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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:30 am

Traditions of Pahiatua children live on at Polish School

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60th ANNIVERSARY; a specially made cake delights the Dom Polska children.

WELLINGTON’S Polish school celebrated its 60th anniversary in a very Polish fashion – with a traditional play, plates of kielbasa sausage, happy families, a bouncy castles, and of course, cake, to the delight of the children.

Dolm Polska is a small school with alternating classes between Lower Hutt and Newtown’s Polish House .

It teach Polish tradition and language at a primary level, with the aim to maintain Polish heritage and foster a community spirit.

It has been a focal point for the community to come together, a tradition that has been carried on ever since the Pahiatua camp established 69 years ago in World War 2.

Agnieszka Kowalik-Tait2

The school has been essential for instilling a sense of cultural heritage in the children said school committee chair Agnieszka Kowalik-Tait, (right).

“Social interaction with children of the same background is important, if they were separated they would feel removed and they won’t identify with the culture.”

The social bonds formed at Dom Polska allow the children to explore their community and shared heritage together.

Maintaining the school has not always been an easy task as it relies on volunteers such as Mrs Kowalik-Tait.

“Finding dedicated voluntary teachers is a challenge. For a while we had to close our Wellington school, but it has reopened and now has large classes.”

The room shows a diverse crowd as families that originated from the Pahiatua children brush shoulders with relatively recent immigrants, groups of young professionals who had moved to New Zealand and begun to establish families.

“When I first came here 13 years ago we had almost no young Polish people but we now have a huge group of young Polish professionals coming for lifestyle reasons and settling down in New Zealand.”

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HAPPY FACES: A bouncy castle keeping the children entertained during the anniversary

Mrs Kowalik-Tait believes that around 90% of the school’s 70 students is now composed of the children of these new migrants.

Mariusz Tumilowicz is one of these young professionals, having moved to New Zealand five years ago for work reasons.

“We have a full Polish family, with three kids and my wife is also Polish. Dom Polska has been good to keep us in touch.”

The school in many ways acts as a bridge between those Poles who were part of the Pahiatua children who came to New Zealand as refugees in 1944 and this new wave of migrants who came willingly.

“The school acts to unite the whole community, it’s a slow process but it is organic process, you can’t force it,” Mrs Konalik-Tait said.

The Pahiatua children were New Zealand’s first refugees, escaping a war torn homeland and hardships before arriving on our shores. They were invited to New Zealand by Prime Minister Peter Fraser as a gesture of humanity.

Stan Manteray

Stan Mantery, (left), is one of the 700 Polish children who came to the Pahiatua camp in the second World War and is an unofficial historian for the community. He was celebrating the 60th birthday of the school with both his son and grandson.

“We came to New Zealand as guests of the New Zealand Government, but we were not expected to remain here.

“When the war finished we were meant to return to Poland. But the war finished and unfortunately we had nowhere to go back to because the lands from which we originally came after the war were given to Russia.

“We had no parents to return to, no families so in fact we were stranded in New Zealand.”

The New Zealand government granted the children same rights to settle in New Zealand as British ex-servicemen, and many would go on to settle happily in New Zealand, marrying Kiwi men and woman.

The Pahiatua children however never relinquished their ties to the culture and traditions of Poland, continuing to celebrate events such as Easter and Christmas in Polish tradition.

Stan Mantery said they were given a Polish education by the ex-servicemen from the Polish army who had found themselves stranded after the war, and Dom Polska is a continuation of the practice.

“Even after the Pahiatua camp was disbanded, the schools continued to be held on a weekly basis for a couple hours on Saturdays.

The tradition has been carried on by each generation. So we are almost at the fourth generation who has continued this tradition and it has become self-perpetuating as the people who run this school now are second or third generation who were born in New Zealand.

“Polish is a second language to them but the Polish culture is so strong that people have found it is worthwhile holding onto.”

For more information on Wellington’s Dom Polska contact the school committee chair Agnieszka Kowalik-Tait on +64 4 386 3232 or email agnieszka@orcon.net.nz

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is a journalist studying at Whitireia. Previously he attended Otago University where he got a BA in Communications and Philosophy.
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