Anna Dunčeková: I do my best to humanize social services
The staff of the Český západ organization considers the principles of community and social work to be their main guidelines. When they facilitate aid to the inhabitants of socially excluded localities, they place an emphasis on the assistance affecting the community as a whole, not just individuals.
The people who live in their area and who are interested in getting involved with coordinating activities inside their own communities can take advantage of the accredited education courses they offer. Anna Dunčeková has graduated from such a social worker course and works at Český západ as a community and field worker.
Dunčeková currently leads the field worker team for the organization. She is a graduate in business management with a focus on food preparation from a school in Karlovy Vary.
From 2006-2007 she completed a year-long qualificatoin course for social services workers. She also leads a ceramics workshop at the Community Center in Dobrá Voda and is engaged as a volunteer with the National Food Drive (Národní potravinová sbírka); news server Romea.cz has interviewed her about her work in excluded localities.
Interview with Anna Dunčeková
Q: How long have you been working at the Český západ organization?
A: I have been working here for 12 years, I am from the Dobrá Voda locality, and I myself underwent a certain amount of personal and professional development under the guidance of the former director of Český západ, Jana Kosová. I acquired the self-confidence to be able to visit other localities trying to solve problems similar to those in Dobrá Voda.
Q: How do your clients come to you, and why?
A: Most of them are people who have been grappling with a problem for some time. Most frequently they come to us because their acquaintances told them about us, or they got a flier in their mailbox or saw one posted on the bulletin board in their apartment building telling them about our office. They come to check us out and then they usually say, "You're nice to me, I think you could aid me." Then they describe their own problem to me, and it's really up to me to distinguish whether they can become our client and whether they fall into our target group. If I ascertain that they do not, then I delegate them to somebody who will be able to aid them. Any field worker has to know the local social services network here.
Q: What is your collaboration like with the representatives of the towns in this area?
A: We have to collaborate with Toužim and with the other municipalities where we work. None of those towns, from my perspective, is one that accepts us with open arms. On the other hand, we've never been rejected by them. We've been able to reach agreements with all of the specific municipal staffers with whom we need to negotiate. Here's a nice example for you: We needed the road in front of a particular prefabricated apartment building to be resurfaced. We filed a request, and we imagined that the repairs would take place during the most appropriate season of the year for that work, because the new pavement had already been laid down. The town, however, told us that when the budget was being prepared last year, that repair had not been proposed - but then they found the money for it somehow anyway. We are, naturally, very glad to have that kind of collaboration with the municipality of Dobrá Voda. We take an active interest in what is happening in all of these towns, we bring them ideas, make proposals, and participate in meetings of the town assembly, etc.
Q: What does your field work program do?
A: We base our work on the Social Services Act (No. 108, from the year 2006), and our field program consists of basic social work advising - for example, we aid people in negotiating with local authorities, in applying for welfare benefits, in filling out forms, we facilitate free legal aid for them and many other things. I am constantly doing my best to humanize this service and, together with our community know-how, I am able to access places that I dare say others would not be able to.
Q: Tell us about your project called "On Your Own Two Feet" (Na vlastní nohy)?
A: That is an ongoing community project, in the past it's been quite successful. It involves the entire community, not just individuals. The entire community avails itself of this project. An integral component of it, the key to its success, is to find a natural authority figure in a particular community who will come up with different activities that the entire community will then avail themselves of. For example, we got a bus stop built, and we installed clothes-drying lines in front of one of the apartment buildings. If locals want to pave a street or seed a lawn, the entire community works on it.
Q: So you do your best for people from the excluded localities to be self-sufficient so they no longer need your aid?
A: Yes, I'll give you an example: In the excluded locality at Nová Farma we undertook a survey and ascertained that local residents were bothered by the fact that cars were driving too fast around the cabins people live in. The tenants see a big risk in that for their children, who might not always pay attention when they are playing and might run into the road. Their parents, naturally, don't want them to come to harm, and they would like to install speed bumps or a sign telling drivers to slow down. There's also not enough street light during the winter there when it gets dark early, so they don't feel safe in some parts of the municipality. We are doing our best to aid them so they will be able to solve these problems on their own. We assist them and motivate them to write up their own specific requests for their particular municipality and to take those requests there themselves.
Your life is in your hands
The Český západ association was created in December 2001 as an initiative of the Trappist monks in the Monastery at Nový Dvůr. The monks provided several of the men living in Dobrá Voda with job opportunities when the monastery was being rebuilt.
The organization was dedicated just to employment in the beginning, but it did not take long for it to begin to offer educational and recreational programs focused on children and women as well. Since 2003 the methods and principles of community work have been applied by the organization.
Four years after that, the organization expanded its services and began to work in other localities throughout the Karlovy Vary Region in the Teplice and Toužim areas. At the end of 2013, the association was transformed into a public benefit corporation, which, through different projects, works with both non-Romani and Romani clients on improving the quality of life in the excluded localities that fall within its scope (Dobrá Voda, Horní Poutnov, Hoštěc, Křepkovice, Mrázov, Nová Farma, Pěkovice, Poutnov, Služetín, etc.).
The organization does its best to contribute to the elimination of social exclusion and the improvement of coexistence between neighbors. That has been a success thanks to various projects such as Children's Days, community breakfasts, and International Romani Day celebrations that attract both non-Romani and Romani residents.
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