Polish crisis charity celebrate five years

June 22 2017

A FIFTH anniversary for crisis counselling service Opoka was celebrated with a visit from the Mayor of Bristol and his cabinet to their Cheltenham Road premises at the end of May.

.

A FIFTH anniversary for crisis counselling service Opoka was celebrated with a visit from the Mayor of Bristol and his cabinet to their Cheltenham Road premises at the end of May. 

‘Opoka’ means ‘rock’ in Polish, and Opoka-Bristol is a service that Polish women and children who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse can rely on. The women this voluntary organisation help may be isolated because they are from an Eastern European background and have limited or no understanding about how to access support to address the risks they are experiencing.

 The Centre, set up as part of the Chrysalis support organisation, provides short term individual crisis counselling and where funded, long term therapy for women and children. The purpose of support and therapy is to provide the necessary tools for clients who need these services to start the process of healing and recovery.

 One of the 25 trained volunteers is Aneta Maryla Mackell who realised through her support work in 2012 that a lot of people were approaching the Polish Priest at the Polish Church on Cheltenham Road for advice on what people should do to get help in an abusive relationship.

 An initial project was set up as Aneta explained: “We found out that women and children were the most vulnerable in the community as they are often isolated in the UK. The husband leaves Poland first to come to find work and often finds a new relationship in this country.  

“The wife would come with the children but have little understanding of the English language. The husband would be working a lot and in charge of the money. After a few years the women would put it all together, work out what was going on and realise that she’d left a good job in Poland to live here with her husband. There are cases where women end up in the emergency departments. There is coersive behaviour - controlling money, and how the women behaves.”

There is a support team of six operating at the organisation including a legal advisor, solicitor, psychologist, therapist, nurse, independent domestic and sexual violence advisors who speak both English and Polish. Opoka provide the women with psychological therapies and practical support and any Polish woman can approach them.  People are referred to Opoka by the police, Lighthouse and social workers. There is a Facebook page www.facebook.com/opokabristol and adverts on Facebook to alert women to the service.

 Opoka-Bristol received DCLG funding for the first time this year to carry on the valuable work and has been named by the Bristol City Council Crime Reduction Manager as the BAME Specialist Domestic Violence Service in Bristol. 

Aneta added: “There is a hidden problem of under-reported violence. We want to let the community know that we are here to support people from the Polish community. We have been set up to help women.  

“I can only imagine how difficult it must be for women here with no friends to express themselves. Children suffer the most. Witnessing domestic violence makes it difficult to have trust with other people and their relationship with others. 

“Domestic violence never leaves you. It is difficult to open up and say ‘I don’t know what to do’.

 “We have lots of ideas of how to help women find work and childcare. To empower women to make positive changes and feel stronger and more confident.”

 Opoka can be contacted through Facebook, or call 0117 9166 620 (Polish) or 0117 904 4366 (English).