Trust is a very fragile thing (Part 1)
1. What is Berkat? Such a charity...
The beginning of Berkat's energy was emotion - pity for people suffering in conditions that are for us unimaginable. We wanted to tie something with this emotion that would have a visible effect - so we started to find ways to do something even though we didn't have anything and we didn't know how. Then we managed to connect directly with those who shared our interest, but also whose tragedy frightened us as well. A group of women got together that wanted to do something that they have never tried before. A common energy was formed that was possible to share. At first, we started, and still continue today, to work with women in Chechnya. After years they took our energy, understood it, and finally even defined the value, from which we had raised our organization, and originally passed on to them - "if you help others, you help yourself as well". The principle is to realize and accept this as being bilateral, learn to work with it - not hiding it. Charity is a decorative pin on the lapel of our prospering society - and it becomes "in". Those with a high standard of living, openly admit to doing charity work to keep a mental equilibrium. For me, and hopefully not only for me, it is also about a common search for possibilities how to re-cultivate life through this consciously accepted change of a life perspective - and this always happens simultaneously on both sides only when there is an open and free area of trust between them. This isn't at all easy and it brings along many risks, as with any relationship. Because trust is such a fragile thing, if you accept people around you only with a purpose (as a means to reach your goal), if you don't really patiently and honestly listen to the people around you to what they want and need, you will never experience what is really in them and therefore you can never understand them.
One can enter internal and external isolation after losing everything during bombing as well as if one has a family and receives a monthly income.
During the eight year long existence of Berkat, I noticed the reaction of people that engaged themselves in charitable or humanitarian activities and it is true that the manner of our work functioned sometimes more winnowed than it is usual. It is because Berkat was founded from the bottom up, from public will and the need of some sponsoring individuals to undertake an action. As a Berkat veteran, I permit myself to formulate the initial principle on which Berkat was founded and on which it was built: it is more about passing on and recycling the personal and collective energy that rises from the co-feeling of the people involved - through very concrete acts with a beginning, end and a relationship that joins and stays.
I see joining and keeping a relationship through acts as key, because there is the opportunity to reconnect lost life-continuity. It happens the only way: through a collective realization of a story, in which all the parties are its authors and actors and together are striving for a goal. The experience of its collective fulfillment then creates or renews the human solidarity and mainly mediates a contact with reality. Money disappears but this experience remains the whole life. Such a story was, for example, a trip of Chechen children to the Czech Republic, hands-on classes for youth in a Grozny house, a transplant of an eye sclerocornea in a hospital in Kabul, our common visits... A thought that is strong enough to become the common interest of a few people (that often have a social inclination) that partner around it and cultivate it as a common child. The idea is a binder as well as the source of their energy. They have a new reason to learn, perceive others and their other points of view.
The renewal of continuity is the main reconstructive building aspect of communities, and it is done especially through life and common themes, in which people experience different points of view and possibilities how and where to connect a broken thread.
2. Help as a medicine, power or a journey to other perspectives?
Experience taught me that an ideal helper is one that consciously and openly admits that helping another is something that he/she needs for themselves. Why? They honestly analyze their own possibilities and limitations. I'll bring concrete examples: the first person, who formulated this so openly and clearly was Roza Muzajeva, our field worker in Grozny, who met Petra Procházková in 2000 at the place where she was giving humanitarian aid. During that time Petra was trying to find women which she could interview for the book "Aluminum Queen". http://www.berkat.cz/dokument.php?id=91 I wondered how to force themes of war results in Chechnya differently on the western public and at the same time, how to get some means out of it for another concrete activity. Petra and Roza started to search for women hiding in the caves of bombed houses. Roza became over years our cultural worker - in Grozny she is called Mother Teresa. Roza said this about three years ago: "that I was able to help others saved my mind".
The second example is an eye doctor Martin Filipec, a founder of the Czech eye clinic Lexum. We were trying to find a doctor that would be able to do the transplant of a sclerocornea to an Afghan boy called Adzamal, who was found in a newspaper by a woman named Marta in November 2001. She got into her head that she has to help the boy and it was thanks to her determination that we discovered that a transplant of a sclerocornea is the only solution. During our first meeting with Dr. Filipec (we met him in a hospital where he was due to an urgent back spine issue) he said - "I am at the top of my career and I need to try something new, to use what I know in a different surrounding". He took our request and with our assistance he changed it into his own program - it was he who said that it would be useful to go to Afghanistan and try to teach local doctors to do transplants. His and Martina's motivation and energy were combined with the energy of Berkat and the plan was executed. A baton of this energy continues today in form of a project called "sclerocornea dolls". The point of giving back an eyesight moved Jana Vavřincová, a southern Czech, who is today, together with her students, psychiatric patients and elderly making original dolls that we then offer in a door or street sale as a present for a contribution to purchase more sclerocornea that is then sent to a Kabul clinic.
A third good example is one of the sponsors of our Chechen program - a lawyer Jana Ilovičná. She is professionally very busy, but is interested and provides material help similarly to other private sponsors of our program Friendly help in Grozny. It was the first act of her help that she met her relatives in Caucasus. And it was her who told me not long ago - "I don't have time since I work from an early morning until night...if I don't answer to you, bother me until I do. I need to help your Chechen women to maintain my personal equilibrium."
I could continue like this further, there are more examples. It is important to be able to create around you a group of people whose motivation to help is clear and transparent. Then you know exactly why people do it, what they need from you and what you can expect from them.
Often I face the question why I help them and most of the time I blurt out that I do it out of curiosity. Underneath, though, there branch other reasons - such as a need to analyze human societies, relationships and events that form them. It is to observe the inner and outer scenes and create conditions to create relationships through which a human soul will be free and new possibilities of how to be better more obvious. It is a need, through giving, to awaken new possibilities where they are still enchained. It is to discover what is under the surface, how it functions in a context, to discover, to dig, collect and take care of the inner beauty of human beings that live all around the world. When I was younger, the key to my energy was rebellion. Now it is a desire to renew a continuity, to which I believe, as well as a stronger and stronger confidence in logics and wisdom of fairy tales.
3. Looking back at the history of Berkat in the Czech Republic: from a spontaneous association of friends to a "structured" organization...
Everything is about a personality and an evolution of relationships, that we create, and the feedback that we receive during our activities. Since 2001, when Berkat was created, it went through, and still is going through, not so much a dramatic, but challenging evolution. At the beginning, it was a small group of people that created an atmosphere full of energy, as it corresponds to the Arabic translation of the word berkat - "plentitude from nothing". On Wednesday there was an idea with people around it that were provoking each other to accomplish it. We used already established relationships with people from Chechnya, and then Afghanistan and later with refugees. At the beginning we offered them help individually, we called it a "friendly help". Through meeting with them we were able to give to some of them our energy and they stayed with us because of those common experiences. We took them out of the isolation caused by living through a trauma; we took ourselves from the isolation caused by a feeling of impossibility to change anything about this tragedy. Some of them of course wanted and expected material help and money. It took a long time for them to realize that the main target is not to feed them, but only help them to do the same like we do, which is to create for them an adequate zone, a frame where they will be able to do what brings them happiness and benefit. The program has been the longest in Chechnya (8 years!) and sometimes it is almost incredible to see how our women in Grozny slowly started to adopt this principle and how it changed their perspective and ours.
Berkat in the Czech Republic originally functioned as a kind of delivery house, nursery, and then later a laboratory for any ideas how to help and get sources for help. Berkat was giving trust and energy so people with a need of expressing compassionate emotions through action could do it, everyone based on their possibilities and abilities. After a beginning in Chechnya, the program started in Afghanistan in 2003, where Petra Procházková, a journalist and a co-founder of Berkat worked since November 2001. She started to search for appropriate places for brainstorming. It was where connections with women from four villages southwest of Kabul were slowly formed and we bought from them embroidery. A program Happy flying carpets originated - the first contribution was a gathering that lasted 14 days and during which 90 thousands crowns was collected, used as an investment to the program that has been evolving until today. A first working group was formed in the Czech Republic, there were new afghan products, there were new ideas evolving through time, such as how and what afghan women can sew, so that Czech women can use it as decoration and therefore have a reason to contribute to the project's evolution. An idea of Bazaret came, where we would discuss, agree, offer new assortment, and judge the quality of products and their lives and ours, and so on. Products were reflecting our meetings, which was their beauty. During that time, there were about twenty people in Berkat. After the first two-year long phase of being energetically productive, came the phase of organizing an association that started to have their own needs. How should we do it? New people with new ideas were coming, as it happens in other organizations. Each new organization is a subset of a society and there are certain ideas in what conditions "good" can and should be done. If you demand from our society acceptance and resources, organization is naturally necessary. A structured organization is needed more by the society than us, and we should remember that. It is a proper uniform, coat or a signal, to a certain level a purpose matter. Suddenly, there are two interests - to keep this strong energetic field created by people that often invest in something common without receiving any benefits from it. On the other side, there is a need to create an organization as a condition and a frame for this community for which it is created. Already at the moment of its birth, an organization starts to have its own needs and influence it needs to have on the society for which it was created. Everyone who gradually enters it is creating it. These new passengers bring together with them this desire to let themselves be drawn in by this energy of the "association of madmen", but also they bring with them their own dispositions, ambitions and conditions. For the organization and its energy this moment can mean the beginning of the end, since suddenly there are already too many interests that often aren't perceivable and expressed. Interest becomes common and starts to focus on one place. It is here where the organization starts to play its role based on a spectrum of ideas, how things should be done for it to be right. Generally, it is said (and also taught at university and vocation schools) that doing good for it to be effective needs to be done "professionally", which means to run according to previously setup rules and being appropriately financially evaluated, otherwise it really doesn't exist. It is like charming a snake: association suddenly needs grants, computers, office, accounting, audits, security training, and money for constantly increasing rent, accredited program for volunteers, taxes etc... And this initial energy starts to crumble and be ground down by the amount of conditions and activities that the system demands in order to fulfill the need to be beneficial to someone. Those whom you help, become so called target groups, one of the elements included in the tables of requests for grants and subsidies. The target group individuals realize this very soon - they are no longer only friends, that receive the creative energy and at the same time giving back feedbacks, but they themselves become players, part of the card game that is dictated by someone else. This can be dangerous; it becomes a bit of a business relationship, where, under pressure, the flow, openness and freedom can slowly start to disappear from the relationship, and instead of that, there is a purpose and therefore isolation of all that participated. The feedback disappears and with it the energy.
The lack of imagination and self confidence is often a cause of overestimating the value of money. It is very important to choose sources so they do not override the original goal, vision and energy. I fully realized this risk during the emerging era of grants that started in Berkat in 2004. Berkat, as an organization, gained credibility especially because of entirely tangible stories of explicit changes and advancements behind the organization, effective help to individuals and communities that were taken up to a known end. Grants themselves cannot guarantee a continuity of relationships, there is a need of people with will and a need of personal investments. The continuity will be maintained if it is possible to keep, despite all the changes, the original character of the laboratory to advance and support the good ideas and achievements that emerge from the needs and abilities of the people who want to help. This is a very difficult path though because it demands great sensibility, openness, tolerance, humility, inner honesty and discipline on the part of those who keep this association together. Those "inner" conditions are much harder to fulfill and keep than looking for and spending money based on rules and columns.