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  • Stephen O'Regan

Day 9 - "I am discovering what it means to work to my full, unleashed potential"

Updated: May 20

As we approached the end of our stay in Krakow we were still on the look out to connect and speak to anyone interesting. We had built a small network of contacts in Krakow - so we reached out to them and even more on social media.


Who should we be talking to?


One woman I talked to - Ania - was another coordinator at Zupa dla Ukrainy - which featured earlier in this series.


Ania - Stephen, I adore your project! I've got someone you might want to talk to. Aśka Warchał Beneschi - she's a chief coordinator at the train station, but also the head of the Krakow HERstory Museum Project.


Stephen - Aska sounds amazing.


Ania - Yes. And her group is really great. They are a local grassroots neighbourhood organisation that has become is one of the strongest groups in Krakow at organising accommodation, transport, relocations etc. Most of the people involved have taken Ukrainian refugees into their homes, but then they started working in a more structured way and started a foundation.


Stephen - Thank you Ania! You are great. We are off to find Aska!


Aska / Photo by Rita Ansone


Aska, tell me where you are from and where have you lived most of your life?


I am from Kraków but for my studies I left and lived in Granada, Florence and Berkeley. Ultimately decided to stay in Krakow as it as a city with great potential.


I am curious. What did you study?


Art history. I am an art historian.


Why art history?


From my father - he is an art historian turned IT specialist, turned astrophotographer . When I was a kid we would spend the holidays sightseeing. I was always impressed how he would not know a place or a history of this particular building or painting but he could always "read it" and say something about it. For me Art History is a discipline that teaches empathy. You need to change lenses all the time.


My dreams as a student were quite simple - I wanted to be a professor and teach, and eventually be a curator in Guggenheim NY :-)


What do you like about living in Krakow now?


I like the history and how it mixes with modernity. I like how I can get a beer in the Forum Hotel and look at the Wawel castle. But what I truly appreciate right now is being a mom of a 2 year old living next to 2 big parks.


Photos by Rita Ansone


Is Krakow a good city to raise a child?


I love it. There are plenty of things to do, lots of parks and playgrounds. I wish that the city was more adapted to buggies (and wheels-chairs). Thankfully I am in a position in which I can afford private day care.


I am very interested in the work you were doing in the train station. What were you doing?


Actually many things changed for me recently. I have become the Poland Team Lead of VOICE Amplified - an international organisation focused on women and girls in emergency settings. I also continue to represent Open Krakow Coalition. For them I was the coordinator of the task group at the train station. Everything I did at the train station was to help give better protection to our guests.


Amazing. Have you always been someone who wanted to help?


If I see that I can be of use then sure, I try to be of use. I did not expect to be so involved in the frontlines of aid but I figured that I have a set competences that are in high demand. Of coarse its meant a total reorganisation of my life and a revolution career-wise but at the same time it feels right.


What are you set of competencies that you speak of?


I suppose I am fast to come up with many solutions to a problem, identify the best one, implement it, and improve it on the go. I operate well in an ever-changing landscape and I am not intimidated by chaos. Well, I am not intimidated by almost anything, really..


So your life have completely changed in the last 3 months?


No doubt.


What were you doing in the train station from day to day?


At the train station we saw there was a big necessity to facilitate the dialogue between the authorities and the individual volunteers, who spontaneously started showing up. The lack of understanding was causing danger. We were also issuing recommendations regarding safety measures like unified ID and jackets system for volunteers or verifications of posters with offers of help. I have to say that we felt that the authorities truly listened and had similar preoccupations.


Photos by Rita Ansone


I did notice in Krakow that there were so many volunteers from all over the world that seemed to be coming to help. What did you think about that?


I think this is great that people come! We always need more volunteers. People that come from abroad though must just try to be respectful when they arrive. When someone from abroad gets involved in a local system they need to try to understand it before starting doing their own things. For example Internazionale Bund Polska, one of the operators of the Multicultural Center, has volunteer programmes designed specifically for people from abroad.


What do you think about the situation at the moment? Has your outlook on it changed since the beginning?


At the very beginning of the war I thought that I would focus on culture and integration projects with our civic initiative HERstory of Art Museum. But after a few days I saw the needs of the moment, it was the peak of the refugee arrivals. Then I entered a "war mode" of operating, sometimes working 14h a day. I am trying to pace myself a little better now.


It is still unimaginable to me that this happening. I feel the same as at the beginning. The only thing that changed is that right now nobody expects that the war will end tomorrow.


Of course it's been a rollercoaster. There is an inner frustration that ultimately you can never protect everybody. Happiness comes when you do manage to make a small change. Despair comes when you watch images of Bucza in the Ukraine.


How do you feel Poland and Krakow has responded to the crisis?


That should be an easy question for me but it's actually a very hard one for me . The response has been tremendous but then again I am a fixer, I only see what is there to be improved and what could be working better. For that reason it's hard for me to get too excited about the Polish generosity - which is undeniable. What the Ukrainians must be feeling? I cannot talk for them. I hope that they get the space they need to allow whatever feelings and emotions they have to show up.


What have you learned about yourself in the past 3 months?


To my surprise I am discovering what it means to work to my full, unleashed potential. I always had the luck and the determination to follow my heart and have passion jobs. When you are doing a job of passion there are always personal limitations that we can work on. But in this situation these worries don't exist. They don't matter because the stakes are too high. These are weird, weird times.


Has the situation given you any perspective on raising a child in this world?


The first days of war I experienced a big conflict within me as a mother and as an individual. Should I be ready to escape, or should I be all over the place, true to my nature. Bringing a child to this world is this insane responsibility that influences every step of your way. But if the underlaying question is why I would bring a new life to this valley of sorrows, well, even in the darkest of times I believe life can be worth living. I hope my son will share this wonder.


- https://muzeumherstoriisztuki.org/


- Stephen O'Regan


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