Quietly working together for 22 Years: memories of my study tour to Poland
by: K’sha Woodley
St Vincent and the Grenadines has diplomatic relations with some 133 nations from all corners of the globe. Several of these places an ‘ordinary’ Vincentian would not even hazard a visit for a number of reasons. It is no wonder then that some Vincentians do not understand the Government’s pursuit of friendships with ‘strange’ far away countries.
There is a popular saying, no man is an island – be it island states or countries that form part of a continent. We need each other. Staying afar only increases our differences. So, some 22 years ago, diplomatic ties were forged with the Republic of Poland.
Thus, bringing people closer was the rationale for a study tour to Poland, as put forward by Chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Caracas, Venezuela, H.E. Milena Lukasiewicz. According to the Counselor-Minister, Department of America in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dorota Ostrowska-Cobas, Poland recognises the importance of forming ties around the world and in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, reviving old ties. Ostrowska-Cobas stated that her Government recognises the need to look outside. Previously their outlook was very insular in that they mainly cooperated with European Union countries.
To this end, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended an invitation to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in Barbados, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines for representatives of these countries to visit Poland on a study tour. Jamaica was represented by Joan Webley and St Vincent and the Grenadines by K’Sha Woodley. Unfortunately, Barbados’s representative was unable to make the trip. The Counselor-Minister, in meeting with us, advised us to take everything in; talk to people, especially, the young people, who will be more fluent in English than their senior citizens. She emphasised that we would see that there are real people in Poland with real concerns.
Ostrowska-Cobas disclosed that Poland recently began a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and our countries voted on their behalf. She stressed that our countries vote made that happen and “we are very grateful”. The Counselor-Minister emphasised the importance of cementing ties with other countries before a challenge arises because at that time support might be limited or non-existent.
Counselor-Minister Ostrowska-Cobas was very interested in our expectations of Poland and our reasons for participating in the study tour. I told her many Vincentians know that Poland exists and think of it as a beautiful place, judging by their reactions, when I intimated to them that I was going there for a visit. On the other hand, not many of them were aware of our diplomatic ties with Poland until the inauguration of the Consulate in Kingstown, of which, Lawyer Julian Jack is the Honourary Consul. The inauguration ceremony was convened on Monday, November 20, 2017 at the Alliance Française (Old Public Library Building).
With a population of over 37 million, Poland is located in Eastern Europe. Its closest neighbours are Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The country has a rich medieval and Jewish heritage. Its capital, Warsaw, is home to the Warsaw Rising Museum in honour of the city’s fight against German occupation in WWII-era. Notable Poles include Nicolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer; Frédéric François Chopin, a composer and virtuoso pianist; Marie Sklodowska Curie, two-time Nobel Prize winner in Physics and Chemistry; and Pope John Paul II. The Republic of Poland will celebrate its 100th anniversary of Independence on November 11, 2018.
Whilst in Poland, we visited a number of sites in Warsaw, Bialowieza, Kraków and Oswiecim. We met with representatives of Polish Investment and Trade Agency, Polish Tourism Organization, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, and attended a press conference held by the Ministry of Environment. We also had the opportunity to attend a Chopin concert in the Royal Iazienki Park; visited the Warsaw Rising Museum; and took in some sights along the Vistula River. In Bialowieza, we walked through the Bialowieza National Park – one of Poland’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. In Kraków, we visited the Jagiellonian University, the Wawel Castle and Cathedral, Old Town, the Main Market Square and Wieliczka Salt Mine; and in Oswiecim, Auschwitz and Birkenau complexes – two former concentration camps – now museums.
The study tour was a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of Poland in a short time. From my initial interactions with the Immigration Officers at the Chopin International Airport, I felt very welcomed and there were no forms to complete.
We had the best Translator/Guide in the person of Joanna Warchol. She, too, said that this was her best assignment ever and she intends to visit the Caribbean soonest. Joanna’s background is in Anthropology so we depended on her for the intimate stories on Poland’s history and culture.
Overall, I think the study tour was worthwhile and a great initiative. Everything I saw (people, architecture, churches, monuments/memorial sites, natural and physical landscapes) showed a society which is sufficiently grounded, caring, and thriving.
I am truly grateful to H.E. Milena Lukasiewicz and Aleksander Szabunia of the Polish Embassy in Venezuela, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs and Information, Director of the API, Jennifer Richardson, my father, Waitley Cato, and all those who contributed to making my trip possible and a rewarding experience. Thank you!
The study tour to Poland took place from September 7 – 16, 2018.