Tomasz Sadowski

Fellow Ashoka
Ashoka comemora e celebra a vida e o trabalho deste Fellow Ashoka falecido.

Ashoka upamiętnia i celebruje życie i dzieło zmarłego członka Ashoki.

Tomasz Sadowski jest pionierem przeciwdziałania trwałej bezdomności w Polsce (i poza nią) poprzez zakładania samowystarczalnych rolniczych wspólnot.

This description of Tomasz Sadowski's work was prepared when Tomasz Sadowski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996 .


Tomasz Sadowski is pioneering a new approach for dealing with Poland's most chronic homeless cases by creating self-sufficient rural communities.

A nova ideia

Tomasz Sadowski is settling groups of homeless people on previously abandoned farms in rural Poland. He is focusing on what the authorities and social workers consider the most difficult cases, those often labeled "hopeless" and "unreformable." Once at the farm, the residents are immersed in an atmosphere of love, respect and hope. They are provided with training and skills which they use to manage the farm. Tomasz's program breaks from the system that Poland has adopted to deal with homelessness. Typically the problem has been addressed through short-term urban shelters, which rely on government and private funds for support. Tomasz's rural cooperatives are striving to be self-sufficient units.Paradoxically, Tomasz's project and the homeless people it is helping are contributing to the rehabilitation of the seriously under-developed communities that dot rural Poland. Farming compounds that were abandoned by their owners or the government are now bustling hubs of social and economic activity. The money that the community residents earn from the profits of the farm is spent and invested in the villages where they live. This in turn has created job opportunities for village residents and leads to an atmosphere of cooperation and respect between village residents and the former homeless people, who were once rejected by mainstream society.

O problema

Economic reform has displaced many individuals and led to rapid growth in homelessness, especially in urban areas of Poland. Many alcoholics, prostitutes, former prison inmates and mentally ill and elderly people who have no family support are among those without permanent shelter. Some people choose to live in the wild–in caves or forests, for example.

Government figures estimate that there are about 300,000 homeless people in Poland, of which 50,000 fall into what the social service officials label the "unreformable" category. Many experts believe that the actual numbers are much higher, since the Polish government has a history of under-reporting unpleasant statistics. At any rate, the current care system cannot deal with the problem through traditional methods. Many of the homeless need psychiatric or other medical care that overburdened social work professionals are not properly trained to provide, even if they could find the resources. Discouragement over this issue contributes to the high burnout rate among social workers.

A severe lack of space in shelters and halfway houses contributes to the chronic quality that is labeled "unreformable" among Poland's homeless population. Those people who are capable of seeking help often end up back out on the street because there is simply no place for them to go.

On the other hand, habitable space exists, though often in severe disrepair, in kolkholz (collective farms). After 1989 the government could no longer afford to subsidize the farms. Rural farming communities often remain without reliable electricity or telephone service, and many private farms were also simply abandoned. This process has had drastic economic consequences for rural areas, which have been largely left out of Poland's dynamic economic recovery.

A estratégia

In 1989 Tomasz established the Barka program, which provided for 50 former homeless people in three pilot farming communities located in rural Western Poland, near Poznan. The inhabitants have overhauled the devastated and abandoned farms and work together at such activities as corn production, breeding of goats, bee keeping, herb cultivation and carpentry.

The farms are communities, based upon partnership and responsibility. The members of the community share everyday household duties and discuss all important problems and decisions with one another, in addition to having jobs on the farm. The farm communities provide former homeless people with a caring partnership in a supportive atmosphere–a home. The combination of hard work and human interaction and support has proved to be a miraculous cure for these former "unreformable" individuals, who have reclaimed themselves. They heal from addictions, marry, raise children and lead productive lives.

Tomasz's idea is spreading rapidly throughout Poland and internationally because word has traveled about its success. The experienced Barka members eagerly share their experience with others and help to replicate it in new locations; the Barka Foundation funds new farms at the outset, but the goal is for each to become a fully self-sufficient cooperative. As of mid-1997, Tomasz had more than ten farms in operation. The administrative chiefs of two Polish provinces have asked him to establish his model in their regions.

In 1996 Barka created an international training center at Chudpoczyce, which was another bankrupt post-kolkholz farm; that year Tomasz trained 50 people there in his approach, from Byelorussia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Serbia and Slovenia. Tomasz also manages ongoing exchange programs with Holland, France and Germany, where the homeless are said to "die from lack of work." (Homeless Germans are eager to come help the Polish groups with their farms, especially with construction work.) Barka inhabitants in turn visit European job-training centers to learn new skills. The Chudopczyce group is preparing to include eco-tourism in its programs, managed by the formerly homeless residents.

Tomasz's ideas also spread through the academic and volunteer communities. He is training a group of 30 volunteers to work with the Barka population and to give special lectures to social workers. Barka and a Polish foundation, the Batory Foundation, are cooperating to educate university students about the work. In June of 1996 Tomasz held a Festival of Civil Initiatives at Poznan, the original Barka farm, where he met with social activists and provincial authorities to discuss how civil organizations might participate more in his work.

Barka expands social awareness of homelessness in Poland through various TV programs and national magazines and newspapers. Barka is also informing legislation regarding the homeless. The Polish Senate invited the organization to participate in a government commission that is preparing a new bill on homelessness. Tomasz has participated in the production of a highly rated documentary film for television about his work and has published a book, The Portraits of the Poznan People, which has increased public knowledge about his work.

A pessoa

Tomasz was born in 1943 to parents who were involved in social activism. He studied sports medicine and completed an M.A. in psychology. His numerous projects included a rehabilitation program for children with polio and reform camps for juvenile delinquents. He also worked as a prison psychological consultant.

Tomasz was the founder and director of an innovative rehabilitation center for ex-psychiatric patients that proved to be too unorthodox for government mental health services. Eventually he transformed it into the Barka organization. Tomasz was also the founder of a regional center for nonprofit initiatives and has initiated a "Nongovernmental Organization Parliament" with 150 organizations. He is one of the board members of the national Nongovernmental Initiatives Assembly.

Tomasz has been nominated for and won prestigious press awards for his work with the homeless and these organizations.