Jerry Salem takes a lunch box and arrives at the old lady’s house. He talks with her, keeps her company, listens to her life stories and may then do shopping for her if she needs. He has provided a lot of help to seniors similar to this lady.
“I felt that they had been through quite a difficult time during the war and deserved some support and friendship for what they had been through,” he said.
Salem, an American, has been doing volunteer work since he was a teenager, and during his 12 years in Prague he was fortunately able to find volunteer positions suitable for him.“I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities at the Jewish community center for English speakers, and fortunately there were,” said Salem. He helped seniors for about six months, a few times a week. “It’s just something we owe them, as they don’t have the power they once had, and if someone does not have a family to help, it’s our loving duty to pitch in and help,” said Salem with confidence.
People make a life by what they give. Volunteering is the activity that has always reminded people of what humanity is. Giving a helping hand sometimes is not only a wish but a need for some volunteers who cannot live without benefitting others. Odessa Primus, a volunteer for refugees talks about volunteering as an unimaginable experience. She calls it “tragic at times but mostly completely full of hope and kindness and gratitude.”
The Czech Republic, and especially its capital Prague, opens the doors for many altruists. Medicine, education, emergency rescue, environment – these are just some of the options available for those who want to join in helping the world. Prague is diverse in organizations which welcome volunteers, both Czech citizens and English-speaking do-gooders from other countries.
Besides the Jewish Community center, another organization offering volunteering opportunities in Prague both for Czech citizens and expats is Handipet Rescue. This organization usually rescues sick or handicapped animals and gives them a chance to find loving hosts. It is a part of the non-governmental organization Pet Heroes that currently has one more cat rescue organization called Destiny Paws. It does various activities to help other dog and cat shelters and inform the general population about rescue issues. Handipet Rescue was started in 2014, and since that time it has adopted out over 300 animals. Janka Bednárová, one of the four permanent workers at Handipet Rescue, takes care of the animals on her own, accompanied by a large number of volunteers. One of them is responsible for finances and marketing, another for virtual adoptions and one takes care of the administrative tasks.
Handipet Rescue works with other shelters and NGOs and helps out with animals that they are not able to take care of for various reasons. The organization also helps Shelter Friend in Ukraine, which usually has over 500 animals, but the chances of all of them getting adopted in Ukraine are slim to none. Ways of helping animals that Handipet offers vary. It accepts both material and financial donations, offers volunteering positions for walking the dogs, helping with cleaning and socializing with the animals. By now, Handipet Rescue has several stable volunteers and fosters, and the number of people wanting to be involved in rescuing is growing every year.
Bednárová explains that rescuing is her big hobby which started eight years ago when she adopted her second cat, and then started fostering ill and injured cats a few months later. Before going into animal rescue, she worked as an assistant to disabled people. She finds herself able and willing to help others, and loves doing that.
“It’s a struggle sometimes, sleepless nights, dirty work, but in the end it all makes sense when someone finds a home forever,” said Bednárová.
The life of the dog Barbie shows how animals’ lives change after the help of Handipet Rescue. Barbie came to Handipet in 2015 from Ukraine; she was unable to walk because of the very severe knee problem since birth. She received surgery to correct the position of the bones in the knee, and then was rehabilitated for several months to relax the tendons. “Barbie was adopted in 2016 and now she is the happiest dog ever, able to even run and learn all the crazy dog tricks,” said Bednárová, proudly smiling.
Maria Aksinina, a Russian student and a permanent Red Cross volunteer, signs in for another blood donation. In comfortable clothes and with a bottle of water in her hand, she is relaxed and ready to enter the medical office. After the procedure, she would go to the refreshment area, have a healthy snack and continue her day knowing that she had helped somebody.
Aksinina has been volunteering since she moved to Prague, and is planning to continue with it. “I feel that blood is something I can share; I have plenty of it,” said Aksinina, laughing. “I know that there are people who need this help; it does not cost anything for me, and the thought that I help others with it makes me feel good,” she said. “I cannot do everything, but I can do something; the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” said Aksinina, quoting Gandhi.
The Red Cross, one of the most popular organizations among many volunteers around the world, also has its branch in the Czech capital. Potential volunteers can choose between first aid courses, disaster preparation, activities for seniors, blood donation, activities for children, and other various options. The main principles of their work are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality.
Prague also has many volunteering centers for helping refugees, such as Burma Center, or the Organization for Help to Refugees. They provide the possibility to help those who are in a difficult political situation by organizing cultural events and campaigns, providing assistance and psychological help to refugees in the Czech Republic.
Volunteering also leaves helpers with sweet memories. Salem remembers helping the old lady as part of his volunteering for the Jewish community center; her portrait stayed in his memory. “She was really charming. I took my kids with me so they get a feel to see how important this is, and she was kind enough to find some sweets to give to them,” he said.
The reasons for doing volunteering vary, and every altruist has his or her own feelings about why they are doing it.
“I think we have to put our money where our mouth is; if the world has problems, do something about it instead of complaining about it,” said Salem. “I do believe that humanity is basically one big life, that we are really all part of one another, and that service, or what we call volunteering, is love in action,” he concluded.