Poland's First Lady Launches a New Kind of Summer Camp

Jolanta Kwasniewska lights up a room.

High energy and elegant, the 46-year-old native of Gdansk, the northern port city where the famous Solidarity movement was born, looked great in white pants and a sleeveless top, pearls and mules when I met her at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.  

Back in June, when President Bush travelled to Warsaw, Americans got a close look at Poland’s President, Alexander Kwasniewski. Shortly after that, I had a chance to meet with his wife, Poland’s First Lady.

The law school-educated, former businesswoman speaks fluent English and has made charity work her hallmark in the Presidential Palace. It's new ground she is breaking. Many of the former Communist countries do not have much of a tradition of volunteer work. She’s particularly dedicated to children, and has worked closely with orphaned and disabled kids.

Specifically, though, I wanted to hear about a summer camp she is hosting in Poland this month for children from all over the world, a program aimed at tackling intolerance.

The idea came about two years ago at a conference Mrs. Kwasniewska hosted for First Ladies and Queens from around the world, a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

She told me that when her husband became President six years ago and she began traveling to world forums and summits, she grew tired of hearing a lot of talk about making the world a more tolerant place. She wanted to do something about it.

She signed the spouses of many world leaders on to the idea of a summer camp for kids from different cultures.  It is for talented 15- to 17-year-olds, and it’s called the Rainbow Bridge Project.

The hope is that the campers will go on to become leaders in their respective countries, leaders who know how to get along with people from all religious and ethnic backgrounds, leaders who will help pave the way toward world peace.

The immediate impetus for the plan was the ethnic conflict and wars in the former Yugoslavia. Of the 75 youngsters bound for Mrs. Kwasniewska’s camp this summer, 36 are from the former Yugoslavia.  Israeli and Palestinian teens will also participate, as will Basque and Spanish teens.

She doesn’t want these young people to be lectured to—her hope is that they will teach each other about tolerance.

Mrs. Kwasniewska wanted the camp to be in Sarajevo. She went there and met with teachers and prospective campers.  She identified a boarding school she thought would make a nice venue for the camp.

But eventually she determined that Sarajevo, though a perfect symbol for the project, would not be a good place for the kids.  From the windows of the boarding school, she could see crosses marking the spots where people had been killed by snipers, and on the day after her visit, two young girls were killed by landmines in the city.

So she ended up chose the beautiful Mazurian Lake region of Poland, a spot Pope John Paul II, when he was less busy, used to frequent.

But this will not be a typical summer camp. Boating and swimming will not be top billings.  It will be a weighty program, and the participants have already been preparing for it in their respective schools.

Mornings will be filled with, as Mrs. Kwasniewski calls them, psychological-pedagogical programs. Trained professionals will lead workshops for the children, many of whom have suffered very real from consequences of intolerance. Afternoons will feature cultural workshops, allowing the children to enjoy the best of each others’ traditions.

There will also be plenty of high-profile guests at the camp, from Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres to Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, not to mention, of course, a visit from the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski.  Mrs. Kwasniewska will spend the entire 10-day period with the kids, seeing her project through and evaluating it as it progresses.

Mrs. Kwasniewska said she originally approached several well-known international organizations for funding, but they all turned her down.  So she just went ahead and pulled the project together herself, gathering donations from different companies.

She is confident that the meeting of exceptional minds from different countries and cultures has the potential to be a step in the direction of obliterating intolerance. If she’s discovered a magic recipe, we are sure to hear much more from Mrs. Kwasniewska in the future.

In the meantime, she continues to make a difference wherever she can, one child at a time.

Amy Kellogg is London correspondent for Fox News Channel.

Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox