Describe yourself in a few words.
Crazy Polish guy (laughs).
How did you get involved in the work at CME - GPU Uno?
In 2000, when I was still in high school, I started working at the Center of Mission and Evangelism (CME) as a volunteer, together with my girlfriend –now wife – Monika. After high school, we both studied in Warsaw, but we lived in Łowicz, a small city in the center of Poland. During our studies, we were also working for a small Lutheran parish there. We noticed that there were some street-connected children in the city, whom nobody was working with. They were bored, there was nothing for them to do, so we decided to start organising a project for them onSaturdays. After a while, we discovered we didn’t have the necessary skills or tools to work with them, though. At that time, there was one street work organisation in Warsaw, GPAS. In cooperation with the United Way Foundation they offered a special training programme to learn how to be a street worker. Every weekend for almost a year, a small group of around 14 people would gather to learn about social and street work, a very intensive training. My wife participated in the first training they organised and I participated in the second one.
All participants could prepare a street work project and apply for a grant. Monika and I started two programmes in Łowicz. One programme was focused on games. We prepared board games, linked with some monuments in the area. While playing the games, we were discussing the rules as well. The rules of the game, of society, the rules in the group,… We also organised trips for the children. The second programme was called “PureSalary”, a programme focused on work. The target group were children working on the streets, selling flowers or cleaning cars. In the programme, we worked on their customer service skills.
Afterwards, we had the opportunity to apply for another big programme, for three years of fulltime street work. It was not possible for us to work in Łowicz anymore andat that time, a priest called Jan invited us to move to Bytom. According to him it was a city with many difficulties, and of course with opportunities too. In the Lutheran church it had become popular to use the street work methodology to reach out to people; to not just work inside of the church, but outside of it as well. So, we moved to Bytom and we started up the programme there.
At first, I was the only street worker. Our oldest daughter Lila was just born and my wife was taking care of her. In 2011, Kasia and Natalia joined the team. They also followed GPAS’ street work course.
Where did you get to know the mobile school?
It’s a really crazy story (laughs)! No, actually GPAS started working with the mobile school in 2006 and I saw the tool during the street work training. My wife and I liked the idea and we thought Bytom could be a good place for the mobile school as well. We applied in 2012. We were a bit afraid we wouldn’t be considered a good partner, since we are just a small church organisation, but we got the green light from Mobile School in 2013.
In GPAS you learned how to be a good street worker. What is a good street worker according to you?
That’s a good question. Someone who has some skills and tools to work on the streets. A good education is always nice, but it’s even more important to be open with the children, to be honest with them. A good street worker is flexible. You need to be authentic as well, you cannot put on a mask. You have to have passion to work with the children. You need to be a guide. Not serve them the solutions on a platter, but point out the consequences to certain actions. Drugs can be fun, but there’s also some negative consequences, for example, and if you have sex without a condom, you can get STDs or you can get pregnant. In the end, they make the choices, though, they choose what they want to do. When they say “I want to do this”, you need to accept it and be with them in that situation, even though it might not be the decision you would make.
As a street worker, you also need to see street-connected children in a different way, focus on their strengths and talents. For some people, this is really difficult. All they see are bad children with bad behavior and it takes a long time to change the picture they have of them. What else… A good street worker is also old, like me (laughs).
Personally, I think being a bit of a rebel myself in my teens has also helped me to relate to the children and youngsters I work with now. I was not an easy teenager, for many reasons. One of those reasons was that we moved to a small city. Because of that I lost contact with my best friends. The 90s were also a crazy time inPoland, after the fall of communism. Everything was new, there was a lot of freedom. I was hanging around outside the entire time, trying out crazy things.I was basically a little street boy myself. I think it has helped me to understand that some things can happen without necessarily being negative. I have more tolerance now, I am more open. I can understand that children go through a time in their lives when they want to experiment. Find out what is theirs and what isn’t and find their way. I did the same thing, so I don’t think we already need to ring the alarm bell when children light up their first cigarette or drink their first beer.
You have been doing street work for quite a long time and it’s a demanding job, so what keeps you going?
I don’t expect big changes, but small ones and it’s nice to see that the work we do brings about small changes. What motivates me as well is connecting with the children and with the districts we work in, feeling a part of their system and being accepted by them.
You worked on the streets without the mobile school and with the mobile school. What is the difference?
At CME • GPU Uno, we have two street work methodologies: the work with the groups and the work with the mobile school. The work with the groups consists of meeting up with the same small group of children a couple of times per week and do many activities together. The value of that street work methodology is that you only work with one group, with two street educators, so you can work on a very individual level. With mobile school, however, you can reach more children in different places, since you can move the tool to different places. By working with it, you can connect with more children. They can come and play and there is a team available for them to do fun activities.
How would you describe the mobile school in a few words?
Full colour street work technology! It’s a good tool that you can use in many ways and only you are the limit. If you’re not very creative, the mobile school is only a green box with some panels on it. But when you see that the limit is only your imagination, the box offers endless possibilities.
Do you have a best experience with the mobile school?
Only two, the first one and the last one. And many in between (laughs).
What’s nice for me is that even after six years of working in the same districts, the children are still screaming “yeaaaah, mobile school is coming!” when we arrive. It’s always fun to meet new children too. They approach the mobile school with big eyes and want to try all the games! And working with adults. Some adults cannot read or write because of many different reasons, but at the mobile school they want to try. Those are experiences you never forget.
Do you have a favourite game?
Only one game? Not really. My favourite panels are the the discussion panels, because you can play really accessible games with them, but they also allow you to talk in depth about some things, have discussions with the children.
So in the meantime you have become a Mobile School Master Trainer. When did you give your first training?
Yes, this was crazy for me, because I never believed I could be a part of your team of trainers, sinceI’m working for a different organisation. When Rob Sweldens, the Mobile School Manager, invited me to Belgium for a Train the Trainer in 2015, I was really excited. It was an interesting opportunity for me, so I joined in. One year later, I co-facilitated follow-up trainings in Bytom, Warsaw and Krakow. In 2017, I gave a short follow-up training to the team in Krakow and in 2018 I co-facilitated the exploration in Racibórz and the implementation in Gliwice.This year, I already co-facilitated the implementation in Vilnius, Lithuania –my first non-Polish training – and the follow-up training in Gliwice.
Do you have a favourite workshop?
I think all the workshops are important, but I like the workshops with the mobile school tool the most. My favourite workshop is the workshop on creative therapy. And then the Principles of Street Work, because for me it’s nice to talk about the different principles, theirs and ours.
Do the trainings influence your work on the streets or the other way around?
No way (laughs). Of course! After every training I refresh my own knowledge again and I try to be more focused on certain things. Things you forget sometimes or you don’t think about. It’s always nice to see something from a different perspective again.This way, you can keep improving the work you do as well.
What was the most memorable moment in your Mobile School career up until now?
As a street worker, the start of our very own mobile school project and the European Mobile School Exchange in Krakau in 2013. Both were very long and intensive trainings, but very beautiful as well.
As a Mobile School trainer, the start-up of the mobile school project in Gliwice. I gave the workshops together with Koen. It was a very intensive training, but it’s an experience I will always remember, because there were a lot of firsts. It was the first time that I co-facilitated the implementation training and it was also the first time Koen was leading it. I will never forget the video we made there. We had so much fun preparing it. We were trying to find the best position and we made some mistakes. I was mixing up the numbers 15 and 50. It was just hilarious. Afterwards, GTW made a cake for us, with the number 15 …15? No, 50 (laughs)!
The implementation in Lithuania was also a memorable moment, because it was a different experience. I had never given a training in a country where I didn’t understand the language before. Playing with the kids was different as well. I only knew two Lithuanian words: “ačiū” (thank you) and “labas” (hello) and that was enough! I just tried to communicate with the children in a different way, so that’s another new experience I took with me.
What gives you energy in life?
I am like a yoga master, I take my energy from the air (laughs). I love street work, working with the mobile school, working with people. You give a lot of energy and you get a lot of energy in return. Another thing that gives me energy is being at home with my family. It’s nice to have that safe place that you can always go back to. It makes you feel more safe when you are in a place that’s maybe not that safe. I like watching movies and series too. I relax when I’m watching something different, something that’s not connected to my work. I like nature, going outside, camping. For me it’s fun, because when you camp, you live a simple life. Every day is a different day. You prepare your food and do simple things.That really gives me energy. And I like to be with people, talk with them, meetup with them whenever it’s possible. What else... Oh, cars! I like cars. Right now I have a Golf II from 1987 I want to renovate, so I can maybe hit the roads with it in one year. Doing technical things gives me energy too.
What are your dreams and goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?
I would like to still be a street worker when I’m older. It’s a dream, but of course I don’t know what will happen. Another dream is that GPU Uno, and my team specifically, can work well or better without me. That the work can continue in the same way if I’m not there. I really want to travel to Canada, as well, to visit my sister, who lives there. And of course I want my kids to grow up happy and to find out how they want to live their lives. Last but not least, it would be wonderful to have a caravan or a camper and just travel around Europe for a year. Visit many different places. Not the popular, touristy places, but normal places, to find out how people really live there.