The Humanitarian organisation Deaconate Broumov


It began as a modest charity in the year 1990, after a local congregation of the Hussite church in the northern region of Broumov, Czech Republic, organised a collection fund to donate prescription glasses to Africa. Today, it has grown into a multi-faceted humanitarian organisation that operates on a national scale. It is known as the Deaconate Broumov, an organisation that now cuts across religious denominations throughout the country, continuing to collect and distribute clothes and other items for those in need. But, that is now only one of the charity's many activities: the Deaconate also provides employment and counselling as well as living quarters to the homeless, giving them a chance at normal lives again. Last but not least, the organisation has implemented an impressive ecological recycling programme that was recognised this year by Prague's Business Leader's Forum. For a look now at the Deaconate Broumov and how one of the Czech Republic's more prominent charities is run, here's Jan Velinger with this week's Spotlight.

I had never been so far north-east in the Czech Republic before, as we headed up a flat stretch of road nearing the Czech town of Broumov: my hosts informed me that the curious elephant-shaped hills in the distance belonged to another country altogether: that of Poland. And I was left to contemplate the mysterious view as our three-hour drive from Prague as our destination drew near...

At its core the humanitarian organisation Deaconate Broumov operates from a series of rather nondescript buildings in Broumov: the organisation's headquarters and production plant are found below a prominent hill that is home to the town's historical centre, a townscape that dominates all underlying surroundings through its massive Benedictine monastery - a monastery reconstructed in the Baroque style in the early 18th century by the famous Dientzenhofer brothers. Today, one could say that the great structure serves as a continuing inspiration for many in the area, including those who make charity their daily work, in a part of the Czech Republic where unemployment has traditionally run high.

When we arrived, however, work was fully under way: it turned out we were just in time to see a battered Czech Avia truck pull up at the headquarters courtyard: the truck loaded with two tons of donated clothes - last year Deaconate Broumov processed 3, 200 tons in all. As a group of somewhat grizzly workers gathered round to begin packing the material onto a motorised lift that lead into the centre's production site, I was shown around the area by Deaconate Broumov representative Marta Peskova.

Inside, she showed me stations where donated materials were sorted, either for humanitarian aid, or for recycling, the major source of financing for the charity, which sells recycled material to large companies for industrial use. Recycled material uses can include old clothes turned into industrial rags, or other materials converted into types of glue for use on roofing tiles.

Impressively, the organisation says it has made important steps through its recycling programme and reselling of materials to become quite self-sufficient - its own profits from recycling cover more than half of its annual budget, and the success of the programme allows the charity to employ one-hundred-and-twenty people. A full two-thirds of that , 80 clients as they are called, are either formerly unemployed or homeless, or both, with some of them pulled out of severe emotional ruts that include depression and substance abuse, the consequences of broken marriages and broken families.

Employees are helped and led by the remaining third at the organisation that forms a dedicated management team headed by psychologist Viteslav Kralik. And, it has to be said, the workers at Deaconate Broumov do get the support they need: shelter in the form of apartments, of which new construction is currently underway, as well as work with a regular salary, including paid health insurance and social security. It is one of the intriguing elements of the Broumov charity that it has aspects akin to any other enterprise, with individual heads trying to run sections with clock-work efficiency, although that is often not possible. As Marta Peskova told me, working with people from all walks of life, who have experienced the hardest of times, is no easy task - in fact it's a daily battle, which requires a special type of understanding and a high level of tolerance.

And so, in spite of the special considerations involved, work at Deaconate Broumov goes on: visiting for a day certainly forces one to reflect on the fragility of individual lives, such as the story of a successful computer programmer who began drinking after he lost his wife, then lost his job, till there was nowhere left to fall...

Yet, in spite of the problems, it all comes together at Deaconate Broumov somehow, and the organisation's projects are largely a success, both on the human, and the fiscal scale. The charity routinely co-operates with a web of government social services, and other humanitarian organisations to transport donations beyond the Czech Republic even, to areas like former-Yugoslavia and Russia. And any person who is unemployed, or homeless, in the Czech Republic can apply for work at the organisation, and have a chance to get back on track - the charity is not just there for those in the region...

Finally, in spite of its success, Deaconate Broumov still does rely on support from private foundations, as well as government grants and subsidies, and it will not shy away from any donations from the public. While the team at Deaconate Broumov aims to set an example on the profitable manner in which a humanitarian organisation can be run, the project will only continue to be a success if public interest and support remains high.

And if you would like more information on Deaconate Broumov - or Diakonie Broumov as it is known in Czech - you can send them an e-mail at [email protected]