essence of her personality. She successfully puts these features into practice working as a project manager at Dom Pokoju Foundation. Together we explored the inner workings of the NGO sector and her personality.

Browsing through the information about your organization, what initially caught my attention was how the organization was visually represented. The dove as a peace symbol, which of course, stands for one part of your organization’s name and the ‘house’ part of the name being represented by that same dove building the roof of a house. And on top of that, Dom Pokoju or the House of Peace is written in several different languages. It seems that even your logo stays true to what your organization is all about – peace and intercultural dialogue?

Our logo was designed by Jael Fraenkel (an artist from the Netherlands and a friend of Dom Pokoju’s founder – Edward Skubisz) after it has been discussed in detail with the other founders of the Foundation. They were aiming to transfer via such a picture our attitudes and priorities – so peace and diversity met in one place – the House of Peace. The first idea was to establish a special entrance, which would be a peace monument, enabling meetings of various generations and cultures. That was the beginning. The idea was verified in reality, but now it’s also treated more virtually – as a place in the minds of the people who are part of Foundation – in terms of how projects are run, the way of thinking and acting and above all – the way of cooperating – so the relation between us – the team of Dom Pokoju.

When was your organization established and how have its activities changed during the course of time? Have you ever considered broadening the scope of the areas of activity you want to make a difference in?

We started in August 2005, and the real huge transformation broke out in 2008 when we were unintentionally involved in Nadodrze District Socio-Economic Revitalization Program by running the Old Professions Project. I mean – it was an idea initiated within the foundation’s mainstream (to cultivate the memory of people) but somebody in the municipality sort of opened up our eyes that it could be used in this program. Simultaneously, the municipality found out that we were specialists when it comes to this local community and we became part of the Council responsible for changes in the Program. We really enjoyed working on realizing this idea and seeing it come to fruition, especially the younger people from the team. We decided to be more involved and started focusing projects on the revitalization topic.

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Dom Pokoju’s projects focus on promoting peace, intercultural and international dialogue mostly via activities in the cultural sector. I was really fascinated by the idea of the ‘Fairytales meetings’. Who was the mastermind behind this project and could you give the readers a little taste of what it was all about and what sort of activities it involved?

Responding simply to your question – people with passion without borders. Frankly speaking, it was the former president of our Foundation – Edward Skubisz along with our apprentice Paula Michalowska. They invited some old friends of ours from several different nationalities and ethnic minority groups like Greek, Korean or Lemko to show their culture via fairytales and it just happened.
In Sektor 3 Conference Room we organized meetings with them and youth from Wroclaw. In the open space and on the big conference table guests were showing books, calligraphy, costumes, and they were telling stories. Kids were cooking traditional meals from each cuisine, dancing and foretelling the future by looking into coffee dregs. Between these meetings they had workshops led by a facilitator who helped them prepare a theater play, a kind of performance based on the stories they had heard during the project.

In terms of the projects do you have any personal favorite, a project you feel really proud of or you consider being your brainchild?

It’s the Old Professions Project, of course. I always felt I was a second generation post-World War II child without any roots. But Wroclaw has always been the closest place in my heart, old and damaged by war with its streets and houses lost in the past, and the workshops of craftsmen. This project was my private pilgrimage for identity. It also led the Foundation to a new path and gave it impetus for initiating revitalization projects. Today we consider it to be the second pillar the organization is based on.

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How did you first become involved in the NGO sector? What motivated you? Were you trying to change something?

It happened by chance. In fact, I was sort of involved in it since my birth. My parents took  part in the Resistance against communism. They fought for democracy and were involved in several organizations. But nobody was referring to these organizations as NGOs. It was a part of life, a positive active attitude. As a child I was singing in bands, playing in school theater, working in the youth council at school, organizing a lot of activities. It had some connection with the arts, but I didn’t feel as an artist, so I decided to study History of Art at Wroclaw University. It was sort of a mistake, because it is for people who just love to watch and talk about what they are seeing. I was too active to seat and watch or hear. So I went up to the Head of the Institute and infected him with this idea of opening up a gallery. I caught his attention and he helped me and a friend of mine realize this idea. And, after 2 months we launched the first art exhibition. But then I realized that I’m a master of beginnings, and not seeing things through.
I started looking for something new and I found the Cyber Reka Lidera Project and that was when I heard what NGO really means. The project was organized for the first time then. Now they have equipped more than 400 young people with skills on how to be a professional NGO worker and helped them in starting up their career. During my career I have hosted 6 beneficiaries of this project and they still work in NGOs – 4 of them in the House of Peace. So you can imagine how it happened for me.

Have you changed yourself in the process of helping and making things better for others?

Saying no would be silly. But I can say that it wasn’t a revolution. It was more of an evolution, a development in terms of the way of looking at things.
A continuation of what my parents taught me at home. Attitude. As a fundraiser, sometimes I am very much business-oriented and it is a completely different thing.
Now I know that I couldn’t work like that permanently. Cash is not a goal I strive for.

Do you think that the civil sector has that much of a say in terms of influencing and improving people’s lives? How can it be more efficient?

I’m sure that they are the most prepared and orientated towards helping people surmount problems and obstacles, and providing opportunities. They are from “here”, from society, from the local communities. It is a point of view that should be interesting for the government or the municipalities, but there are different cases. In my opinion, it is not worth taking offence if they don’t want to hear you out. The point is to prove that you’re right and professional. And it works.

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Your organization is EVS – friendly. How do you help volunteers better integrate within the organization and the community? What do you consider to be the biggest challenge when dealing with a volunteer? Any words of wisdom?

Maybe not wisdom, but experience. Yes – we host volunteers for projects having in mind the idea that external influence and inspiration from abroad is very helpful in neglected communities. We invite young people from Europe to Wroclaw, Nadodrze district to help generate ideas on how to solve this area’s problems. It’s hard work, and it’s for very determined, self-responsible and independent volunteers. The volunteer needs to get out of the office, ask questions, observe and be patient and curious. All these elements in one. It’s quite challenging and it’s not your typical EVS project. We accommodate the volunteers in flats located in the district, introduce them to local organizations and people, experts in this subject matter, and train them how to be sensitive and how to adjust to the work here. We support them with mentors and the Foundation’s staff, but frankly speaking, we leave them room to find their own way of taking action. Not everybody is ready for that.

When communicating with a volunteer the learning process is usually a two-way street? What knowledge have volunteers imparted on you? What have you learned so far?

It’s a bit tricky. We are usually around the same age as the volunteers, so it is difficult to teach each other. But we have learnt to be more patient and came to the conclusion that independence is a hard job. I can also point to some cases of more philosophical wisdom – they show us their culture, way of thinking and ideas.

How does a day at work look like in your organization these days? What sort of projects are you working on at the moment?

It’s a crazy box! We are renovating our new office and run four projects. There are more than 20 people doing something on a daily basis – there are the employees, the trainers, people responsible for the building of teams and the volunteers.
We have two projects focused on the Nadodrze district – “?okietka 5 – Infocenter” – which is in preparation – you will see more of it in 2010 and Rozruszniki Podwórek, which is EVS supported.
Our next two projects are run in the communities surrounding Wroclaw, with the aim of integrating them through the foundation. We plan to organize storytelling, photographic and ceramic workshops.
The other one is dedicated to people who were forced workers in Nazi Germany. We will meet with them and collect their memories.

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