Kuba Marchewicz

Ashoka Fellow

Ojciec Kuba stworzył system wsparcia wspólnotowego na rzecz osób o znacznym stopniu niepełnosprawności, w miejscach w Polsce, w których nie zostało ono odpowiednio zapewnione. Tworzy „wspólnoty” rodziców, wolontariuszy, przyjaciół i instytucji, które orientują się wokół potrzeb osób niepełnosprawnych.


This description of Kuba Marchewicz's work was prepared when Kuba Marchewicz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002 .


Father Czeslaw Kuba Marchewicz is growing a network of community supports for people with severe disabilities in Poland. He organizes and facilitates groups and communities that take responsibility for creating a sustainable and effective support structure for the individuals in their care.

The New Idea

Father Kuba has created a system of community support to care for severely disabled individuals, a demographic that has not been adequately supported in Poland. He creates "communities" of parents, volunteers, friends, and institutions that orient themselves around the needs of the disabled. It is the responsibility of each community to raise money and provide support and leadership for its work. Each community is part of a larger network that serves as a decision-making body and provider of general support.
To address the psychological challenges that people with disabilities face, local groups are designed to act as a family for each individual. One-on-one matching with volunteers, the focus on trust and love, and the creation of "settlements" help individuals who often suffer loneliness and feelings of abandonment after their parents have died. Settlements are community-gathering places where the disabled, volunteers, and family members can feel safe and at home. The family-like atmosphere is possible because this is a support structure built upon trust, tenderness, and attention to individuals' needs.
Father Kuba emphasizes the beauty and uniqueness of every disabled person. Involving parents of disabled children, partners, and volunteers, Father Kuba is convinced all parties will learn about mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect. The communities are designed to extend their reach to external audiences in order to educate the public about disabilities, prejudices, and individual and communal responsibility for the disabled. Father Kuba's model is widely replicable.

The Problem

Physically and mentally disabled persons constitute 14.3 percent of Polish society. Every 25th person is deemed legally disabled, while every 20th person's life and work is affected by disability. People living with disabilities are the object of prejudices, myths, and stereotypes. Existing public services for the disabled are inadequate. The majority of state and citizen sector organizations focus on physical rehabilitation, the development of independent living skills, and meeting basic needs. Those individuals with minor disabilities benefit the most and in a majority of cases are able to live on their own. Those with severe mental and physical disabilities are put in social care houses once their family members are gone. Social care houses concentrate on providing basic care and satisfying physiological needs. Human psychological needs are not adequately met. Social care homes tend to be places of loneliness–places where people are not "living," although they are alive.

The Strategy

Father Kuba's work is built around a network of communities, a one-to-one connection between volunteers and people with disabilities; the construction of a familylike support structure; and the settlements, which provide a homelike environment.

In Father Kuba's communities, parents, people with disabilities, and volunteers are in charge of organizing meetings, conferences, common gatherings, and trips. Volunteers are matched with the disabled, and they identify and work to meet individual needs. The communities meet on a regular basis to exchange ideas and plans and to organize common activities. They are also responsible for promoting this idea through media, open meetings, and concerts. Father Kuba and his closest coworkers developed the document called "The Word of Intention" that describes the rules and principles for communities in two basic dimensions: material and spiritual. According to this document, every person interested in getting involved in this effort needs to acknowledge the importance of promoting an inclusive, volunteer-supported, sustainable, and needs-based community. Leadership of the network of communities is carried out by the "Capitola of Communities," which is made up of elected representatives from each community.

What makes the communities and the network unique is the year-round relationship between the disabled and the volunteers. Unlike other organizations, where volunteers are gathered for particular events or summer camps, every Grey Bear (volunteer) cares and looks after one Grey Bear Cub (person with disabilities) throughout the year. The two enjoy their friendship through everyday activities, as well as during Christmas and other celebrations. The summer camp is a big celebration where they all get together to strengthen what is being built throughout the year. The relationship between the disabled and volunteers typically lasts for years.

Father Kuba stresses that communities are about sharing responsibility and fundamental values–the functions of a family. Thus, every member of a community has responsibilities. Every disabled person, along with his or her volunteer, prepares a plan of work and lists skills to be acquired throughout the year. Father Kuba's program is about everyone learning to work for the benefit of all.

In order to reinforce the feeling of community, Father Kuba has created settlements–home-like gathering places–where disabled and volunteers can come together and feel at home. Throughout the year the settlements host summer camps (twice a year, with more than 300 participants each), a general assembly for the parents' councils, and board meetings. These places are created also for parents, who often feel lonely and depressed and struggle with how to express their emotions about their disabled children. The settlement is a place for parents to rest and share worries with other parents who undergo the same struggle.

In order to ensure the future success of his work, Father Kuba created a system for financial sustainability that focuses on the slow but stable growth of each community. Every community has its own "quartermaster" who is responsible for raising funds and gathering material resources for community activities. Quartermasters also raise money to go toward the maintenance costs of the settlements, summer camps, and planning and board meetings. Further, quartermasters gather a group of helpers who share in the responsibility of creating their own methods of income generation. Successors to quartermasters are constantly being trained. Some of the volunteers later become staff at the settlements or with the communities.

To date, the communities have embraced more than 400 disabled and 400 volunteers. Every year more than 300 people participate in the summer camps and various activities organized by the communities. Father Kuba is effectively using media to promote the program and attract potential community members–both the disabled and volunteers. He is cooperating with several organizations abroad and exchanging ideas on work with the disabled at locations around the world.

The Person

In the beginning of the 1980s, Father Kuba was finishing his degree in theology. He was always active and involved in various activities to help and support others. Meeting disabled students struggling with their wheelchairs around the university stairs prompted Father Kuba to create a scout group for disabled and mentally retarded persons.

In 1984 he organized the first summer camp for the disabled and mentally retarded in which he gathered 20 participants and 20 volunteer caretakers. Participants had different disabilities, including schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, and Down's syndrome. During his first camp, participants were looking for the name for the group and they came up with "Grey Bear Cubs" for the disabled and "Grey Bears" for the volunteers. That unique terminology turned attention toward the disabled, emphasizing their beauty and the value of diversity among humans.

That autumn, the Bears and Bear Cubs met to recall summer events and that was the beginning of the monthly meetings. The regularity of meetings prompted Father Kuba to create the first community of Grey Bear Cubs in 1985 in Bytom, where he was transferred as priest. He then started building communities in parishes where he was teaching. By 1995 communities had been created in Bytom, Poznań, Gliwice, Nowy Tomysl, and Krakow. In order to create a legal entity to represent interests of the communities, the Foundation of the Grey Bear Cub was established in 1989.