Olga Żmijewska, founder and president
My name is Olga Żmijewska and I come from the small Masurian village of Idzbark, near the town of Ostróda. It was here that I founded the Art of Freedom Foundation in 2018, which I have been running as its President since then.
I spent my early childhood years in Idzbark after which, at the age of eight, I emigrated to Germany. Throughout the entire period of emigration (1990-2005) and during my eight-year stay in Warsaw, I was accompanied by a plan to return to Idzbark, which I finally came to fulfil in 2013.
Before I founded the Art of Freedom Foundation, I spent several decades fulfilling my linguistic passion as a translator with command of the Polish, German, English, and French language. As a sworn translator of the German language, I worked for Warsaw courts and the largest law firms, translating thousands of pages of motions, petitions, pleadings, and responses to them as well as European arrest warrants, accompanied by many hours of interpreting at court hearings. Following an appropriate recruitment process, I was also recruited to the team of freelancers translating for the European Parliament. Being a translator allowed me to visit different parts of Europe and become acquainted with a broad palette of ways of life ranging from construction, through tourism, right up to tuna fishing.
In parallel, I was fostering the vocation of an involved citizen and social activist, mainly in the context of working with children and adolescents. Psychological and pedagogical issues have accompanied me since secondary school, and pedagogy was one of my favourite school-leaving exam subjects. In my final year at school, in Germany, I was a volunteer at Caritas and supported children from asylum seeking families in learning the German language. As a cultural studies student, I began to get involved in the village Idzbark where, as a member of the Warmian-Masurian Women’s Forum (Forum Kobiet Warmińsko-Mazurskich) I ran sports and dance activities for women and girls during my end of term and summer holidays. This group of women transformed from the Women’s Forum into the “Idzbark my fatherland” Village Development Association (Stowarzyszenie Rozwoju Wsi “Idzbark, moja ojczyzna”), of which I am a co-founder. I was elected member of Idzbark’s village council for the election period of 2015-2019.
I am a member of the Congress of Women Association (Stowarzyszenie Kongres Kobiet), a networking forum of the Young Polish International Network, as well as a patron of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts (Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych). Since 2009, I am a member of the committee awarding the annual Viadrinapreis Prize to those involved in the area of Polish-German friendship and relations. This committee operates under the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt-on-Oder, from which I graduated and where I am currently doing my PhD at the Faculty of Social and Cultural Studies. My research concerns the group of Radio Mary listeners in light of the civil society in Poland. As a scientist, I belong to the British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies (BASEES) and to the German Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde e.V.
The founding of my own foundation was a natural complement to my social involvement in my local community and a formalisation of my work in supporting women and children that I undertook of my own initiative and under my own name.
At this early stage of the Foundation’s existence, I am consciously trying not to impose any specific areas of activities but am rather keenly observing the needs of the social environment and the atmosphere of the local community, the region, and the country as a whole. Whilst keeping in mind that the Foundation is guided by the concept of freedom of the individual, I can see how the foundation is becoming a meeting space for various social groups that have few points of contact in their day-to-day life – if only due to geographic location. These groups largely comprise women, which is a continuation of my path and tendencies, which I have been closely scrutinising and exploring for close to twenty years now as it is women who are the drivers of social change in Poland. It is also women who shape society to a large extent because they are still responsible for the socialisation of girls and boys. They do this as mums, grandmas, childminders, and teachers.
Therefore, it truly is worth supporting women in their strivings for change.
However, it is also opportune to invite men to create this space for living a harmonious life with a sense of community, cooperation, connection, and shared responsibility.
When talking to women who are my peers, I find myself increasingly often asking the question if women and men in Poland are the social groups that are most difficult to encounter?