Hello everybody!

Last weeks, I have been so involved into steering committee & esplai activities that I simply didn’t find the time to write you earlier about my face-to-face visits to Poland, Belgium and The Netherlands. So be prepared now for a series of blogposts on these experiences...

First, let me rewind back to the latest city I traveled to: Warsaw. After the canoe weekend with Paweł’s volunteers in the wilderness of nord-east Poland, the city of Warsaw became the right setting to go “back to work” and conduct the planned interviews with our Polish community members.

On thursday, 12th of june my whole day was dedicated to the Foundation Supporting Physically Disabled Mathematicians and IT Specialists (FSPDMIS), the impressing name of the impressing organization of our Riga participants Małgorzata Piątkowska and Weronika Pielas. In Riga, Małgorzata, Weronika & me had shared the same table at the ‘Flintstones’ restaurant, so when we met again at their office in Warsaw we were already-friends-in-real-life-that-had-not-only-met-online:). Then, we inmediately “got to the point” and started the interview.

As it name suggests, the FSPDMIS was founded in 1990 as an initiative of the Polish Academy of Science to improve the technical IT knowledge of scientists with disabilities. As the initiative matured, the foundation decided to broaden the scope of their program to reach the general disabled population.Today, the Foundation is the reference organisation for the professional and social integration of the physically disabled in Poland.

One of the main focuses of the organization is supporting the disabled to acquire e-skills for employability. Their e-skills training programme offers different levels of training (basic, intermediate and advanced), using different learning methods (traditional, blended and e-learning) and offering different certifications (European Computer Driver License, Microsoft Unlimited Potential Community Learning and a two-year Graphic Design Program).

Currently, the Foundation has 2 operational telecentres for the disabled in Warsaw and recently implemented 340 e-Centres in rural areas of the country. Here, internet access is free and open for everybody that lives nearby the centre, but the concern to especially reach the disabled population remains high. The rural telecentre staff is trained “not to be afraid of disabled people” and to recognize groups that need IT more than others.

EduK On-line is the name of the organization’s e-learning platform that is now implemented in 50 of the telecentres. The platform offers 10 courses, including some non-IT courses, like a course to succeed the high school final exam and some professional courses in agricultural management or to become an administrative or bank assistant. Thanks to a recently received grant of the Polish Ministry of Education, also a language course will be added to the platform.

Małgorzata explained me how the lifes and careers of many disabled people in Poland really can change after participating in some of the courses they offer, as people with a handicap often acquire a ‘passivity syndrom’ and sometimes even live in a ‘social ghetto’. “After acquiring the skills and qualifications that are in high demand on the labour market, people’s self-esteem is boosted like magic, which turns them into the most highly motivated among Polish jobseekers.” Małgorzata said.

Małgorzata also told me about her personal career path. First, she was a primary school teacher, but she became ill and lost her job. Despite of her handicap (Małgorzata cannot hear well with her left ear), she decided to take up one of FSPDMIS’s distance learning courses and soon became an FSPDMIS trainer herself! Today, Małgorzata is the president of the foundation and has a chair in a commission of the Warsaw government that consults on the repartition of public money!

I also asked Weronika about her career path. Weronika is a sociologist and wrote a thesis about family violence in the US and Poland. She first worked as a volunteer in a shelter organization for women, where she took care of the children. Afterwards, she found a job as an accountant in a foundation specialized in finance education for young people. Today, she is happy to work as FSPDMIS’ Assistant Project Manager, where she is in charge of writing grant applications and coordinating the rural telecentre network.

Although e-skills for employability is one of the main concerns, the telecentre progam is only one of the activities the foundation deploys to foster the professional and social development of people with physical disabilities. At the foundation’s “Center for Education and Professional Development of the Disabled” a team of social workers, psychologists and lawyers receive, counsel and assist the disabled population in their fight against social exclusion and their search for a job in a frequently changing labour market.

I kissed Małgorzata and Weronika goodbye and took a taxi towards this other centre of the foundation - located in the Itiz district of Warsaw - where our new Polish community members Magdalena Kisiel and Łucja Kornaszewska were waiting for me to get filmed & interviewed (the video will follow soon...).

I already had met Magda over the weekend, as she also joined the canoe trip - where we had shared the same tent:). Łucja I hadn’t met before, but after a first look at telecentreeurope.ning.com she inmediately realized we were “one big family”, as she recognized the faces of so many people she had just met a week before at a conference in Prague! So she didn’t doubt a second and signed in as a member of our community!

Magda & Łucja explained that next to IT training, the services offered by the centre could be grouped into three types:
  • Counseling services
    Disabled people that are looking for a place in the labourmarket can receive free counseling on which vocational or career area to pursue. This guidance can happen through face-to-face contact, by email or by phone.
  • Employment services
    This labour agency offers services for both job seekers (employment monitoring) and employers. The main leitmotiv is to convince employers that by contacting the service, they will find good employees in the first place, regardless the person’s health situation.
  • Trainings (other than IT)
    Trainings range from typical vocational training (how to write a CV, how to detect and present your qualities,..) and language courses, to workshops on starting and managing a small business, and applying for European Structural Funds for small and medium entreprises.

Łucja realized the name of the foundation is sometimes a bit confusing to people that want to access the services for the first time. “I am not a mathematician, neither an IT specialist” they often say. “Changing our name though is very difficult. After more than 15 years of existance, the founders of our organization are very attached to this name...” Łucja explained.

Once the camera stopped rolling, Magda & Łucja start to express the ‘momentum of enthusiam’ they both were going through at the moment. Magda said: “When I came back to work on monday after the canoe weekend, I was so relaxed, so happy. I was such a nice colleague to my colleagues and I am really inspired now to write a grant application for ESF funding and to develop a new and exciting project!” Łucja said: “Something similar happened to me since I came back from the conference in Prague. Talking with so many international colleagues made me realize that what we do here is really something special!”

It was nice to say goodbye in a such a positive atmosphere, although I really regretted my stay in Poland was coming to an end. Next day, my plane was leaving, back to Barcelona... But let me rewind back a little more and tell you about the rest of the days I spent in Warsaw, talking & brainstorming with Paweł Makowiecki... read more in my next blogpost!

Hear you soon,

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