Sunday, March 2, 2008

Important facts about the Podlasie region | locality matters

Bialystok is located in the north-east of Poland and it is part of the Podlasie Voivodeship or province. This province is home to a wide diversity of ethnic groups that throughout history have made this site their home. Polish, Belorussians, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Tatar communities settled down in this province making Podlasie one of the most culturally diverse regions of this country. My friend Pawel elegantly described the region as the "historical bridge between East and West"

The variety in cultures brought with it a variety in religions and ways of life. Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Jewish, and Muslim groups sharing a land rich in natural resources and rich in history. This confluence of cultures nourished a sense of tolerance towards diversity creating a sense of community and "locality" that leaves its marks in the architectural and social environment of the region.

Bialystok was created in the 16th century and a century later became a powerhouse of the textile industry after Lodz. Similar to other regions in the country, the WWII wasn't particularly forgiven. The Nazis murdered half of the the city's population, including almost all the Jews, and destroyed most of the industrial infrastructure. After the war, investments targeted the reconstruction of industry and infrastructure. Bialystok is also the home of Hammenhof, a philologist that created the language Esperanto to foster peace and international communication

Agriculture is one the main economic activities in the region, and the accession to the European Union hit hardly the small farmers who were not equipped to compete with bigger and consolidated farmers. Today, the unemployment rate in Podlasie is around 20%, four times higher than in Warsaw and almost double the national average.

It is under this context that the Institute for Responsible Business (IRB)developed an initiative to provide e-skills to seniors and pensioners of the region, and with it, an opportunity to young people to become more active in their communities and gain important job skills such as team work, group management, individual responsibility, etc. Just as Podlasie is described as the bridge between East and West, the IRB is a bridge between generations (youth and senior) and a bridge between life as a student and life as a responsible professional.

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