2022 changed everything. For many, it was a year full of hardships, forced migration and fear. However, it was also a time of exceptional solidarity, hospitality and kindness after 1989. Let’s not forget it. Let’s let our open hearts and minds accompany us into the next year. This is what we are wishing everyone for the New Year
When in January this year, we met with the entire Salam Lab team in Podlasie, we could fit around one, small table. We discussed plans for the upcoming months and the most critical issues: further support for refugees on the Polish-Belarusian border and attempts to accommodate Afghans fleeing to Poland from the country taken over by the Taliban. We did not expect that as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we would have to redirect our actions to Krakow to be able to welcome all of the people fleeing the war across our eastern border. To face this challenge we needed a new location, a larger team, better training, and preferably a 48 hour work day.
It wasn’t easy, but we did accomplish something extraordinary: on the second day of the war, we launched the “Radziwiłłowska 3” Help Point in Krakow, also called “R3” by volunteers. Since February 25, this is where we have supported all refugees who needed a safe place to rest, those looking for a flat for themselves and their families, or those that are seeking psychological help.
However, we have not forgotten about the needs of the people, who are freezing in the forests of Podlasie. You can read about our current activities on the Polish-Belarusian border down below.
In January, our team consisted of 6 people. In December, that number rose to 50 of us. We reinvented ourselves.
Help: intervention and integration
Until May this year, the “Radziwiłłowska 3” Help Point ran an emergency shelter for refugees coming to Krakow. During this period, we provided shelter to 3,583 people.
The total number of people who applied to the R3 Help Point is 17,902.
Additionally, for a period of time, we provided relocation support. Thanks to this aid, as many as 441 groups of refugees were able to go abroad.
Up to this day, at the Help Point, our Accommodation Department ensures that migrants who come to us can find shelter in Poland. This year, with our help, as many as 12,810 people were placed in short- and long-term housing.
This would not have been possible without our hotline, which has been redirecting people in need to necessary departments where they are informed about the potential support available. Our multilingual team has answered and handled 19,820 calls, including 13,401 in Ukrainian.
We can’t help but mention the project of long-term support for refugees. You can read more about it here (only in Polish).
We do not overlook the tragedy that happens every day on the Polish-Belarusian border. The humanitarian crisis in Podlasie has been going on for over a year now. Winter is here. That is why we are intensifying our efforts to support refugees. Thanks to a new grant, we can provide SIM cards and phone top-ups for refugees so they can connect with their families or lawyers (each month, we top-up phones of 150-200 people). In addition to that, we provide material support and personal assistance to intervention points at the border. Let’s remember what is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border.
The “Cash” Project
Along with several other Polish NGO’s, we run the “Cash” project providing financial support for the most deprived Ukrainian refugees. The main coordinator of the project is Mercy Corps. This organisation finances the programme, distributes the money, and decides who is eligible to receive it. Our “Cash” department looks for refugees from Ukraine who need our support the most. We call them, invite them to register for the programme, and interview them using an online questionnaire.
As we gather all the necessary information, we send their details to Mercy Corps. Within a week, we registered 245 families, i.e. 738 people. Out of this number, 196 families have already received support.
We issued these families bank cards; and now we answer their daily ongoing questions about their use. “We will almost certainly conduct a second registration in January,” says Nikita Kuznetsov, the program coordinator.
SPA – a unique integration space
Social Activity Space (SPA) is a project which makes us incredibly proud. We decided to create a place of integration for new and current residents of Krakow right at the same address as our Help Point. Everyone is invited to join the classes, workshops and meetings that take place every day at Radziwiłłowska 3. Yoga, artistic workshops, or maybe a Polish language class? As many as 2,463 people enjoyed our offer this year!
Meetings with our Ukrainian-speaking psychologist Julia Prihotska are extremely popular. Each weekend, Julia’s group psychology meetings gather multiple women who want to understand their emotions and experiences better. Julia puts her time into helping others recover from trauma and provides all participants with a safe space for expression.
Since the beginning of the SPA’s existence, we have organised a total of 433 meetings for you, attended by Polish and Ukrainian-speaking people. Aside from this, out of the recurring events, you mainly chose pilates, watercolour workshops and “mobility” training. All of this is for a better future of all of us in the city of Krakow.
You can choose something for yourself from our offer of free workshops; all you have to do is register on our website.
The R3/SPA point is open seven days a week: Monday to Friday 8:00-20:00, weekends 8:00-15:00. You can also call our hotline: +48 12 323 66 30 (in Polish) and +48 12 323 66 20 (in Ukrainian). We are here for you.
Global Education – lifelong learning
The Education Department has been operating at Salam Lab for almost two years. During this time, we conducted anti-discrimination workshops, workshops on migration and refugees, Peace Lessons in schools (consisting of workshops on migration combined with a meeting with a refugee), “Empathy and multiculturalism” training for teachers and educators, workshops on responsible aid providing, interculturalism and integration workshops, and meetings for Peace in SPA, consisting of open workshops on global education.
For this purpose, we visited primary schools and worked with pupils. We conducted workshops for students at universities; we worked with out-of-school groups: we conducted workshops, e.g. for employees of cultural institutions in Poznań, for members of the Catholic Intelligentsia Club in Cieszyn, for people who are a part of pastoral ministries and missionary assemblies, for volunteers of other organisations, for seniors from the Senior Activity Center in Krakow, for Ukrainian youth, and students of the Children’s University in Krakow.
Workshops, festivals, conferences
We have been guests at festivals and conferences. Our workshops were part of such events as: the Act.ival 2022 youth festival in Lubeck (Germany), the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, the Tea Festival in Cieszyn, the Slot Art Festival, the Educational Congress ” AGENCY – COMMUNITY – ACTION” in Katowice, or the Social Zone marking the Day of Freedom and Civil Rights in Gdańsk.
This year, we managed to conduct as many as 91 workshops, including seven anti-discrimination workshops for Ukrainian youth, as part of the cooperation between the Aspire Education Hub initiative, the Ignatianum Foundation and the Research and Development Center for Social Innovation, and 13 workshops entitled “Do only Poles live in Poland?” carried out at the Children’s University in Krakow. As many as 1610 people participated in our classes this year.
Monika Zielińska, the educator and the education department coordinator, says: “Looking at these numbers, I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved, but also extremely grateful to the volunteers for the contribution and energy they put into the development of the education department. We are supported by a team of 21 volunteers, including 8 educators. People who experienced migration and or living in exile are also a part of our team. Without their support, the organisation of this many events would not have been possible”.
Salam Lab Media
We communicate with you daily through our social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The media department ensures that the content we create for you fights stereotypes, tells stories omitted by the Polish press and gives voice to the socially excluded. In line with our mission, we publish migration and refugee stories and educate about Islam.
We want to boast that since February 24th, the number of our followers on Instagram has increased by 10,000. Our Peaceful Newsletter, a weekly press review in Polish, is already subscribed to by over 550 people. You can be one of them; sign up for the newsletter in Polish here.
This year alone, we conducted 19 live streams on our Facebook page. Our guests were, among others: Polish Muslim and Tatar woman Dagmara Sulkiewicz; Wojciech Jagielski, one of the most important Polish reporters; and Marina Lobanova, a Russian woman who helps Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Throughout the year, on our channels (Facebook, Instagram and website) you could read stories of Muslims living in Poland. These conversations were created as part of the Empathy project, which aims to combat Islamophobia. You can read one of the talks here.
As we take care of others, we must not forget to take care of ourselves
This year has been challenging for all of us, especially for our employees from Ukraine. Therefore, we have tried not to ignore our own needs and participated in various therapeutic activities aimed at relaxing the body. For a year, we have been cooperating with Joanna Wróblewska, who runs art therapy sessions for us. Joanna is an experienced artist and therapist of expressive arts who works with people who have experienced trauma, refugees, and activists from around the world. Apart from that, we took part in yoga nidra classes that allowed us to soothe the mind and body.
We wish all peace and strength to fight inequalities in 2023. This year wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for our donors, patrons and matrons as well as followers. You give us the motivation to keep on going.
Photos: Andrzej Rafael.
Translated by Aleksandra Leks. Prepared by Katarzyna Makarowicz.