Interview with Tomasz Polkowski

Off on a good foot

Dom Development S.A. decided to participate in an orphan self-reliance support scheme organized by the Towarzystwo Nasz Dom association. This June, the first group of wards will move into an apartment sold to the association by Dom Development. We talk to the association's president, Mr. Tomasz Polkowski, about the scheme and current relationship with Dom Development

What are the objectives of Towarzystwo Nasz Dom?

Towarzystwo Nasz Dom is an important Polish non-governmental organization that helps children growing up in orphanages. We provide support for children who do not live with their parents anymore for various reasons. Some of them live with foster families and this is the solution we focus on. Others, however, are still residing in orphanages, and for these, the small ‘homes for children’ we run can serve as an example of reformed modernised, more intimate institutional care. In these cases, children live in typical houses, in groups of up to 14, leading a regular life that involves shopping, cooking, cleaning and similar duties. They are of course, monitored by tutors, but there are no administrative or social workers involved. Our main objective is, however, preventing the separation of children and parents. We apply our own methodology for working with families with a view to their reintegration. If, however, this is not possible for various reasons, we look for a foster family to take over the children. For those teenagers that have no chance of finding one, we try to train them to become as self-reliant as possible. We know that in regular orphanages the quality of such training can vary.

What is the difference here?

Large orphanages deal poorly with training their wards, because children live in sizable groups, have their food handed to them on a plate, they do not have to shop and are rarely required to do their own laundry. They become institutionalized as theythey have no real role models to show them care or teach them about proper relationships. It often happens that wards are later unable to maintain relationship or care for children themselves. We try to counter that. For us, the most important objective is their emotional development, followed by self-reliance training. Eventually they will have to strike out on their own, without the help of significant others. 
In normal families, self-reliant children can always count on a hot meal or a little intimacy. It is therefore important to us that our wards, who have had no such experiences, are able to build stable relationships and conquer even the most difficult challenges. This is why the transitional stage, from leaving the orphanage or home for children to full self-reliance, is so essential.

And that was the idea behind the ‘Our Future’ project?

Yes. A few years ago we came up with an idea of apartments for wards who are leaving orphanages. After all, some of them have considerable ambitions and want to continue their education or find a job, but are not always able to realize their wishes because they lack their own home. We decided that this was the most important thing – to not let these ambitions be quashed at the onset. The ‘Our future project is supposed to protect them against becoming homeless and demoralized, or returning to the destructive environment they had been plucked from. Unfortunately, orphanage wards often have no place to stay.

How did the cooperation with Dom Development come about?

Everyone knows that apartments are very expensive, so it took some time before the idea could be put into motion. One day Dom Development came to us with a proposition.They are a very effective and resourceful company that wanted to donate some apartments. We took the bull by the horns and succeeded. We submitted to them various ideas, proposals and solutions and together we came up with the scheme we are implementing how. I realize that selling an apartment to us was not an easy decision. Therefore, we will attempt to prove (together with our wards who are to reside there) that we are indeed a valuable partner for further investments or cooperation.

How are you going to select those who will move into the apartment sold by Dom Development?

We propose to hold a competition to select the residents. The competition will also be a trial for their caretakers, a true test of the self-reliance training they give their pupils. Those interested are required to show us a plan. They should know what they want to achieve, what means they expect to use and why they need to live in Warsaw. Those who have no plans for their life will not be accepted. Residents must also agree to some simple dos and don'ts – but this doesn’t mean they have to live like monks. Everyone wants to have fun, but some ground rules must be obeyed. Of course, it is essential that applicants should study or work (ideally both). Residents will be expected to contribute to apartment maintenance costs. It is not our intention to spend our money on them – rather, we want them to realize how much rent they have to pay, how high the service charges are etc. All applications will be reviewed by 19 May, and a meeting with the applicants will follow. Then, based on these interviews, we will make our decision. We want to select no more than four people of the same sex, and based on the applications submitted so far these will probably be girls.

Will the wards stay on the premises for as long as they wish?

No, our plan is that they will reside in the apartment until their situation becomes fully stable. Of course, in the meantime they will be discreetly supervised. On our side, care will be provided by Sylwia Borowiec, playing the part of a ‘friend of the house’ or an aunt that pays infrequent visits, gives advice and can help solve potential conflicts. Residents should not feel controlled, but rather supported.

What happens if someone stops abiding by the rules?

If someone ‘lets it go’ and stops studying, gives up their job and shows no will to change, they will unfortunately have to leave.

When will the residents move in?

We received the apartment in March. Right now it is being adapted for the needs of the new residents: flooring replaced, new lighting, blinds etc. AT the moment we are selecting the kitchen layout. There will be no deluxe amenities; it is just a place to stay in. The residents may have to sleep on mattresses initially, and it is up to them to enhance their living standards. We can offer them only as much as young people on the verge of adulthood can typically afford. I believe that the persons we select will move into the apartment in early June.

What other forms of self-reliance support are offered by the association?

Right now we have a scholarship program which can also be used to train self-reliance: we assist in financing various courses, training sessions or adult schools. So far, we have not had any investments that have gone completely amiss. Of course, we realize that various things may happen because the people we care for have had a very rough life and their self-confidence is low. And this is just one more reason why we should help them.

Thank you for the interview.

Publication date: 09.04.2012