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A diversity advantage story: Dutch city hires Polish psychology

Best practice Welcoming and social integration

Autumn 2011 had the Dutch city Utrecht in a predicament. Rejected asylumseekers were out on the streets and a group of longterm homeless Polish vagrants had teamed up with rejected Somali asylumseekers. Together they had started a tentcamp close to the suburbs. There were signs of group patrols, complete with baseballbats, knives and, the latest rumour, even shotguns. So when the city heard of a succesfull Polish organisation called 'Barka', they swiftly set out to investigate wherther this organisation could help manage the situation. Barka was founded by a Polish psychologist, Thomasz Sadowski right after 'Die Wende'. Sadowska, who had longterm experience in psychiatric clinics and detention centres, realised that a new social system tends to be slow in institutionalizing new solutions for the vagrants and the vulnerable, the 'misfits' in society. So he immediately started a first community home for a group of those in 1989, which was so successful that is has been by now expanded to some 20 large-scale communities.

In 2012 a first Barka 'outreach' team started work in Utrecht, hired by the local government. The Barka philosophy shows a subtle mix of former ideology and modern psychology. The leader of a team was once homeless himself and he has a trained psychologist or social worker as his assistant. This is not the traditional Western-European style, the trained psychologist on equal footing to a converted tramp. Barka doesn’t use the negative word 'return' but a better one, 'reconnection'. If someone fails to adapt to a new country, he may be in need to be reconnected to his country of origin. And this is exactly what Barka does. Barka creates opportunities to return home for people facing homelessness or difficult social and economic situation, and they run a Social Economy Centre, supporting migrants on their way to economic and social rehabilitation and integration within the receiving country. Some of those supported through Barka’s Leaders Approach programme, have become leaders themselves and are employed in projects run by Barka foundations across several countries or have initiated their own associations and are supporting others.

Since the Polish team started working in Utrecht, Barka 'reconnected' almost 400 people to their families or Barka communities in Poland. Among them heavily addicted men, victims of trafficking and psychiatric patients, lost in limbo. Thomasz Sadowski is now working, together with African organisations, on starting social economy and integration projects based on Barka’s experiences and models in African countries that are, like Poland was, on their way to a new political and social reality. Sadowski feels how also in Africa, the vulnerable will be last in line. So he wants to help the Africans, who themselves found the Barka models appealing to enroll the formula of the Barka partnership model, communities and other experiences in a couple of African countries. It leaves the Dutch city of Utrecht hopeful about a future in which African organisations inspired by a Polish organisation pick up lost African souls and reconnect them to renewed communities in an emerging Africa.