I was born three years after the Iron Curtain fell. For my parents, it felt like their child was born into a whole brand-new world with endless opportunities; something they could never experience themselves. Living in communist Poland was tough – the produce was scarce, people were cruel, life was bleak and predictable. My parents could not afford to have big dreams, whatever they might have been. The world they lived in did not allow them to become whatever they wanted to be – they became whatever they were told to be – and there was no room for inspiration, thinking outside of the box or making your dreams come true as we know it now. But when the workers’ strikes happened, followed by first democratic elections, all this was about to change.
From early years at school I was told by literally everyone – my parents, grandparents, teachers, aunties, shopkeepers and hairdressers – that ‘knowledge is power’. Of course, entering primary school for the first time at the age of seven was a big deal, but I also held little understanding of what that truly meant. However, what stuck with me after all these years in Polish schools, something that I didn’t entirely understand until I reached young adulthood, is that ‘we learn not for ourselves, but for the world’. So, I learned.
At first, education was important to me because it was important to everyone else around me. My parents were excited to give me everything they could not have, including education abroad, travelling, and opportunities that were just waiting for me around the corner. I was always doing well at school and I enjoyed learning, being in class, doing homework and all extra curricula activities such as music school, football, scouts’ team, singing, dancing and playing tennis. I loved being busy, learning new things and meeting people. And I held many promises of what could happen if I was doing very well at school, the promises initiated by Poland – firstly entering the democratic world and the European Union after that.
But then education became important to me, as I started exploring what I wanted to do in the future. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to help animals. I wanted to become a vet but did not find joy in chemistry and biology, and I knew that watching some animals suffer or putting them down would be too painful for me. I was drifting for a long time without a clear purpose, but never straying away from education, because it was important for my self-development. I always knew I was destined to do something meaningful, I just didn’t know what it was exactly. And I learned for myself.
When I finally moved to the UK to study, a whole new spectrum of possibilities opened. This was the life and education my parents wanted for me since I was born, and it eventually became my dream too. I was hungry for knowledge, exploration and new opportunities. And when doing my master’s degree, I finally found my calling. Helping animals was still on the agenda but I was not going to be a vet. I am currently on my second year of a part-time PhD in Huddersfield. I am working with Compassion in World Farming in the UK and Poland to improve the lives of farm animals, such as dairy cows, pigs, hens and broiler chickens. My work does not focus on activism but rather on practical help to improve farm animal welfare. I always knew that animals are sentient beings and now I have this fantastic chance to explore that notion scientifically, and to apply that knowledge into practice. I still aim to help animals, but I will be doing it in a very different way than I imagined. But most importantly, I am now learning not for myself, but for the world.
I am learning for the world of nature and animals, but also for the world of people. Because treating animals better also improves our lives. I am learning so that even a small part of the world that we live in can be a better place. Where there is less suffering of those who do not have a voice, where they don’t have to be exploited in cruel ways and where humanity prevails not by conquering nature, but by respecting it.
All my life, learning has been important to me. Firstly, because it was crucial for my parents who were entering a new wold. Then, it was important because I wanted to improve my opportunities and better myself. Now, it’s important because I want to better the world. Learning impacted my life by providing me with promises of endless opportunities, and with knowledge that I can use to do something good for animals. And now I can finally understand the school motto – ‘we learn not for ourselves, but for the world’.