- October 19, 2012
Fall in love with Wersoka: the little yet big world
The white palace on Wersoka attracts with the buzz of voices from morning till afternoon. With children’s voices in the daytime which are interspersed with the voices of adults in the evenings and on days off from work. Sometimes the building ”falls asleep” late in the evening and it is the only time when the lights go out there.
It is no wonder since this place is comprised of a school and a multifunctional cultural centre. The institution bears the latter, so officially sounding name since only recently – as a matter of fact since a few months but even without this name the cultural life has always been very active in here.
The hosts of this land certainly do not exaggerate by describing it as a land of great beauty. A land of wonderful landscapes, famous sights, natural curiosities where the forest massifs combine so harmoniously with numerous streams. The Soleczniki region. Everybody who has ever been there is convinced that there is not an ounce of boast in all these descriptions. Every town, every estate has got something that distinguishes them from others.
But the greatest wealth are, of course, people. The fighters for their rights to a homeland, the only one where the family tradition and native speech are fostered so meticulously. But how diffult is it at times to preserve this speech! The headmistress of the Primary School in Wersoka, Mirena Garackiewicz and her predecessors know about this perfectly. Many times the sword of Damocles hung over the school, it was threatened with extinction. Not only because of the official side of the story according to which there are not enough children but also because of human greed so widely spread in recent times – the school situated in a lovely palace was supposedly an object of desire for many nouveau riche people. It would have been shut down by now if it was not for the right attitude of the local authorities led by the mayor of the region Zdzisław Palewicz who did their utmost for the edifice to keep on existing.
Not only as a primary school but also as a multifunctional centre because this is the new status of this institution since the current school year.
The shady avenue leading to a school is so romantic now when colourful leaves embellish this quiet corner on Wisińcza which was once spotted by the owner of the nearby estate Witold Cezary Staniewicz, an eminent son of the Vilnius region and founder of the school, who fell in love with it. Aa a matter of fact, the actual beginnings of this one of the best known schools in the Ejszyszki region date back to even earlier times, to be precise, to 1905 when a Miss Kuncewiczówna started to teach the local children at a manor house in Wersoka thanks to a tsarist ”democratization”. But it did not last for long. Not until the 1914-1920 wars (in 1922) the school was re-opened at the request of the inhabitants. Let’s jump, though, to more present times, to a period in which a founder of this school, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, lived.
This jubilee has been retrieved from oblivion by the present headmistress, Ms Mirena Garackiewicz – a woman thanks to whom the school owes not only its current looks but also the very existence. She knocked where she could and what’s most important she found, just as we’ve mentioned before, support in the local government of Soleczniki region, which decided that there should be a school and a centre where not only educational but also cultural activities would be conducted. It really was something that goes with this school since such events, not only for the children but also parents and grandparents, have been organized in this institution for many years.
The idea was there but the edifice needed to be redecorated. The roof leaked, the walls were thin. – We’ve managed to get financing from the EU. It was a considerable amount of money – the school’s renovation cost 850 thousand litas, 100 thousand were added by the local government – says proudly the headmistress. She continues after a while: – The works lasted the whole year. For this time we moved to the the wooden small building in the backyard.
It used to be a dormitory and students’ workshops, for the duration of the palace’s renovation it became a primary school, say the teachers. It was cramped but nobody complained because everybody knew that the building revived and along with it the hope that children will go to school close to their home and that there will be some events on Saturdays and Sundays which will be attended by the inhabitants of Matujzy, Wersoka, Zubiszki, Bołądziszki and other surrounding villages. The school itself has a fantastic location – the local roads converge just at the school gate.
But it is probably not the location that determines the school’s great popularity with the people but the work of the whole teaching staff who spare no time and effort and organize zealously and with commitment festivals like the Harvest Festival, Grandparents Festival, Nativity Play, Shrovetide, Family Picnic and many others in which take part not only students and teachers but also the local inhabitants.
Currently we are preparing to the National Independence Day. We asked the elder generation to brush up on their knowledge of patriotic songs because we want to organize a competition. We are sure that our request will not go unnoticed, says the headmistress.
Ms Mirena describes herself as the ”local woman”, even though she comes from a little further, namely from Podborze-parish. But she has been working here for 34 years.
”I came to this school just after I had graduated from the secondary school in Ejszyszki and immediately started to study Polish philology in the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute. The school had many headmasters but I remember particularly my first – Hieronim Dowgiałło who was a paragon of care, demand and discipline, says Garackiewicz. In 2002 she took up the position of a school headmistress herself and judging from her accomplishments, she has managed to handle it perfectly. It is not only about the economic matters, redecorations but about the most important – learning. How many times have the children from this school won prizes, honourable mentions in reviews and competitions…
She is demanding for herself as well as for the others but at the same time capable of communicating effectively not only with the team she leads but also with the local authority and pastor of the parish in Koleśniki, Anatol Markowski who visits the school e.g. on the beginning of the school year, takes part in events and soirees.
In many villages the school is a place where people come to confer even in private matters – about where, how and what to tackle because they know that teachers and the headmistress will always give good advice and help them. The school celebrating its 80th anniversary shines not only from the outside. Inside, in the hall there are a carefully choosen material about the founder of this building, photos documenting the activities taking place in this institution and, at the entrance, a very simple yet meaningful inscription: ”Have a heart for school, do not count years. Fall in love with this place, a little world.”
Little? But how big in fact since the child’s first time at school is a starting point for their future path. How many well-known, educated people learnt and worked here..It would be hard to name all of them. Let us remind you of just one of them – Witold Cezary Staniewicz. A man who many years ago gave this small palace to the children, users and local people, a ”good lord who once brought the local agriculture to a European level.”
In the spring the school community plans to honour the 80th anniversary of the ”manor house.” On this occasion the school may also gain a new patron – it will be named after its founder even though also his wife, Eugenia Staniewiczowa contributed immensely to its creation. The heiress of these goods was an outstanding educationalist, a Polish and history teacher. In the 1930s she was a headmistress of one of the most prestigious Vilnius schools – the girls’ Eliza Orzeszkowa Lower and Upper Secondary School. Great people – great history. That is why it is so important that the teaching staff together with the headmistress retrieved it from oblivion. Without the past there can be no future.
The students began the current school year in the old-new building. It has more classrooms, the interior of the building has been overhauled, the heating system, lighting, plumbing etc. have been replaced – in a word, the edifice has been completely revived.
The school resounds with the children’s voices even during the summer holidays. Here take place the summer classes for village children from Polis families financed from the resources of the Foundation ”Aid to Poles in the East .” So far 2 editions of the classes have been organized: ”The Land of the Mother Tongue” and ”My little Homeland”. The children perfect their Polish, learn about the history of their place and school, still gather the material about its founder. On this account we can state even today that a rich history of this small place will not be forgotten. And this thanks to a simple matter of fact: people who work here, are not indifferent. How well describes them the motto visible at the entrance which I paraphrased a bit: They have a heart for school, do not count years and love this place, this little but for them such a big world.
Tłumaczenie Milena Jajkowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Milena Jajkowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.