Czech civic organisation BERKAT awarded Prix Irene 2004 for their help to Chechens

School in Beslan, photo:

"We condemn terrorism in all forms including the monstrosity we witnessed in Beslan. The world has found itself in a situation where it is very difficult to answer the question why something like that has happened and who could have even thought of it in the first place." This is only a short extract from the reaction to the recent tragedy in the Russian town of Beslan by Berkat, a Czech organisation which was on Friday awarded the Irene Prix 2004.

The prize is given by the Tolerance civic association, for acts supporting peace among people. Berkat - which means 'happiness' or 'pity' in the Chechen language, was founded three years ago, and the original impulse came from the Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova, to help orphans in the Chechen capital Grozny. Berkat's Jana Hradilkova, says why she thinks they were chosen for the award.

Berkat has been concentrating on countries tormented by conflict. The greatest attention has been paid to Chechnya, and the suffering of families there.

"The most classical project we are now promoting is friendly help of Czech families to families in ruins of Grozny, which is the Chechen capital. We have managed to find Czech families and there are already couple other families who are waiting for their families in Grozny. At the moment we have 22 Czech families who are giving money from their family budgets to support families in Grozny. Our other project is community work in Grozny. For instance, there is a community group called IMAN which provides courses and self-help activities like weaving, sawing computer courses and English courses to provide women with abilities to take care of themselves and to find jobs."

Berkat has been working closely with a well-known Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova, who is currently helping in Afghanistan. The focus is on Afghan widows who lost their husbands in the series of conflicts in the country and need to make a living. This is achieved by selling their home-made products, such as carpets or embroidery abroad. Despite the focus on women Berkat refuses to be labelled as a feminist organisation.

"I have always been very interested in the practical form of women's solidarity. My desire and my motivation were always to bridge people. I'm very sensitive to the walls built from prejudice, and I believe that only actions where people meet together could be a good prevention against these walls built from prejudices, which are a source of xenophobia, racism and also terrorism."

The Prix Irene 2004 award commemorates Irene Bloomfield, by origin a German analytical therapist, who was persecuted by the Nazis, then settled in Israel and helped many people damaged by traumatic situations.