Feeding the Homeless with the Prague Changemakers
Located at the center of Europe, Prague is perhaps known best as a tourist destination, rather than an expat hub. The romantic Charles Bridge spanning the Vlava River to the castle is a world-famous view, and the city of Kafka plays host to a remarkable diversity of architecture from medieval Gothic to ultra-modern buildings. Away from the bright lights of the Old Town, however, Prague, like other European cities, has a growing homeless population, and it is this pressing issue that the Prague Changemakers Group aims to address.
Photo credit: Renata Sorce
The Situation in Prague
The Prague Changemakers Group meets every Saturday close to Prague Central Station to hand out food, drinks, clothing, and smiles to the homeless. As Renata explains, the idea is to help the homeless and to bring them not only food or clothes but especially dignity, humanity, and hope.
Both Consuls have extensive experience when it comes to volunteering: Renata has worked with the Sant’Egidio Community in Italy, which supports vulnerable groups in society, while Regina has volunteered with organizations supporting the homeless in Prague for ten years, starting with the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, and later working with the St. Thomas Church in Mala Strana.
The circumstances of those in need of help are often desperate. Loss of jobs, addiction, or other issues lead them to fall behind with rent payments. Lacking support from friends and family while they try to secure another job or go through a difficult period may also lead to homelessness. As Renata explains, “Some of them do get jobs, but cash-in-hand ones, without social or health insurance benefits and often so little pay that they still cannot afford housing. Most of them cannot find work because they don`t have a permanent address and an ID (which keeps them from registering a bank account).”
There are approx. 68,000 homeless people in the Czech Republic. The shelters barely cover the needs of a small percentage of them. Renata knows the vicious cycle that many homeless people are in: “Once someone becomes homeless, it is incredibly difficult to get back to ‘normal’ unless they receive lots of support in the beginning, until they secure a job and find a place to live again. Most of them lack that support.”
The Beauty of Volunteering
However, the experience of volunteering has only inspired the Consuls to help more. Regina says, “InterNations members are eager to volunteer and although we have only recently started the group, there are many that are interested in helping in any way they can.” Renata even takes along her daughter. “I want her to learn about a different, unfortunate reality and the beauty of volunteering.”
There have been many memorable experiences in the time Regina and Renata have shared together with the Changemakers. Renata says, “A pregnant Czech lady once asked for my help in collecting clothes and products for her and her baby. Thanks to the support of many other mums and fantastic volunteers, we were able to provide her with a big amount of clothes and products. I will never forget her smile, gratitude, and happiness.”
Regina agrees: “I have had so many memorable experiences. Most of the homeless people are so thankful to get a meal. It is difficult for them to get food, and they are hungry a lot of the time. An immigrant from another Eastern European country who was walking by the place where we were serving meals was so desperate for food that when we served him, he gave me a pen which was the only thing he owned, to show how grateful he was. I still treasure that pen!”
Are you curious about what the Changemakers Group in your city is doing or would you like to get involved? Then learn more about the InterNations Changemakers and find out how to make a difference.