Heartwrenchers: seeking respect not pity

Heartwrenchers, photo: archive of Heartwrenchers

Over a million people in the Czech Republic are in some way disabled. In addition to the health problems this entails and the social stigma associated with physical and mental disabilities, their chances of finding work are slim. A foundation that helps people with disabilities find jobs has launched a unique project aimed at breaking down existing prejudices and giving more people with disabilities a chance on the labour market. Filip Zoubek, who is project manager, explains that the Heartwrenchers campaign is based on give-and-take.

Heartwrenchers,  photo: archive of Heartwrenchers
“It is a very unique concept of charity. The team known as the Heartwrenchers consists of people with disabilities who do not ask for donations but offer unique experiences or gifts received from famous people.”

So these are people with disabilities who have work and who have volunteered –through this project -to help others who are unable to find work.


What are they doing?

“They are contacting different companies and personalities and asking them to donate something unique for our electronic catalogue or auctions.”

And what kind of things have you already assembled?

“People can visit places that are otherwise not accessible to the public, for example spend two days in the studio of a famous fashion designer or see the production process in a glassworks together with Bořek Šípek, a worldwide recognized artist, or get one of the unique gifts signed by famous athletes, for example a T-shirt signed by Usain Bolt, a soccer ball signed by goal keeper Petr Cech or a T-shirt signed by Andree Agassi and Steffi Graf and many, many more…”

And a signed hockey stick from Jaromír Jágr, I understand?

“Yes, we have already sold the hockey stick from Jaromír Jágr and it is the most successful item put on auction so far. “

Filip Zoubek,  photo: archive of Heartwrenchers
How much did it go for?

“We got 21 thousand Czech crowns for it.”

How has the public responded to this campaign?

“The reaction has been surprisingly positive. We did not know exactly what to expect because it is a very new idea – a new approach to collecting money for a goal such as ours and the reactions from the public, the media and companies have been very, very positive so far. “

Do you feel there is still a stigma attached to people with mental and physical disabilities, that they do not really get fair treatment from society and find it very hard to get work? How many of them have managed to find work and how many are unemployed?

“In the Czech Republic there are over a million people with some kind of disability and 60.000 of them actively search for work, the others are in a very difficult situation.

Why are firms not taking them on?

“The situation of people with disabilities is difficult not because of their disabilities but because of the barriers created by society. And also it is a question of legislation which is really not perfect in our country.”

So companies are really not encouraged to hire these people –is that right?

“Yes, exactly, that’s right.”

How will the proceeds of the auction and the money that you collect be used to help?

“All the money received from donors will be used for supporting and creating new employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We want to ensure that all people with disabilities will have equal access to the labour market in the Czech Republic and I strongly believe that we can change the attitude of society as well.”

Illustrative photo: European Commission
And what is your goal? How much money are you hoping to collect and how many people are you hoping to give work?

“I don’t know how much we can collect, but it is not only about money, it is really about changing attitudes in society and changing the situation of people with disabilities because this is something that is almost forbidden to talk about in public in our country and we would definitely like to change that –it is more than just collecting money.”

How did the idea emerge? And how did you go about finding volunteers – was it difficult to get them to cooperate –especially VIPs and celebrities who would attract interest?

“The idea was born in our foundation about a year and a half ago and we wanted to bring something new to the concept – not just to ask for money via donations, because everyone does that and not everyone is successful in this field. So we wanted to do something really unique, unusual, surprising for people. We are not just asking for money but we are offering something in return and I think this idea is the reason why we are so successful.”

The team of Heartwrenchers –are they just people who have a disability and have been lucky enough to find work or can anyone join in and help?

“People on our team are mostly people with disabilities who were lucky enough to get a job and we use them as a good example that if you really want to get a job it is possible to succeed. On the other hand, anyone –any of you -can be a Heartwrencher just by visiting our website and choosing one of the items currently on offer, for yourself or for a friend. A Heartwrencher can be anyone who is interested in this idea, who can help and do something good for someone else. “

Are you also making public the stories of people with disabilities who have been able to find work and are obviously doing a good job by letting them come forward and speak out about their lives in order to give hope and encouragement to others?

Illustrative photo: Jos van Galen / Stock.XCHNG
“Yes, exactly, all five team members of our Heartwrenchers are people with a disability who have a job –mostly thanks to the foundation that I represent – so it is an example that if you really want you can get a job. It is not easy for people with disabilities but it is possible.”

Are you hoping for some kind of government support or are you on your own here? Are you trying to change something that the government should have done something about long ago?

“We have closely cooperated with some government institutions for many, many years but the whole process takes ages and we hope that by means of campaigns such as the Heartwrenchers this process will be speeded up a little bit.”

For more information about the project go to: www.srdcervaci.cz