From the 21 to the 25th of May, three volounteers from the Community of Hope Foundation in Poland did a “job-shadowing” training at Autism-Europe’s offices in the framework of the European Erasmus+ Mobility programme agreement for adult education staff. Project coordinator Dorota Wąsik shares in this article her impressions of her stay in Brussels:
In May this year, we were fortunate to have visited Autism-Europe in Brussels for “job-shadowing” training within the Erasmus+ staff mobility project. We are three volunteers working for the Community of Hope Foundation, an NGO running the Life Farm (first residential home for autistic adults in Poland, combined with a day activity centre and an organic farm) in Wieckowice, just outside Krakow. Our job is to assist the Foundation in advocacy efforts, in influencing policy making, as well as fundraising and project management. The Autism-Europe Dream Team at rue Montoyer kindly agreed to devote their time, and share their experience in these matters.
May was important time for the rights of all persons with disabilities in Poland. For 40 days, several self-advocates and their families were holding a live-in protest in the Polish Parliament, demanding basic improvement in their benefits; but above all, demanding equitable treatment and dignity. The protest was only a partial success in terms of the financial postulates, but we hope that it has done a lot for raising awareness about the problems and the rights of persons with disabilities. It was echoed in Brussels, and received support from organisations such as European Disability Forum. Our hosts brought us along to the meeting at EDF; they also helped us join the press conference in the European Parliament by a Polish MEP, Marek Plura, addressing precisely these issues.
During our job-shadowing week, Aurélie, Cristina, Haydn, and Magali briefed us on the projects and activities that Autism-Europe is involved in, to be frank, leaving us a bit out of breath. It is amazing how much this small but dedicated team are doing! We saw them in action, for example, when working on a joint statement on the draft Oviedo Protocol at the EDF, or when brainstorming for the 2019 World Autism Awareness Day campaign ideas. We saw how they organise their multi-thread activities, juggle different projects, and how they disseminate the results. They work with focus and determination. And all the while, they share their knowledge and resources freely and generously.
In those few days, we got a glimpse into the very complex and often lengthy process of influencing European legislation. We did not need convincing how important it is to speak up for the rights of persons with autism – which is based on a deep understanding of their varied needs, on involving self-advocates as much as possible, and on evidence-based approaches. We realised it is not always easy to balance different needs, and to find a strong, common voice. We saw how many different skills are necessary in all those endeavours, among them, diplomacy and negotiation. We do hope to use what we have learned in our daily work for the Foundation.
Dorota Wąsik has educational background is in English Language and Literature, and she works “for the living” as a translator and a writer. At the same time, for the past 15 years, she has been working as a volunteer for the Community of Hope Foundation. She coordinates and implements various international projects for autistic adults, their families and therapists. She is also member of the advisory body of the Foundation.
Stanisław Myjak has an educational background and a management specialisation in social services. His professional life is linked to a widely understood social policy. He has worked as an intern at the Fondation l’Arche Jean Vanier. Currently, he is responsible for social policy in the Municipality of Zabierzów. Since 2013, he is a member of the Board of the Community of Hope Foundation.
Anna Konopacka has PhD degree in law and currently works as an advocate. For the past 7 years, she has been involved with Community of Hope Foundation, acting as its legal representative. She has been helping the Foundation in the implementation of projects financed with the aid of EU funds, aiming at finding jobs in the open labour market for autistic adults.