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News 2009

Some words about the starting up of SCI in Hungary and Poland

by John Myers (Apr 2, 2009)

After the break-up of the socialist system at the end of the 1980s, our previous partners in Hungary had simply disappeared, and so SCI was left with hardly any opportunities of cooperation.

Office of OWA Poland in Poznan 2002
Office of OWA Poland in Poznan 2002

So under these circumstances we contacted the national secretary of our previous partners, MIOT, and asked him if he still had the motivation and interest to promote international voluntary service in Hungary. I visited Budapest in February 1991 and in his private home I explained to him the field office idea and offered him the job of part-time coordinator. Fortunately, Janos agreed and it was he who did the initial work to establish an office and facilitate the first volunteer exchanges of the new field office with SCI branches in the same year.

Janos, however, having found a new job which consumed too much of his time & energy, had to leave the post after only one year, so we started searching for alternatives. Fortunately, we found them in Gabor Koncz & Zita Palossy, two young medical students from Budapest, who had previously been together in a workcamp in Switzerland. It was they who subsequently picked up from where Janos had left off and kept the field office alive and fully operational. It was also they who came up with the rather strange, but appropriate name of “Utilapu”, when SCI Hungary was officially registered in 1994. An Utilapu is an extremely die-hard & stubborn plant which can apparently survive under any conditions - clearly a reference to the trials & tribulations that SCI Hungary has had to undergo and overcome in the initial years of coming into existence – succeeding to survive and blossom in the years to come!

It is therefore no surprise that the “field office concept”, having proven its worth in Hungary, should be seen as the direct answer to a similar situation being faced in Poland. The decision to start direct SCI activities in Poland came about because of our dissatisfaction with the cooperation with our previous partners, FIYE (the successor to OHP). Although the signing of an agreement with OHP in 1976 (on the initiative of Angelika Dietz from SCI D) had contributed to a dramatic rise in the numbers of volunteers being exchanged with Poland – quite remarkable in itself, considering that at that time Poland was still very much under Soviet influence – it became increasingly clear in subsequent years that cooperation with OHP (and later FIYE) was not achieving what we were striving for in terms of substantive, qualitative results. As a result, our cooperation had begun to seriously stagnate towards the end of the 1980s.

Quite by accident, it was then that we found out that a young German man from Bonn, Michael Kurzwelly, was planning to move to Poznan in Poland and, together with his Polish wife Jolanta, eventually open up an alternative arts centre near the Poznan zoo. It was that which gave us the idea to simultaneously open up an “experimental Field Office” in 1992 and offer Michael & Jolanta a small pocket-money to share the tasks of an SCI coordinator in a new office. Initially, we also provided them with basic equipment and paid essential costs like rent, electricity and telephone bills.

I do not exactly remember when – I think it was around 9 months later – that another extremely significant development occurred, again purely by accident: It came to our attention that a Polish volunteer – a guy called Wojtek Szczepanik – was doing a medium-term voluntary service with an ecological organisation in Northern Germany. We contacted Wojtek and asked if he might be interested in supporting Michael & Jolanta in developing SCI work in Poland upon returning home. Wojtek gladly agreed to do this, and, of course, he later became the first, long-serving National Secretary of the “One World Association” (later to become SCI Poland) when it was eventually founded at the end of 1993, taking over the tasks of the initial field office, which was subsequently closed when OWA gained recognition as an SCI group.

John Myers
Former part-time GATE Coordinator

PS OWA & Utilapu: I think you can continue to argue as to which of you is the “older brother or sister” of the other!

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