Ryszard Golec

Ashoka Fellow
Ashoka commemorates and celebrates the life and work of this deceased Ashoka Fellow.
This description of Ryszard Golec's work was prepared when Ryszard Golec was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998 .


This profile is dedicated to the memory of late Ryszard Golec. It was prepared when Ryszard was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998. Ryszard Golec is a pioneer in the fight to address one of Poland's most chronic problems - alcohol abuse in rural areas. In order to accomplish this goal, he has developed a technique that uses local institutions to penetrate these often closed communities.

The New Idea

Ryszard Golec is the first person in Poland to develop a program designed specifically to address the problem of alcoholism in rural communities. According to Ryszard, "The true challenge is to reach the smallest villages, where little is being done in regard to alcohol dependency." Ryszard believes that alcohol abuse is one of the reasons for the dramatic development gap that exists between urban and rural Poland. To address this problem, Ryszard has found a way to penetrate the normally very closed local communities by using the two most respected institutions within a village - the local church and the local school.Ryszard and his colleagues make their initial appeal to the family and friends of villagers with a drinking problem and help those fellow community members to form their own self-help groups. Ryszard provides them with the support and guidance they need until they become self-sufficient and self-sustaining. They then work from inside the village to motivate the village's alcoholics to form groups. The leaders that emerge through the process are then asked to help spread this technique to other villages nearby.

The Problem

Alcohol abuse in Poland is one of the country's most serious and chronic social problems. According to government statistics, in 1993 the average annual consumption was 8.5 liters of pure alcohol per capita, roughly equivalent to 22 liters of vodka or about 73 liters of wine. The same survey estimated that approximately one quarter of the male population regularly drinks beyond recommended safety limits.

In urban Poland, there is a relatively extensive system for the prevention of alcohol abuse and treatment of alcoholism. However, the programs have not been expanded to the rural areas, because such communities are considered by most people to be unapproachable. Moreover, the chronic abuse of alcohol in rural villages is accepted by many as a "normal" activity and therefore not really necessary to address. This belief stems in part from history.

During the partition of Poland, which lasted from the 18th to the early part of 20th century, the occupying forces used alcohol as a tool to pacify the indigenous population and keep them in a constant state of dependency.

The Strategy

In 1994/1995 Ryszard started a pilot project called Helping Ourselves, staffed with volunteers whom he calls "paratroopers" because of the way they drop in on a community. With their help and support, he organizes town meetings which try to motivate the village into action. Ryszard starts by securing the support of the village priest and the village schoolteacher, because he has found that the approval of these two most respected members of rural communities makes it more likely that the villagers will attend his initial presentation and be more receptive to his approach to combating local alcoholism.

Ryszard began by giving presentations in churches or schools and quickly found that there was a great demand and need for his program not only from alcoholics, but also from their families. Oftentimes, those who expressed the greatest interest in his presentations were not the problem drinkers themselves, but their wives or children who came to him asking for advice. In response to this demand, Ryszard started support groups for the spouses and children of alcoholics. He has found these people to be a valuable resource in encouraging those with a drinking problem to seek help. Still, the main focus of his work remains the development of self-help groups for alcoholics. Their treatment plans are based upon many of the concepts of the twelve-step program developed in the United States. After observing how his project grew at a relatively slow pace during its initial years, Ryszard developed a plan to make it self-sufficient and more dynamic in its expansion. It became clear to him that the most valuable resource he had at his disposal were people from rural communities who had successfully gone through the program and had developed leadership potential.

Ryszard recognizes that in any of the groups leaders will eventually emerge, and that with the proper training they can become the facilitators of their treatment process and that of their peers as well. Furthermore, after completing the treatment program, such a leader can also become a "paratrooper" and drop in on another community and help it to establish its own support groups. Using this technique, Ryszard and his five trainers were able to help facilitate the start-up of over twenty new groups. Within the next five years he hopes that there will be 250 such groups throughout Poland. This technique allows Ryszard's project to grow at an exponential rate and also frees him to develop formal training materials and work on media outreach campaigns to stem the growth of alcoholism in villages. In 1997

Ryszard expanded his work to Ukraine, where he organized a conference to train over 60 people in his techniques. In the future, he hopes to work throughout Ukraine, which has many similar problems with alcohol.

The Person

As a young child Ryszard distinguished himself as a leader. He organized successful peer soccer groups when he was just twelve years old. When he was seventeen, he started to drink, became addicted, and was an alcoholic for over twenty years. Eventually he decided to seek treatment; while at a clinic he organized a club and self-help group for himself and the other patients. Since that time he has fully devoted himself to combating alcohol addiction. He first worked in government clinics for addicts as a lay-therapist. He was recognized repeatedly for his excellent work, but eventually he decided that he could be of more help to others if he moved to rural Poland where he began to work with alcoholics.