Lenka Vochocová: checking out people’s prejudices

Lenka Vochocová

Lenka Vochocová is twenty-eight, but looks more like eighteen. She may not look like it, but she has already managed to establish and successfully run an NGO called Inventura which helps people with learning disabilities. She has also organized a film festival screening animated films made by some of the people her NGO has helped. I met Lenka Vochocová at her office in Prague’s Smíchov district, to ask her more about her activities:

“Inventura is an NGO working with people with learning disabilities in a creative way and we have chosen film as the medium. So we focus on making short animated films with these people.”

Why did you choose film?

“It’s because me and my colleagues all have a background in journalism and media studies and we are big film fans. We also have experience working for various film festivals. So we are very interested in film.”

“The story that I usually tell is that Inventura was founded thanks to a Korean movie called Oasis. We saw this movie and we realized that it can be very touching to watch the stories of people with disabilities, because it can help you to learn something about them. This is usually not possible in real life. At least here in the Czech Republic it’s still very difficult to meet people with disabilities in streets and public places.”

So how exactly does it work? How often do the people come to Inventura?

“In the beginning we started with short animations; learning the techniques, how it all works and what fun it can be. In January last year we started educating a group of people in film techniques systematically. Each of them invented their own story, based on their own lives.”

Do they have a chance to see what they created at a public screening and do people from the outside have a chance to see the films?

“These short films are screened at the “Normal festival”, which is a film festival we organize. It was held for the second time in November last year. These films are presented to the public alongside professional films, features and documentaries. So the public has a chance to see them.”

So at this festival you show both films made by mentally disabled people and films about these people. Is that right?

“Yes, exactly. The idea of the festival is to show films about the lives of people with learning disabilities or films made by them or in cooperation with them. It’s not always possible to let them make their own film but it doesn’t matter, because making a film is a team effort.”

What was the reaction of the public when they saw the films for the first time?

“I have to say that most of the reactions pleased me. It was very nice to see people who had prejudices against mentally disabled people and though that they were useless. These people told us that it was very interesting to watch the films and that they never believed these people could make such wonderful films. They wanted to talk to the authors and a conversation started between them. That was very inspiring for us.”

What about you yourself? You said you graduated in media studies and you are currently doing a postgraduate in media studies. So how does it relate to working with mentally disabled people and how do you come to be doing this kind of work?

“I think it is closely related. Thanks to my media studies I developed an interest in different social groups and the stereotypes concerning their lives, abilities and disabilities. That’s what led me to work with people with learning disabilities. I was curious how the communication works, and how to talk to these people. I wanted to try this, so I did and I really enjoyed it.

So I started to work as a volunteer assistant helping people learn how to travel by public transport and to be as independent as possible. I provide moral and physical support and together we tackle such difficult tasks as travelling by trams and buses in Prague can be.”

So you were engaged in volunteer work and then you got the idea to establish your own NGO?

“Yes. I have worked in the NGO sector for the last five years working with mentally disabled people and I enjoyed the work immensely. I had the impression that the social services here do a lot to help them with daily problems and activities, but they do very little to change the general perception of these people by the public.

I don’t think about my work with mentally disabled people in terms of help and charity. We refuse these two words. Here in Inventura we never say that we help somebody. Or maybe we help the public to perceive these people in a better way. But we don’t do charity.

Where did the title of your organization Inventura, which means “Inventory check” in English, come from?

“We have two versions. The official one says that we want to inspire people to make an inventory check in their minds and to find out what they think about mentally disabled people.

But the way it really happened is that we founded Inventura with my friend Radim sitting in a restaurant over a glass of beer, discussing the future of our “unborn baby”. I asked Radim what we were going to do if we wanted to go on holiday when there was only the two of us for the whole organization. He said it was very simple. We’ll just put a notice on the door saying that we are doing an inventory check and everybody will understand that we are not open for the time being.”