The Peace Corps: Putting Women in the Picture

This year the Peace Corps' Women In Development committee initiated a photographic competition to show the value of Polish women in society, and help a good cause along the way.

The Peace Corps office in Warsaw hosted the awards ceremony for the first such photo contest on June 2nd, 2000. Entitled "Portraits of Polish Women - A Celebration of Strength and Heart", the competition was designed to recognize Polish women and their diverse contributions to their homes, jobs and society. Polish women are often the backbones of families, taking on roles as mother, grandmother, daughter, and sister. They have a loving, caring character, which is also extended to each other. But all the while they have to use their inner reserves of strength and self-belief.

Three Peace Corps volunteers publicized the project by distributing and posting advertisements for the photo contest in their communities across Poland. Men and women of all ages submitted pictures of Polish women they thought reflected strength and heart, some active, others pensive. These varied from peering up from gardening, playing team-building games and feeding a small child to contemplating their reflection in a mirror, selling flowers at an outdoor market, working in an office overflowing with books, singing at a folk festival, or taking a stroll along the Vistula River.

The panel of judges - two representatives from the Promyk Association, two art historians, and two Peace Corps staff members - chose the winners based on composition, aesthetic value, adherence to the theme and the written descriptions accompanying each picture, explaining who was in the photo and how it symbolized the woman's strength and heart. The judges' scores were tallied to find the top three photos in each category: under the age of twenty-five, over twenty-five and Peace Corps volunteers.

The winners' photographs and three honorable mentions were made into a calendar for 2001. Assembling the calendar was one of the main goals of the project, to enable people to celebrate women in Polish society all year round and at the same time, with the proceeds, to support Promyk, a Kraków-based non-profit organization against domestic violence. Promyk aims to defend the rights of victims of domestic violence and help them regain control of their lives, as well as prevent future incidents of abuse and raise public awareness. The association offers a telephone hotline, advice on ways to handle a violent situation, support-group meetings, and medical and legal counseling.

Since the Peace Corps is finishing in Poland next summer, Promyk has agreed to continue the photographic contest in the future. Peace Corps will liaise to provide assistance in organizing the next project and selling the calendars before the association takes over. It is hoped the project will grow with more publicity, more submissions, more profit for Promyk, and more recognition for Polish women.

At the awards ceremony the organizers of the project, Country Director of Peace Corps Poland, Robert McClendon, and Jerzy Bystrowski of The World of English spoke about the success of the photo contest and honored the artistic merits of the participants.

Congratulations again to Krzysztof Fabianski, Anna Szelc, Monika Baran, Mariola Zak, Pawel Jermak, Jaroslaw Makulski, Sue Keith, Jeanne Cross, Ruth Anne Beutler, Teresa Coogan and your correspondent, Lucy Wichlacz. The prizes ranged from subscriptions to National Geographic to rolls of film, and of course, a copy of the calendar.

Those of you interested in purchasing calendars (12 zlotys) or receiving more information should contact Promyk at (012) 421-82-42. Also, keep your eyes open for photo opportunities with the significant Polish women in your life and submit them (the photos, not the women!) for next year's contest - you might see them in the 2002 calendar!