A month of my life

On Sunday, 27 February I was working with Justyna Ziółkowska on a paper of ours. It was just after Russia had invaded Ukraine and we were still in shock. Instead of working, we decided to watch the news. At some point, hearing about refugees coming into Poland, Justyna said: We should write a therapeutic tale. These children will need help, and there is none at the moment. What a wonderful idea, I said (very impressed).

This is how it all started. And before I continue, I want to thank Justyna for the idea, for sharing it with me, for letting me be part of it. Thank you!

We both wrote to our universities, telling them we’re going to do it, and asking whether they would offer some support. Justyna’s dean (Dr Tomasz Grzyb) and my rector (Prof. Przemyslaw Wiszewski) responded within the hour. And they both responded enthusiastically. And I would like to express my deep gratitude to them.

Then came many, many phone calls to gather a group of people. First, we needed psychologists/clinicians who would design the book with us. In particular, we needed at least one specialist in therapeutic storytelling. We needed researchers who would start looking for latest literature on therapeutic tales, their structure and content. Then we needed someone who polish our Polish, then the translators into Russian and Ukrainian. We also needed a graphic designer and an illustrator.

The following morning, it was Monday, the group of people started shaping up. We found a specialist in storytelling (Karolina Matczak), a few more agreed to consult. The students of the Clinical Psychology Club at SWPS University in Wroclaw became our researchers and draft makers. Very quickly we found our language magician and the translators. Practically no one refused.

But we had a problem – the visual artists. We phoned a number of people who all were enthusiastic, but always using the verb ‘try’.

I’ll try to help.

we heard too many times. Trying to help was not good enough and we crossed a line through the name. Soon we ran out of names…..

But Twitter came to the rescue. I tweeted a request for help and literally within an hour or two, Rebecca Scambler responded. The difference was that she said:

I’ll do it. Do you want to me to suggest an illustrator too?

Bloody hell, that was a relief. Thank you, yes, thank you, please do. This is how Paula Metcalf got involved.

Rebecca’s and Paula’s are the two names I want to mention in particular. Had I known how much work they had to do, what kind of pressure we put them on, I probably would not have asked. In terms of what we all did, as individuals, Rebecca and Paula did more than anyone else. I cannot thank you two enough.

Then came the first discussions. Quickly we decided that the story would begin at the railway station, no mention of the past. It was too early. What connected all the children we were targeting was that they had to come to grips with a new reality and the book was supposed to do just that. New country, new language, new alphabet. A few days later the students told us what they had read, they also started writing. Justyna and I started canvassing for money to have it printed (here the story gets very complicated, so I shall tell it another time).

But it went downhill. Justyna and I knocked the book together, Tomasz Piekot made it beautiful in Polish, translators: Olga Barabasz-Rewak (UA) and Natalya Didenko started working.

Then the frenzied emailing with Becky (and Paula) came. As we pressed them, they wanted pictures of what a housing estate looks like in Poland, what are the words for school or railway station. And then came the first picture – bloody hell we were delighted. When we saw this:


Author: Paula Metcalf

We knew the book would be beautiful.

It was time to talk to the University. Dr Katarzyna Uczkiewicz, University of Wroclaw’s spokeswoman, told me to stand in front of a camera and say a few words about the book. This is when I did my Bob Geldof speech the first time (here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df73WHgIa_c)

Give us the dough. Who saves one life, saves the world entire. We have many worlds to save. Give us the dough.

Two days later the video was broadcast by the main Polish news channel, TVN24. The tale “Ola, Boris, and their new friends”, became a news item. I became its face, I was on television, and radio, again, then some more. And then there was the response, but that’s a different story.

But we still needed to print. Here came Instytut Heweliusza, an educational NGO, who simply said:

We’ll print 10 thousand copies.

They didn’t want to discuss it, have a series of meetings, wait for others. They simply did. I want to acknowledge their generosity.

About 9 thousand books are gone, people are distributing the remainder. We simply give the books to those who ask – we decided to trust. The book is free and will remain free. We give it away to those who want it and need it.

We still need the dough, though. We’d like to print more. The time is getting short, but the book still can be printed.

We also got feedback. First from teachers and psychologists. Enthusiasm. Then we were sent pictures of children reading the book. I wish I could post them. Those children were all smiling. Gosh, it was moving every single time. I probably wrecked my chances to get a grant on the basis of a grant application that I stopped writing when we started working the book. But their smiles tell me it was all worth it.

That was a month of my life. Probably the nest thing I have done in my academic life. No grant, no impact factor, not much research. Just a view on the social responsibility of science. It will count for nothing in today’s academia. I still think that for a little while we all became champions of the world.

So, with my deepest gratitude, I’d like to acknowledge all those who were involved.


Justyna Ziółkowska, Wydział Psychologii we Wrocławiu, Uniwersytet SWPS

Dariusz Galasiński, Centrum Interdyscyplinarnych Badań nad Zdrowiem i Chorobą, Uniwersytet Wrocławski

Graphic design: Rebecca Scambler

Illustrations: Paula Metcalf


Justyna Ziółkowska

Dariusz Galasiński


Clinical Psychology Club, Faculty of Psychology in Wrocław, SWPS University:

Aleksandra Cieloch

Marta Emirsajłow

Oliwia Malińska

Michalina Mazurek

Jakub Michalik

Julia Odelga

Małgorzata Skrońska

Gabriela Sorsa

Anna Stachowiak

Anna Szołomycka

Paulina Woźny


Clinical supervision: Karolina Matczak

Translation: Olga Barabasz-Rewak (UA)

Natalya Didenko (RUS)

Language consultation: Tomasz Piekot

Academic consultation:

Marta Głowacka

Adela Barabasz

Tomasz Grzyb

We gratefully acknowledge the institutional support of the Rector of the University of Wrocław, Prof. Przemysław Wiszewski and the Dean of the Faculty of Psychology in Wrocław of SWPS University, Prof. Tomasz Grzyb.

We also acknowledge assistance and support from the following persons and institutions:

Izabela Bancewicz-Mikulewicz

Polskie Stowarzyszenie Psychologii Społecznej

Agnieszka Matusiak

Iga Pękala

Eva Duda

Magdalena Witkowicz


  1. Elizabeth Bristow

    This is so moving and truly awesome:
    People motivated by compassion and using their skills to provide something extremely necessary.
    So inspiring and should be celebrated.

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