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Kasia Madera

"Since the fall of Communism the country has changed beyond all recognition. Now I feel just as at home in Warsaw as I do in London."

 

 

 

My parents both left Poland at the beginning of the 1970s and met in London. My father died when I was six months old, and my mum brought me up in a foreign country as a single parent. She would always take me to Poland for the summer holidays to stay with my grandparents in their summer house (na działkę) in the forest of Wilga.

 

Some of my earliest memories are going porcini (prawdziwki) mushroom picking in forests that I now know saw fierce fighting in the Second World War. The forests are pot marked with deep groves where the tanks were once situated. The only year my mum and I did not go to Poland was when martial law was introduced. We would drive because we could then pack the car with food, clothes and toys, all the things that were in such short supply in Poland under Communism. As a little girl, I would navigate. The border crossing from West into East Germany had a massive impact on me. I can still remember the flood lights and feeling scared.

 

I attended Tadeusz Kościuszki Polish school up until I took my Polish A Level. My mum used to teach there. Back then there were far fewer such schools and my English friends could never understand why I had extra lessons on Saturdays.

 

Now there are lots of Polish schools across the UK and I am lucky enough to get invited to some to talk about my career. The people who teach in them are inspirational. I know from my mum's experience that they are not doing it for the money. The Polska Macierz Szkolna are brilliant for overseeing these schools and leading the successful campaign in keeping the Polish A Level.

 

Many of the people I met on those Saturday mornings are some of my best friends today. We used to infuriate the teachers by speaking English during break times. Although the language level in today's schools is higher because they are catering for many children who have recently arrived from Poland, I can hear English still be spoken in the playground. It is funny how some things do not change.

 

I always struggle when asked if I feel more British or Polish. I find it impossible to separate the two.

 

Although I was born in the UK, my upbringing was a Polish one. I may speak better English but my behaviour is often more Polish. I cannot go outside without a warm coat (ciepły płaszcz) and I cannot live without my mum's mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi.

 

When I was little the shortages in Poland meant my grandfather would wake up at 3am to queue for bread. The shops were empty and there was limited children's television. After kolacja I would wait for what felt like an eternity to watch the children's shows during Dobranocka.

 

Being in Poland felt very different to my life in the UK. Since the fall of Communism the country has changed beyond all recognition. Now I feel just as at home in Warsaw as I do in London.

 

The UK has changed too. Since Poland joined the EU and the consequent arrival of a new wave of Poles in the UK, I rarely have to pronounce my name anymore. These days most Brits have come across someone called Kasia. The post accession Poles have also energised the UK's post war Polish community. They have set up new businesses, cultural organisations and community groups that now work together with those institutions that had already  been established since WW2.

 

I am very proud of what I have achieved professionally and it is a huge honour to work among my very talented BBC colleagues. Being passionate about international news means BBC World News is a natural home for me. I have conducted many high profile interviews but my language skills specifically enabled me to interview the last three Polish presidents.

 

The EU Referendum was a particular professional challenge because many Poles told me that they felt hurt by the UK's decision. I was broadcasting from Warsaw on the day of the result and there was a deep sense of shock.

 

One of the most unexpected work surprises I have had was when Prince William admitted he watched BBC World News while on his foreign visits. I was among a handful of specially selected people with Polish links to be invited to a private meeting in Gdańsk during the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's Poland tour last year. We joked about my being a pesky journalist and that is when His Royal Highness said he watched my channel. I am not usually lost for words but that really silenced me.

 

On International Women's Day it is important to remember all those women who go out of their way to support each other. And what better example than the Polish Grandmother, the Polska Babcia? The army of women who step in to take care of their grandchildren so their daughters and daughters in law can go out to work.

 

Without my own mum taking on this role I know I would not be where I am today. At work things changes very quickly. I have lost count of the number of times I have called my mum at very short notice and she has dropped everything to look after my children so that I can rush to the studio. When I am away filming it is Babcia who is at the school gate. And my children adore her. They do not bother to hide their disappointment when I am there to pick them up.

 

Throughout my life my mum has been my inspiration. I cannot begin to imagine how she coped when my father died soon after I was born. She had only just arrived in the UK and in those days our family back in Poland were unable to help and of course she could not go back. She persevered through the hard times to ensure I had a happy childhood and my earliest memories are of her always working. Thanks to this tremendous work ethic she singlehandedly put me through University. Now I have children of my own I am begining to truly appreciate what an achievement that is. My mum's determination has shown me the true strength of women.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs