You can do it
How did everything start?
Barbara Michalska: At the end of the primary school, my teacher told me: “Basia, you have to go to technical secondary school, don’t try anything more”. She knew I wanted to go to medical high school, but because of my low marks, she didn’t recommend it. Some time later I went to medical high school with my dad, I remember standing in front of the entrance and till the last moment I hesitated about applying. I turned around, looked at my dad and asked:
- Are you sure?
- You will never find the answer, unless you try it. If you feel it - go. Just go.
And I went. It turned out in that high school there was no nursing class, which I hoped for, and I ended up in a class with pedagogical specialization. In the end, however, I also finished emergency medical service in a postgraduate school.
Have you ever worked in the emergency?
I always thought that nothing happens without a reason ... I wanted to apply for a position in an emergency medical unit. The man who received my papers said:
- Ok, but we will not accept you.
- Because you're a woman.
- You can get pregnant, take a leave, you cannot carry heavy stuff…
It was the first time I experienced discrimination. I left the place totally depressed. I applied to university and graduated at pedagogy. During my studies I worked a bit for a nursery, a bit in kindergarten. Working at the kindergarten I understood how easy it is to burn out in this system, which is closed, doesn’t care about people, states that the child is the most important and has a superior value, but what counts in practice are papers, and on paper you can write anything. I remember the pain inside and the discussions we had with my colleague next door. The group with which I worked was financed by an European grant, we had our own space with a white door. I always say that the change began with this door. It was usually closed, separating two different kindergarten groups, but one day my colleague opened them and said: Barbara, I cannot stand it anymore, let's do something.
What did you do?
I have always dreamed of a Foundation that is driven by values which are important to me. Freedom is one of them. I cannot imagine how people can be forced to do something. We run workshops, mainly about safety on the Internet, we tell kids that they have their rights. I see surprise in their eyes. Often at the beginning they want to attack you, but if you calmly ask about their passion, values, interests they start to wonder if you are real. I also believe that you cannot finish the workshop only talking, kids are burned out of listening. Recently, we had a workshop in one of the schools, we entered the classroom and there were six students. It was their last lesson. We started by asking how they feel. They looked at us.
- Are you tired?
- Why did you stay?
- Because other people said that the workshop is ok.
We began to talk, asking them what they lack in education. They said: being treated earnestly. Not when someone comes and tells them what they can’t do. They know that perfectly, what they don’t know is what they actually should do, which way to choose, where to go.
How is your life outside the Foundation?
Every day I talk to women, to men, I tell them that they are cool. Even yesterday we went with my daughter to the skate park, she took her scooter. We saw two girls on roller-skates. One of them was relaxed, she was doing whatever she wanted while the other one was shy and sad. She thought she couldn't handle it. In one moment she turned towards me, and I told her:
- Try, with small steps.
- Thank you.
- Do not thank me, just try. Did you manage? Try again, a bit more.
I approached her at the end once again to say to not give up. If you give up, you won’t see how far you can go. Come tomorrow and try again. That’s what I do on a daily basis, I talk to people. Someone passes me saying to a woman: you are beautiful. And I add: tell her that she is smart too. Few days ago we were in a pizzeria with my Sister, served by an extremely warm, nice waitress. I asked to speak with the manager. I told him to appreciate this person because she is extraordinary and although I guess her earnings are inadequate to her engagement, he should at least appreciate her work every day. The girl had tears in her eyes. These are the things I love to do.
Where does it come from?
Probably from my personal experience. I always joke that until I get the Alzheimer I will remember my teacher, who told a 15-year-old girl that she shouldn’t try. I also like to observe people. Some people are said to be shy, but I think that maybe it is not shyness, but the ability to observe the world and choose people who are safe for them to talk to or to stay with.
Do you always have energy to be with people?
Not always, sometimes I would like to kick this world. For example, when at the Foundation we struggle with financial issues. I often tell Mariusz, my partner, it’s a pity that someone invented money. It hurts me to translate everything to money, some things are simply priceless.
Sometimes it's also difficult to balance how much to give and how much to leave for yourself. How much to give to others to not burn out, how much to keep, to be able to continue working. I came to a point where I felt that helping started to be difficult for me. I thought that maybe I gave too many resources away. Or maybe I get stuck in one place, I cannot move and I don’t see. Maybe I have to open up for people, new ideas, don’t get attached to the fact that if something works, we should keep doing it.
What helps to change the world, also in those weaker moments?
People. And believing that you can. Being the weird one, who doesn’t stick to the topic. Experiencing such valuable lessons in life as jumping on a puddle, running on dew in the morning, rolling on a hill. Going beyond the given frames. Being able to feel that moment of freedom. Sometimes one sunset or sunrise is needed. Sometimes a conversation. A good apple, warmed by the sun, sometimes this is what we need to change the world.
Are you happy?
I am and I am not. I am because I feel that my life is fun, a lot of things are happening. And there is also time to stop for a moment. I have a feeling that a lot depends on me. But I'm not happy because I see people around who need help. Even today, when I went out, I saw a man who is homeless. He has the inclination to fold his hands and I could see that people don’t understand him. We have a habit of categorizing, putting labels. Nobody just passes thinking: ok, that’s how he is. Maybe he needs some help, not necessarily money, maybe information where to find a warm meal. And in this context, I am unhappy that the world is so strangely organized, unnecessarily. Recently I heard an interesting statement, that everything starts with chaos: ideas, concepts. Maybe it is so that this world is too organized. Maybe we miss to go deeper, to the primary feeling of who we are, to understand that this world is in unity. I would be happy if we all walked barefoot, if we don’t wear stiff uniforms. I thought to do dreadlocks, but something in my head stops me, because probably if I try to apply for money for the Foundation, start to speak with serious people, they will immediately label NGOs as hippies, dreadlocks, freedom and peace.
What's next ... life is on. I am at the stage of re-evaluating certain thoughts. It always seemed to me that I need a long-term plan. Now, I'm trying to limit it, focus on the next 2-3 years. It is also important to live in harmony with each other every day. Wake up, look at my husband, daughter, feel that this is great, that's what I wanted. I think it is important with whom we spend our lives. I have the feeling that we managed to create a nice family, where there is room for anger, sadness, happiness. There is a space for jumping on those puddles. And going to the balcony at 10pm if my daughter wishes so. Of course thoughts like 'take the slippers', 'put on the blouse' come up, but at the end she goes. This moment is important, being together, enjoying yourself. And telling people that they can. If I could, I would tell people 24/7: you can do it! But I know that some people have headphones in their ears for various reasons and they won’t hear. But you can.
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