• Old Oak Country Club
  • 14200 Parker Rd, Homer Glen, IL

Handzel Golf Open 
June 2nd, 2017
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Handzel Open - Main Sponsor of the English Language Workshops 2005 in Peru

I have always been lucky to meet kind-hearted people willing to help support my projects, some of which at first glance may have seemed a little crazy. Without their backing I would not have achieved even a part of my accomplishments. Chicago has been my hometown for only five years, but the Polish/American businessmen have opened their doors wide and embraced my very ambitious project.

Meet the Handzels

Over two years ago I did slide-show of photographs taken at the world’s deepest canyon, the legendary Colca Canyon in Peru, at the Polish American Chamber of Commerce (PACC). I shared with the audience my dream to help the poor Indian youth from this region learn English, and by so doing, open the door to their participation in the booming tourism industry in their home-land. After my presentation Mr. Greg Handzel approached me and told me of the tennis tournaments he organizes here in Chicago, and that he would be willing to promote my project and help to fund the creation of an English language camp. I was introduced to Marzena, Greg’s wife and partner in their insurance business, and our alliance was formed; their personable nature and eagerness to help with this project was warmly and gratefully received. That is how it all started. The Foundation is named after the Polish/Peruvian hero Eng. Ernest Malinowski, constructor of the trans-andean railroad and a successful defender of Callao and Lima against Chilean fleets.

Poles explore the Peruvian Andes

My Peruvian odyssey began almost a quarter century ago… In 1981 I was privileged to lead a Polish Students Expedition in Kayaks named „Canoandes’79”. Our two-year long trip traveling from Poland to Mexico, Central America to Ecuador and Peru could easily be adapted to a screenplay for more than one movie. It was on this voyage that we discovered the canyon that changed our lives--very deep, very dangerous, and located between two huge volcanoes in southern Peru. We knew that this was the challenge we had been seeking for the past two years. Our first challenge was to find a way to access to the bottom of this monstrous gorge. Uncertainty surrounded us all; we were unsure if it was at all accessible and navigable; could it be possible for anyone to ever conquer this bottomless crack in the earth’s mantel? We were unsure if, given the mounting obstacles, we could ever make an attempt on this virgin canyon and live to tell the story.

Conquering the World’s Deepest Canyon

A few days later we found a trace of an old mining trail and after a day long descent we reached the bottom of the Colca Canyon. We frantically packed our belongings: camping gear, food supplies, photo equipment and personal stuff, trying to protect them from this crazy rivers’ penetrating water, swirling and roaring between huge boulders, creating world class white water in moon-like scenery. The size of this article doesn’t allow me to write about the endless string of small adventures scattered throughout the greater endeavor we faced; from small accidents and personal break downs to heroic acts of solidarity with a friend in need, all set within the walls of this great canyon to the music and rhythm of its water’s power and the endless labyrinth of rapids and waterfalls. Interested readers can find a great article on our conquest of the Rio Colca written by Joe Kane in the January 1993 edition of National Geographic Magazine. Here it should suffice to say that 32 days after leaving a nearby “White Town” of Arequipa we returned there as heroes to announce to the world that the Colca Canyon was explored, conquered and discovered by a group of Polish kayakers from the University of Krakow. We paid dearly for our recklessness and courage: we were all penniless, having only $1.96 between us; each of us lost more than 20 pounds; we were starving and earnestly fighting for our survival for the entire journey through the canyon. There were many occasions where we despaired and felt we would never leave this canyon and see our loved ones again, but good fortune was our guide and this, along with our adventurous spirit, brought us out of there intact and in many ways richer.

A Wave of Fame

We soon had a press conference announcing our achievement and a telex was sent to the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington D.C.; we had a royal reception by the Tourist Authorities in Cuzco and Machu Picchu, and finally an audience with the President of the Republic of Peru, Architect Fernando Belaunde Terry. We were seven young men far away from our homeland of Poland, wore out by the Peruvian canyon yet elated with the attention from the media as well as the ordinary citizens who congratulated us every day. We enjoyed our fame, but were not idle for long though. The Minister of Tourism housed us in the five-star Hotel Crillon in Lima, where, working shifts both day and night, we managed to finish writing the first and only guide to Peruvian rivers. This being done, we had a huge press conference at the Embassy of Poland to promote our book, and we left Peru heading south for Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the two Americas.

From Explorer to Promoter to Educator

Since that wonderful adventure I have returned to Peru many times, and observed that one of the results of this expedition and the ensuing media attention was a steep rise in tourism to the Colca region. Furthermore, I noticed that many of the tourists were also bringing their own tour guides to help bridge the language barrier, primarily because there was no established local tourist industry. With the intention of finding a way to empower the people indigenous to the Colca region, I organized an English Language Workshop with funding from the E. Malinowski Polish American Educational Foundation. Every year since 2004 we run two 3-week sessions in the summer, with 8-12 teachers (ESL specialists as Lead Teachers) and assistants from the U.S., Canada, and Poland.

First English School in the Colca Valley

The overall aim of the English Language Workshop is to provide intensive English language instruction with an emphasis on conversation and vocabulary used in the travel industry. One of the long-term goals, however, is to help prepare local youth to work in the travel industry as bilingual guides, drivers, hotel and restaurant workers, as maintenance workers, clerks etc. Our classes are located in a local public high school and a cultural center. Francisco Portugal, a local English teacher, selects names of almost 100 students interested in learning English from English speaking foreigners and who are also interested in a career in tourism. After a week of intense classes the students sit an exam to help determine their level of competency and are then moved to smaller groups based on the exam’s results. There was a lead-teacher in each course: Richard Tucker from George Washington University and Cynthia Comstock from National Louis University - led two consecutive courses. Both are specialists in English as a Second Language (ESL) with decades of practice with students from around the globe. Each course was taught by a group of seven volunteers, students of universities in Poland and America. I incorporated our Polish tradition into the Workshops by inviting volunteers of Polish descent. Last year two students from Poland won an expenses-paid trip to Peru to participate in this program; the competition was run by a pretigious Polish travel Magazine “Poznaj Swiat” and E. Malinowski Foundation. They were both valuable members of the teaching team and wrote an article about their experiences in our camp that was published in “Poznaj Swiat” (Oct. 2005).

The atmosphere in the small town of Chivay, the capital of Colca, was exotic and very friendly. Not only local Authorities, but every citizen recognized us on the streets and greeted us with a smile. Our students told their relatives stories about our modern English school with its brand new computers and educational software. The Indian kids were fascinated with language games and many times didn’t want to leave their class at the end of the session. Sometime they even shouted: otra! otra! (another, another!) – to let them play the next round of a language game. So, the last lessons of the day were usually extended. I could only dream about such enthusiasm in my daily Math classes here in Chicago.

Computers from Tennis Court

Our main sponsor Handzel Open donated a check for five thousand dollars to our educational program! Other sponsors added to this and enabled us to buy electronic equipment for a language lab and English Department in a local high school -Colegio Nacional Francisco Garcia Calderon. Since my last visit to Peru Indian children in Colca have access to 12 brand new computers, a multi-system DVD player, a large screen TV, a variety of educational software, a digital photo camera and a lap-top. One of the Officials of Colca expressed his feelings saying: “it would be never possible to create these English courses and the lab without the generosity of our Polish friends. I do not know any Peruvian Ministers of Education who could come even close to this great donation.” Million thanks Mr. and Mrs. Greg Handzel!

Inauguration of Avenida Polonia in Chivay

To show their appreciation for our involvement in the future of their children, the Mayor and his Counsel made a resolution naming the longest street in all Colca “Avenida Polonia”. We brought four steel name plates from Chicago (47 lbs of metal!) and on graduation day our hosts, students and faculty walked out to a wall with a plaque installed on it. Short speeches were given and I was asked to pull down the covering cloth and to break a bottle of champagne against the wall (what a waste of it!). It was truly a great moment in my life and my eyes were filled with tears of joy; Peruvian children were dancing in traditional clothes and hats, officials were shaking my hand and my lovely wife Anna sharing all these moments with me.

2005 – The 6th Handzel Open

Last year, though not competing on courts, I felt very much a part of this tennis tournament. The spirit of competition and also camaraderie amongst the players was overwhelming and felt throughout the courts. The audience was keenly involved in all that was going on around them and their silent anticipation was only broken by the sound of a ball hit by a tennis rocket, or a brief command of Jacek Dabrowski – Director of the Tournament and the main referee of the games.

The weather was perfect all days, sunny and breezy with only one short shower. Cold beer pumped from a keg and the aroma from the grill all helped to whet our appetites as we gathered on the lawns--competitors, their friends and families and the public in general. New bonds of friendship were established. We listened to the comments of tennis gurus, prior Handzel Open winners, and current players and watched the final game that lasted a long, intense period of time. The game was intense but after some time we heard the sharp whistle of Jacek, and the wild applause of the audience. The winner of the 6th Handzel Open was announced, a gentleman from the Ukraine, Vadim Demchyszyn. Final photographs were taken, interviews given for TV channels and newspapers, followed by awards ceremony. For a kayaker from a far away Peruvian Canyon that I am, the relaxed atmosphere, camaraderie and friendship amongst all of us on the River Trails Tennis Club lawn reminded me of the great emotion I experienced many years ago when my kayaking group finally landed on a sand-bar, the dangers of the river behind us, tired to the bone, but deeply happy. Our final sips of beer smothered the fatigue, our guests from out of town were glancing at the planes on the sky starting from the nearby O’Hare airport, and both new and old friends promised to return next year, to play again and to try their luck once more.

Thank You Note

Once again the officers of the E. Malinowski Polish American Educational Foundation, Inc., Faculty and Assistants of “Colca 2005” English Language Workshops, the students - young Collagua Indians from Peru - participants in English classes, English Department of F. Garcia Calderon H.S. in Chivay – and all other people whom we touched during the Summer of 2005 – we all want to thank Grzegorz and Marzena Handzel and all organizers and participants of the 6th Handzel Open – for you generous gifts and hearts extended to us and our educational endeavor.

Text and Pictures: Andrew A. Pietowski, copyright