Do you find this statement revolutionary? In spite of the fact that it came to life a century ago most of us seem to have difficulty to adopt it. As adults, parents, teachers we always find a reason or an excuse to treat children differently. On the one hand we tend to spoil them and imitate them, on the other hand we are often too strict in the process of their upbringing. However, what children really need from us is to be perceived as human beings and treated equally.
This brilliant and ahead of time approach to modern education and pedagogy was introduced by an extraordinary humanist and educator of 20th century Janusz Korczak, Pole with Jewish origin. Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit in Warsaw in 1878. During his youth he played with children from bad neighborhoods and this is where he developed his passion for helping disadvantaged youth.
He studied medicine and had a promising career in literature. In fact it was literature that was a turning point in his life. He changed his name to Janusz Korczak which was a pseudonym derived from a 19th century novel called “Janusz Korczak and pretty Swordsweeperlady.” Thanks to his literary skills the difficult truths he conveyed reached a wide audience. His ideas, still applicable today were expressed mainly in “How to Love a Child” and “The Child’s Right to Respect” and became integral part of the post war legislative efforts to benefit children.
Korczak’s best known novel King Matt the First shows how children’s spontaneity and sensitivity can change the world – but also how adults effectively fight such change. This story of a little boy who, as a ruler/reformer attempts to make children and adults equal in their rights is to a great extend a literary portrayal of Korczak himself. He considered himself a Jewish Pole but regarded humanity’s universal dimension to be of the greatest importance. That is why he not only lived in Jewish and Polish communities, but also combined them in his social and literary writing, working and being active in both communities.
It was in 1912 that he established a Jewish orphanage, “Dom Sierot” where his advanced and progressive educational methods were put to practice. In this particular orphanage children were able to structure their own world and became experts in their own matters. Dom Sierot had its own government, court, newspaper and a radio programe. Old Doctor, as Korczak used to be called created his own particular style of addressing the younger listeners.
His program on Polish radio enjoyed immense popularity among children as well as adults. He worked strongly on implementing his famous opinion: “Dare to dream… something will always come out of it”. He stayed loyal to his believes even in difficult times when the Germans occupied Poland and the Warsaw ghetto was established in 1940. At that time the orphanage was moved inside of the ghetto. As a well-known author and a public figure in Polish society Korczak was offered to be smuggled out of the ghetto but he refused as he couldn’t abandon the children.
On August 5 1942 Korczak joined nearly 200 children and orphanage staff members for deportation to Treblinka concentration camp where they all perished. This is how Janusz Korczak devoted all his life to fate and rights of children and that is why his ideas and heroic attitude inspires educators and activists all over the world. A beautiful and recent example can be found here in Bangkok where catholic Priest – Father Joe Meier established a school for street children in 2004 and named it after Janusz Korczak. This is by far more than the school it is simply the institution operated by dedicated people with the real passion and “the huge heart”.
And frequently is being called as the second home by kids. It works within a frame of Mercy Centre Human Development Foundation. The HDF Mercy Centre, first opened its doors in 1973 as a slum kindergarten. Forty-five years later it offers shelter to street kids, as well as assistance for children who live in poverty, children with one or both parents in jail, children living with HIV/AIDS, and sexually abused children. The HDF Mercy Centre has opened and maintained 22 kindergartens located throughout Bangkok and provide early childhood education for 2500 children annually, having already provided an educational start to over 45,000 young children.
These Kindergartens provide a safe and serene haven in the slums with small gardens and playgrounds, allowing these children to enjoy learning in peace and safety. Mercy Centre has five orphanages, provides home visits for people living with HIV/AIDS, legal services, a community learning centre, as well as a variety of other outreach programs to serve the local community. After the Tsunami of 2004 initial contact was made with the indigenous Moken sea gypsies who live in and around Ranong province in the south of Thailand.
HDF Mercy Centre provides preschool education/day are, primary school education, provision of safe drinking water, health care, health and nutrition services, putting forward citizenship applications, housing and accommodation. Founders of Mercy Center, Father Joe and Sister Maria not only believed in Janusz Korczak idea that “To reform the world is to reform upbringing” but they simply knew that school is the only chance poor kids get. Tens of thousands of slum children have graduated from Mercy Kindedgardens and to ensure that every poor child has a chance to go to school Janusz Korczak School for Street Children was opened in 2004.
One of the foremost educators of all times would be proud , especially because Polish ties with this institution are visible. It is mainly due to the Polish Embassy’s in Bangkok participation in many events at Korczak School. 2018 seems to be very fruitful and active in this matter thanks to the spouse of Polish Ambassador. Inspired by famous “Dare to dream…something will always come of it” quote Mrs Ewa Dubaniowska, a spouse of H.E Waldemar Dubaniowski, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Kingdom of Thailand decided to initiate educational, cultural and sport events to empower Korczak’s school pupils motivation and creativity This series of events started with a visit to Korczak school to introduce famous Polish joyous tradition of “Fat Thursday” which is a traditional Christian feast marking the last Thursday before Lent when Poles are consuming huge amounts of traditional doughnuts which in Polish being called – “paczki”.
Children were able to learn about the process of making real Polish doughnuts from multimedia presentation produced by Ewa Dubaniowska’s daughter Olga in association with Polish Pastry chef from Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok as well as to taste freshly made Polish delicacy. Fun activities and games that followed brought lots of joy to pupils and educators and provoked a subject for a second visit. It appeared that Korczak children were inspired to learn more about Poland.
That is why during next visits many colorful Polish traditions were presented for example, children were able to hear from a Polish architect and artist about design, creativity and importance of dreams in life and about what architect job looks like. Realizing how important a healthy way of life and sport is Polish Ambassador’s wife decided to invite a world famous Muai Thai fighter and champion from Poland, Mr Rafal Simonides to the next meeting.
That was another opportunity to introduce Korczak’s children with the importance of passion in life, commitment to sport as well as a healthy lifestyle and proper diet and so far it was the most dynamic one where children and adults practiced muaythai together. Of course more inspiring events are coming up in the future but in the meantime we will make sure that every meeting with Korczak children is full of energy, a real feast of joy that will bring smile for everyone.
The Polish Embassy is also implementing an educational program within the frame of “Polish Aid” programme coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland aimed at providing practical learning tools and materials, much needed in classes for learning language. Hopefully thanks to these aids Korczak School children will gain language skills necessary both for their future educational career as well as daily lives. As Janusz Korczak once said : We never realize that a child is capable of remembering so well and of waiting so patiently.
Every time when Mrs Ewa Dubaniowska is heading to Klong Toey Mercy Centre with her team to offer the children another portion of inspirational activities they always have some surprise for her. Be it a traditional dance or flowers or home-made cookies. That’s why the Ambassador’s spouse mentions that every single visit to the Mercy Centre is also for her an extra boost of energy and optimism. It seems to prove that educators at Korczak School are implementing Janusz Korczak ideas in the most excellent way.