10 years of Berkat's activities in Chechnya - general report
Beginnings: aims and profile of the activities
The Berkat association was founded as a reaction to the sympathetic response that resulted in the autumn of 1999 from the extreme violence committed during the Russian-Chechen armed conflict against the civilian population in Chechnya. The initial aim of the newly founded association was to systematically begin transforming the emotional solidarity that the people of the Czech Republic felt into clear, practical action and to create the space for ideas and to involve individual people willing and able to help gradually improve the living conditions of people who did not want or could not escape from Grozny before the war. Another important aim was to learn, through meeting and helping people in Chechnya, about their character, culture and traditions and, in so doing, to try to avoid the myths and prejudices that arise through media propaganda.
Summary of the development of projects in Grozny and the Czech Republic:
2001 - 2003:
First sources of funds for Help for People in Ruins: benefit events: talks, Caucasian evenings in various places in Prague, Touring exhibitions of photographs by Iva Zímová throughout the Czech Republic, public collections, private donations, screenings of documentary films.
First large activity: "Before the war I had toys". Preparation and organisation of a dance tour by the Marsho children's group from a refugee camp on the Chechen-Ingush border. Broad participation of the Czech public sympathetic to the cause. Establishing and cultivating a mutual relationship, the emergence of targeted alternatives to humanitarian aid: the identification of active people like Vacha Těmirchanov (head of the Marsho dance group) and Roza Muzajeva (field social worker in Grozny). Involvement of the Czech Senate, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other non-state organisations, associations and individuals in preparing and organising the project. Collaborating with People In Need's mission in the North Caucasus.
The first joint project with People In Need: Individual help for people in ruins and the Iman Women's Centre. The aim was to start up community self-help, i.e. to provide support and create space for the most active people, to help them work independently for others and so pass on the principle of social empathy to a totally devastated environment where everybody is fighting for their own survival. The selection of a programme that was the result of agreement between Berkat, workers from People In Need and local women - running practical courses in sewing, tying scarves, English language and computer courses.
The start of a project entitled Friendly Help for Families which more than 30 Czech families became involved in at the beginning of 2004 and which continuously supported roughly the same number of Chechen homeless "households" made up of orphans and grandparents or foster parents, half-orphans, old people, widows.
The end of the collaboration with People In Need in the North Caucasus. The newly formed structure of the Berkat Chechen programme. The creation of a local group of women who were given support to set up the Semja Fund in Grozny. The preparation and organisation of a second tour by the Marsho dance group in Bohemia and Moravia (Dance Against Terrorism).
A three-year project for the women's Doezal Community Centre with support from the Czech Republic's Development Programme. The transformation of the Friendly Help for Families programme: Investment in family enterprises and the integration of families into the community centre's programme. The main purpose of these projects is not humanitarian aid but the social integration of disadvantaged groups of the population in Grozny, in particular women and children. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, specifically its Asylum and Migration Policy Department, does not appear in relation to the Berkat association as its sponsor but as the party issuing projects that result in helping to reduce the illegal migration numbers. With regards to private sponsors that have not ceased monitoring and supporting Chechen families involvement in the self-help programme has been highlighted. Additional financing for the running of the Community Centre has also come from collections and benefit events. The Doezal Centre's programme is developed on several levels and its main users and participants are women, children and old people. Through discussions between Czech and Chechen members of the team it has gradually been possible to create a model that is a combination of a social health service, an educational programme and self-help workshops. So its form in 2010 is not the result of sponsors' assignments but it arises gradually according to the clearly formulated needs of the location and the current state of Chechen society, taking into consideration long-term social investment. Long-term and comprehensive support for young women as the mainstay of the present-day Chechen family is becoming the main aim of the Doezal Centre's team. Selecting subjects for the teaching programme is based on practical needs and how they can be used on the job market but also on how they equip people for contact with the world. Individual support for women who have completed the courses when they set up new families, family enterprises.
Organising study trips and excursions for students and colleagues, beginning negotiations into internships for Chechen doctors in the Czech Republic.
The launch of the www.cecna.cz website, organising the annual convalescent stay for sick children and orphans by the Caspian Sea in Dagestan. The start of the Memory of Old Men project in collaboration with the Czech Post Bellum association. The start of special studies for handicapped children in collaboration with the Czech Catholic Charity. The start of a two-year educational course entitled the Eva Practical Family Institute, supported with funds from Lejla Abbasová's Medela project.
The creation of two independent profit-making workshops: a sewing workshop (Salon Chava) and a cookery workshop (Cake Shop in Grozny).
The bulk of the support for the programme carried out in collaboration between Czech citizens, the Semja Fund team in Grozny, the Berkat association and Berkat - Inbáze came from the pockets of Czech donors and tax-payers (note 1). The programme does not have a humanitarian, human rights or political aspect. It is based on a principle of partnership that has developed through mutual creative effort. The main character of the joint work was based on contributing to social integration and establishing functioning communities on the principle of civic self-help. The aim of all the projects is to contribute to the renewal of the undermined social cohesion of warring clans and to rehabilitate the internal integration of a society fatally devastated both physically and mentally by war. The single inspiration that we have tried to pass on has been concepts of grass-root activities, charitable care and social enterprise. Over the course of almost ten years we have managed to establish good working and living relationships among people who have learnt a lot about each other on both sides and who have managed to make good use of their working and personal relationships that have been of benefit to both themselves and their surroundings.
We consider the fact that we have been able to work in Chechnya on the basis of a transparent local order to be unique in the area of foreign aid and the Czech Republic's involvement to be ground-breaking.
We are looking for funds to ensure the running of the current educational and community programme and the continuation of the Practical Family Institute project. Even though from the beginning we emphasise to our partners that they cannot remain dependent on our financial aid, we feel a joint responsibility for the people at whom our programme is aimed and also because of the reputation that our programme has acquired.
It is of great importance to us to maintain the profile of a community that works transparently, on the basis of trust and with a joint interest in constantly improving and actively filling the space that we have created together on both sides - Czech and Chechen (note 2). We want to bring both worlds closer together through meetings both here and there. We believe that support from below created through social empathy is a value which Europeans have great experience of and which they can pass on to a community that has been internally and fatally divided and damaged by recent history. Over the last ten years we have seen for ourselves that even in a community that is historically based on an entirely different social (clan) system this alternative can bring people together and have a productive meaning in times of crisis.
In 2003 - 2010 Berkat each year received on average 1,250,000 crowns to implement projects in Chechnya. Out of this amount the wages were paid to 11 - 13 local employees in Grozny, including contributions to the local and federal budget, year-long lease of the house where the programme is carried out, costs for services and the running of the three-level programme. The annual number of participants/graduates of the courses provided by the Centre was between 100 and 140 women, the number of users of the programme was annually on average 700-800 people. The amount from grants was nowhere near enough to cover all the costs associated with the programme - extra finances needed to be provided from private donations which in 2002 - 2010 were more than four and a half million crowns and, for the most part, were obtained by organising benefit and educational campaigns. All elements of the programme, including accounts, are subject to the association's annual reports. All flows of funds from grants and donations are monitored and checked by the appropriate administrations on both the Chechen and Czech sides.
The Semja association received a donation from local structures (i.e. in Chechnya), or more precisely institutions, only in 2006 through another party when the local Department for Young People made approximately 100,000 roubles available to purchase dance costumes for the Marsho children's dance groups for their second trip to the Czech Republic. Other sources of local support for the community centre's activities were mostly of a non-financial, i.e. material nature - sewing machines, computers, buttons, fabrics, used clothes, furniture, kitchen utensils, etc. that were donated or loaned. However, the local administration carefully and regularly monitors the activities of our partner organisation (as it does with other non-state organisations) - without this local associations could not exist. Berkat has never felt justified in interfering in communication between the local Semja association and the administration.
Chechen team: Roza Muzaeva, Fatima Batalova, Chava Muchadinova, Lena Elžurkajeva, Zulfija Mazajeva, Zaindi Muzaev, Tamara Chagajeva, Aminat Sajdulchadžijeva
Czech team: Jana Hradilková, Štěpán Černoušek, Jana Ilovičná, Alexandr Zpěvák, Tomáš Šmíd, Iva Gavlíková, Zdeňka Švestková, Ivana Plíhalová, Marriam, Marie Čcheidze, Marina Bačkovská, Dagmar Ferjenčíková, Tereza Matějková,
plus many other friends and donors who continuously contribute to the financing of Friendly Help and the preparation of benefit activities.