Barka in Dutch daily paper “Trouw”

The Dutch daily , ‘Trouw’ published an article about Barka’s work for the homeless migrants from Poland and other Middle and Eastern European countries in Holland, Great Britain and Ireland. The Trouw journalist visited Barka Network programmes around Poznan in Poland, among them: a community home in Posadówek, where he spoke to persons, who returned to Poland after being homeless in Holland and in the UK.

Polish people find shelter in the homeland
Ekke Overbeek,

Polish organization Barka helps in the big Dutch cities the homeless immigrants to return home. Polish people, who have nowhere to go, can join community homes in Poland. Like the one in Posadowek, about 40 km from Poznan.

The men sit silently around the table. Stasiek says: ‘The best spot for the night is at the IJ-riverside in Amsterdam North. Take the ferry behind the station and there will always be an empty boat.Usually the owners do not make trouble’. Yet, sometimes they do. ‘Once two guys came to chase me away. Just as I wanted to go on the pier, they said: No, along there. They pointed to the water.’ I walked round in wet clothes for three days. ‘It was cold, very cold’.

Bad luck put a stop to Stasiek’s career as a handy-man in the Netherlands. ‘What happened, I do not know. It drizzled and the last thing I saw was a white truck. After three days I recovered in the hospital.’ His knee was ruined. Money run out and he ended up on the street.

After two and a half years of being homeless he got the offer to return to Poland. ‘I had thought I was on my own in this world. I could not imagine, that there was something like a shelter,’ says Stasiek, who has never heard about Barka.

This shelter is in Posadowek, it is a former farm standing in bare meadows. Stasiek is helping on a daily basis in the kitchen of the community and he works in a second-hand shop. ‘Sometimes I long for going back to Amsterdam. But here, I got the peace and the time to think how it will be.’ Recently he has got his welder certificate. ‘I think I will try to obtain the LGV driving licence. You never know what can be useful in your life.’

The group of people like Stasiek, who returned to Poland, is fairly new. In 2007 Barka UK was established, shortly after that Barka IE. Since then, more than 2000 Polish citizens who were stranded on the Isles, returned. Among the 150 East-Europeans, whom Barka assisted in the Netherlands, 110 were Poles. Two third of them was able to go back to their homes. Others got sheltered in the communities, like Posadowek.

In the early 90s there wasn’t any large scale labour migration to Western Europe. In Poland, there was enough misery. Big governmental enterprises went bankrupt. Thousands had nothing. Barka was established for them. Barka means literally ‘barge’ figuratively ‘lifeboat’.

‘Everybody said that my parents went mad’, says Maria Sadowska. She was too little to remember how her parents, in the middle of the winter, with a group of outcasts founded the first living community; two high-born university graduates with toddlers, in a house full of hardened criminals, ex-prostitutes and homeless. ‘All sins under one roof.’

But the Sadowski’s were tough fellows. Twenty years later, their life work has developed into a network of social work places, living communities and reintegration projects. ‘From the point, that Poland joined the EU, the financing became much easier’ says Maria in the center for social integration in Poznan. The cabinet is full of tributes: photo of Sadowski and the Polish president, the Ford Foundation Award, a charter from Pope John Paul II.

Most of the Polish have heard about Barka. ‘I remember seeing a story about Barka on TV’, says Jozek. ‘But I have never thought I would end up here.’ His daughter evicted him, just after his girlfriend died. ‘Like disused furniture’ he concludes bitter. Now he is the leader of the community in Posadowek. He carefully peels organic apples from own breed and places the pieces in the bowl. ‘It is not exactly like in a family. But still, it is our home.’