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Jadwiga Figuła

Jadwiga Figuła during the production of photojournalism from Southern Sudan

My emigration had a completely different dimension. The first trip was for profit, but the next one helped me develop and pursue my passion. The first time I went to the US in 1999. I finished the third year of studies at the Krakow Academy of Physical Education. I wanted to earn some extra money, I looked after children in Gurnee near Chicago. After a year I returned to Poland, I graduated and I went back to the States. In 2002, I flew to Austin to the same family who I worked for earlier in Gurnee. I still keep in touch with the family.

With the money earned during my first stay in the US I bought two cameras, because I was able to afford them. I came back to the United States to Austin, Texas, to the same family, who I had worked for before. The family noticed that I was taking a lot of pictures of their children. They liked them very much. And one day they asked me: "Iga, wouldn’t you like to go for a photography course?" So I signed up for a Saturday's photography course. I finished it. One of the course teachers worked at a local college. I went with a student visa, I went for a special course of English, I passed TOEFL exam and examinations to college. It opened the door for me. In Poland, I wouldn’t have had such a chance. I come from a small town near Krakow, I am an unknown person, without connections. During high school I was attending film classes. I was looking for some photography school. At that time there was no Internet, it was hard to get information on the subject. I even went to Katowice for consultation. It turned out that they accepted only 15 people, the recruitment was held every two years. It was necessary to have a portfolio, which of course at that time I didn’t have. I was admitted to the Academy of Physical Education in Krakow... At that stage there was no chance for me. It was the time of the 1990s.

At various outings I always took pictures. My first camera was Zenit. Someone once or twice said: "Oh! What cool pictures you're taking. "Photography was always with me. But it wasn’t talked about. I thought a lot about my passion, but I didn’t talk to anybody about it. I remember when I had my first photographs developed. I had the opportunity to work in the darkroom, digital photography was only slowly emerging...

Liberian photography

After graduating from college I came to Poland, to go to Liberia in January 2008. Africa did not show up in my head within one day. When I was in Austin at the local church worked an organization for young people. I joined it, I met a lot of interesting and open people. Every six months there were organized weekly mission trips to Mexico, where young people mostly helped in the construction of schools. I met a person who participated in mission trips to South America. I also wanted to go for a mission, for example to Peru, I did not think then about Africa. I contacted the Catholic association in Washington which organized mission trips. I was going to go to South America, and in the receiver I heard the voice: "Africa!". I immediately I thought, "I don’t want to go to Africa." But in the end I went for two years to Liberia. I took photographs of projects and prepared materials for fundraising for Mary's Meals charity. I had lessons with young people in St. Dominic secondary school in Tubmanburg in Bomi county. I also worked with young people in an archdiocese. In 2012, I left for eight months to Southern Sudan, where I worked with a non-government organization Medair: I provided current news, prepared photojournalism, took photos and sent reports for internal and external needs of the organization.
In Africa I was delighted at the people. Especially their fight for life. They appreciate life much more. They view it in a different way than we, "Westerners", do. I'm still fascinated by their culture, a different way of thinking, perception of reality

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Emigration to creativity

I feel I’m a Pole. I always try to be a good ambassador of Poland, to break stereotypes about Poles. People judge you after that one moment when they meet you. They form an opinion about you. But it is not really a complete picture of you. I feel I’m a Pole because here are my roots, my family, but I could live anywhere else. I'm like a nomad.
I’m familiar with current political events and social changes in the home country. But I miss something in Poland ... I'm not able to determine what exactly. I miss some diversity, otherness, curiosity and openness to others.

In the US or in Liberia I didn’t meet many Poles. But I also wasn’t looking for them. Firstly, for linguistic reasons. It motivated me to better learn English and learn more about the local culture and people. And secondly, I felt very good in the new environment. The trip to the US was a great opportunity for me and it gave me a chance to go to the photography school. It opened the door for me. I could pursue my passion, stay in the environment of professional photographers who were willing to share with me their knowledge. Never in the US did I feel like a stranger. In the beginning I missed my family a little bit, but later I stopped. I felt good in the new environment. Probably because very quickly they accepted me the way I am.

Of course, I had some difficulty to understand what others said. The environment in which I found myself gave me the motivation to work more and better. In school I met people who noticed my potential and wanted to help me develop it. They gave me support, planted in me a seed: you believe that you can. The goal is not success in itself, but the fact of the work itself. One of my teachers once told me: "This field which you chose, Iga, is difficult. But you have to wade through it, because you do not know where it will lead you." Don’t give up. You have to knock on every door.

I don’t think I missed the Polish cuisine. Well, maybe red borscht. Once a friend who knew I was a Pole took me to the Polish shop and for typical Polish dinner: dumplings and red borscht. It was very nice. I contacted my family via Skype, we talked on the phone, e-mailed each other.

Today, after my experience I don’t miss Poland. I miss the place where I can make my dreams come true. I miss the creative environment which, unfortunately, I didn’t find in Poland.