Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I heart the British Council

I have a new favourite working spot in Warsaw: The British Council English Language Resource Centre, or (as I like to call it) the BC library.

After being made all too aware of the lack of resources available to Polish civil society, the BC library is a haven of free internet access on modern pcs and well stocked shelves holding books, teaching materials and dvds.

For an English girl whose only access to television is via a choice of 8 Polish channels, on which even the English-language films have a monotonous, unemotional Pole's voice masking the ends of sentences, their collection is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.

As I'm a poor volunteer English teacher, I have free membership for six months and I plan to make full use of that membership. As a teacher, I can borrow 4 times the number of items for double the length of time of standard or associate members. That's a very welcome early Christmas present.

As if this wasn't enough, there's a cafe right next to the library, with a big tv in the corner showing 'bbc world'. There are English language magazines and newspapers, sofas and hot chocolate. Actually, I think I may spend more time in the cafe than the library, but still.

Since moving to Warsaw I've tried to immerse myself in Polish culture, really I have. For eight months I've been hearing and learning Polish, eating Polish food, speaking to Polish people; I think I deserve a bit of English indulgence!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Britain's civil partnerships

One thing that I really don't understand is how anyone can justify to themselves threatening to kill somebody else over their sexuality.

I can understand that different types of religious people (and I mean from various different religions) who interpret religious texts in certain ways might come to the conclusion that homosexuality is unnatural and unjustifiable, although I absolutely disagree. I can even conceive that certain people feel threatened by behaviour they don't understand, and react to expressions of homosexual love with disgust, although I find this terribly sad and narrow minded.

I just cannot get how anyone can feel so self-important and convinced by their idea of how a life should be lived, based purely on sexuality, that they can come to the conclusion that another person's life is that meaningless.

Poland is notoriously homophobic, and with Kaczynski in the lead, I'm afraid this threatens to be a prevailing attitude for some time to come. I had assumed that Britain was among the countries that had dealt, in some fundamental way, with issues such as homophobia. Gay pride marches are not banned in the UK, very few serious politicians come out with openly homophobic statements because they know they cannot get away with it and this week, finally, gay marriages are being recognised.

Plenty of people however still don't accept that gay people have the same rights as everyone else. It seems like such a waste of energy to me. If you can't be happy for them, at least leave them alone and get on with worrying about something more important.

I knew all these hate was bad for you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Chechens in Poland

One of my current activities is giving English lessons to a couple of groups of Russian-speaking asylum seekers and refugees . We knew that various organisations offer Polish lessons, including some of the refugee centres themselves, but having spoken to some of the centres' residents it was suggested that they would benefit from knowing the international language of English.

When I tell people we're teaching English, they assume it's because the asylum seekers are planning to go to England once (and if) refugee status is granted. Of course this is sometimes the case, as Poland is viewed in a very dim light by many asylum seekers, who are held in very limited conditions, but it is certainly not the reason we are teaching them.

Poland is not west enough for many, but I hope the English lessons provide much more than an incentive to leave Poland for the far-off shores of the UK.

The students are leaving the centres for a start, to come to the Polish school in which the lessons are held. This provides an escape from their (let's face it) depressing accommodation and frustration of their situation.

They feel they are learning a skill which could help them in the future. (As Manana Anjaparidze of Médecins Sans Frontières is quoted as saying in the article linked to above, the reason for so much frustration is not so much the conditions, but a lack of future perspectives.) English is a valuable language to have a basic understanding of, as Poland in general, and Warsaw in particular, becomes more international and cosmopolitan.

The asylum seekers are learning how to learn again. I work with another volunteer, a Chechen who continually reminds me that our Chechen students have forgotten how to learn. They have all suffered from the continuous war which obviously disrupted schools and higher education facilities. Hopefully, we will be able to engage them in such a way to encourage this spirit to learn, which will continue to be valuable in the future.

They are coming into contact with other nationalities: the Poles who work or study in the school, the foreigners like me who lead the class, or come to contribute to one particular class; and the different students. Although the current groups are predominantly Chechen, there are also Imgushetians and other former Soviet nationals.

We are going to have to start giving more lessons, as the groups are getting too big and people are advancing at different speeds. I would also like to start a discussion group involving all kinds of English speakers who are living in Poland. If you live in or around Warsaw and would like to join in and meet some people from different backgrounds at the same time as practising your English (or sharing your knowledge of the English language if you are a native speaker), get in touch!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Go there

I am really swamped at the moment, but if you like a proper heated discussion on the im/morality of homosexuality then the beatroot's Monday post's comments section is the place to be.