Amid a worldwide pandemic, Czech citizens have banded together to help those in need in their communities, utilizing a new app by the name of Sousedská Pomoc (lit. Neighbor Help) to marshal volunteers.
“Sousedská Pomoc is an application that is used to organize volunteers who would like to help other people during the COVID 19 crisis in the Czech Republic.” Lukáš Huňka, their founder, says, “We are in most cities and basically what we are doing is that we are providing a framework or a toolkit for people to easily help each other.” Those needing groceries, face masks, and other forms of assistance can make requests using the app. The volunteers then verify the requests, then package and deliver the goods to the requesters’ homes.
As of April 16th, 145,000 people worldwide had died due to COVID 19, with the total amount of infections rising above 2 million, according to data from John Hopkins University. In the Czech Republic, the number of cases is lower than most European countries (6,553, with 1,183 recoveries and 176 deaths by Apr. 18th, according to the Czech News Agency), but the pandemic is still felt by all, as the country’s lockdown left Prague’s formerly busy streets, pubs, and restaurants empty. Watching the situation unfold on the news in early March and hearing of volunteer efforts in other Czech cities, Huňka decided to create a digital platform to help as many people as possible.
“I started to set up the first version of Sousedská Pomoc, which was a simple registration web page with three roles for the people who wanted to help, which were coordinator, dispatcher, and courier, and that was it,” Huňka says, “I launched it, registered the domain, and sent it to some of my friends on Facebook. At the end of the day, I had 200 volunteers.”
Within the first several days and into the first week of the lockdown, Huňka and his friends developed a relationship with Charles University, which gave them office space as a central hub for the Sousedská Pomoc organization. Finding the right balance in coordinating and communicating with volunteers was an initial challenge, as the epidemic and its consequences were rapidly unfolding. Huňka cites a lack of organizational clarity and efficiency to have been an early detractor to the cause, but one that was overcome through various connections and partnerships that were made in the following weeks.
“At the beginning, we lost the faith of a lot of people who were here because they could see that it was complete chaos,” Huňka says, “Afterward we suddenly had an unbelievable amount of luck.” Huňka thinks that a call from notable Czech late-night show host Václav Moravec led to connections with organizations and city governments that helped them gain credibility and support.
From that moment, things really took off for the Sousedská Pomoc team. With around 6000 volunteers using the app, several regional coordinators and departments, the project has gone into full swing, as they’ve been able to make it into 620 towns in the Czech Republic and partner with the local authorities as well as several companies, such as Connect IT and Coca Cola.
Even after things eventually subside, Huňka says that he and the Sousedská Pomoc team are here to stay, to keep serving the Czech community as well as other countries (such as Hungary, where a version of the app in their language is set to launch the week of Apr. 20th).
“The idea behind it will spread to other countries, which is what I wanted to do from the beginning,” Huňka says, “our future plans are to help local, smaller, local projects such as planting trees or communities who are in need of volunteers. If some unlucky events such as floods might occur, our application is ready and can be quickly deployed on-site.”
One of the main dilemmas in what Huňka is trying to accomplish is aiding people who are losing money in their businesses. He says that “we’re not here to make money”, and so giving his volunteers to a business that is struggling is not in the cards for them.
For instance, not all businesses are for profit. Veronika Tichá and her husband Petr Tichý run a Christian non-profit organization named Bétel CZ for the purpose of rehabilitating people with serious addictions. The main way they function is getting the residents to work in their furniture and secondhand stores so that Betel can sustain itself.
“We live as a family. We work together, we worship together, and we make friendship and we fellowship together,” Tichá said. “We had to be really creative in what the people will do. We had no jobs, no income.”
While they have been able to manage, the reality is that a crisis such as this limits their ability to help residents. Does aiding organizations such as these, pose a conflict of interest for Sousesdská Pomoc? Huňka admits this is an ethical dilemma, one issue of many that they will need to deal with going forward.
Despite worldwide anxiety and confusion, Huňka says he and the team have been very hopeful and optimistic. It is his belief that people can and will help one another that has motivated the Sousedská Pomoc project, more than anything else.
“If we make only one single thing a day, there’s no need to feel depressed about it or to feel that we didn’t do our job,“ Huňka says, “We are helping people, and it doesn’t matter if it is one or 100 people. That one person needed our help, and he got it!”
Cover image by Sousedská pomoc