Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 6 Friday

Friday My Last Day Tennessee Here I come

The Mix Club for Kids

I think today was my favorite day. Samuel came and picked me up and took to me to the Mix Club that he works at some afternoons near Duha. It is like a Rec Center and right in the middle of the Pentagon. Great name huh? The Pentagon is a housing project that mostly Gypsies live in and there are a lot of drugs in the area. Samuel says people in the community are afraid of people who live in the Pentagon. Aren't we all, maybe for different reasons.

Anyway, I was quite alarmed to hear the first rule of the club. Children must smoke outside. .... Yes you heard it right. It is a reality here. It is illegal to sell to children under 15 but many children under 15 smoke. Wow. Again the walls were painted, you can see where they painted the outside. Samuel gave me a cd of songs that 2 boys, ages 14 and 16, made singing gypsy and slovak songs. It was amazing. They were so good. Very professional. If I were smart enough I would put some of it on the blog. I think it can be done... maybe.

Then we visited my young friends Rene and Kevin from my last visit 3 years ago. They are now in a children's home outside Bratislava. I did not know if they would remember me, but I was hoping. Of course I took them Tennessee Volunteer Football hats. What kind of person would I be if I didn't.... right? They were very pleased. Rene said he would come to Tennessee and play foot ball. Rene remembered me, he is the same age as my son Noah, but Kevin who is the age of my son Joel did not. Rene had used up most of my video tape during my visit to Duha and remembered using my camera. The other children at the home had many questions about America. They wanted to know if I knew Tu Pac and 50 Cents. Apparently rap is very big among teens. Samuel says among gypsy children rap and gangs are a very popular image of America. Not much to be said for that.

I gave the boys my card and told them to learn English and they can email or write to me. I hope they will finish school.

The last event of my day (before packing and flying home to my wonderful family) was to meet Eva and Igor her husband in the old city for a very important reception for the former Prime Minister (I think- anyway he was very important) who had written a book with the former PM from the Czeck Repbulic. It was a policical event and a book signing all in one. Igor works for him which is how I got a special invitation. It was very interesting. After the speeches, they christened the book. I can't think of any other way to say it. They took water and poured it over the book like a christening.

Here is a famous actor I don't know and the former Prime Minister getting ready to pour water on the book.

Last but not least, I saw the people watcher in his window again today. I have looked for him every day to no avail, but today he was there. A very nice ending to a great week. I am very thankful to the Partnership, Chattanooga Rotary Club, Bryan College and Dennis Miller who helped make this week happen. I hope some community change begins to occur and that maybe I have planted some seeds. Chow - See you in Chattanooga

Day 5 Bratislava On the Downside Now

Flowers in the park

Brana di Zivota "Gate to the Life" was a great visit today. I met with the Director Gabriella and her staff. Two of them spoke English which helped. They have a similar program to the Partnership shelter and serve 12 women with children. They also have a children without parents shelter and house young people aging out of shelter care.

As throughout my trip, the thing that I was interested in was how they collaborated with other programs in the community to lobby for funding and to create a coalition to speak for victims rights. That is a very new concept here, so maybe I planted some seeds. I hope so. Education and prevention of domestic violence; rape; homelessness and other social issues are not high on priority lists partially because there are few staff to do the work (which I totally understand). But I am also not sure there is full recognition of how prevention can be related to education efforts. They do not do psycho-educational groups on domestic violence with the women in their shelter with topics about the cycle of abuse; indicators of abuse; effects on children; safety planning etc. These issues are usually worked on one on one in meetings with the psychologist. I encouraged them to do the classes with all women they work with. Very important concept because domestic violence impact everyone.

They would like for me to send them our support group program on domestic violence. I am very excited about that.

Eva and a few of her class
In the afternoon I taught a class for my friend Eva Havelkova at the University Performing Arts. I talked about the Partnership and our project in Slovakia, but I focused my topic on the history of the oppression of women; domestic violence; rape and dating relationships. They were quite amazed at some of the things I said. They do not talk about those issues here and especially dating violence. I brought some cards I received from the Tennessee Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence created through the website. the students had never seen anything like it. We briefly talked about rights in a dating relationship... again a very foreign concept.

I focused on how important my understanding of my history was to how I create change in my community. Many of the students here do not even learn about being under communism and it was only 20 years ago. They do not know about oppression and it is not taught to them to my understanding. So.... I gave them a lesson in oppression and civic responsibility. I asked Eva later if I could be arrested for the things I may have said. Not since 1989.

Later in the day as I was walking back to the boat I saw some of the most beautiful flowers in bloom and then a saw some people rowing. Life here is not as fast paced as at home. Even though the week will soon be over, the hours are not frantic ,filled with due dates; PQI reports; grants due; too many meetings to attend; and never ending work with no time to complete it. It has been so nice to put that away for a week and focus on one thing at a time and enjoy each moment of time not worrying about the next one. However, I miss my family and can't wait to seem them Saturday. It seems like a month since I hugged and kissed my boys.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 4 Wednesday.

Bratislava Day 4

check out the artwork on these shelter walls.

A very busy day. I was up at 8 and it is not almost midnight. I have not slowed down today and tomorrow will be similar. Dasa took me to Majak today. Wow. I met the social worker, who explained their program and showed me around. Check out the walls. Its that way all over the shelter. They have 60 women currently being sheltered and 25 children. My staff won't believe this but the social worker is the only one who works with them like our case managers at the Partnership. So the ratio is 1 to 60 compared to 1 to maximum 5 or 6. Hmmm. We think we are overworked Ouch. The program is very similar in ways to ours.

One thing that struck me was the expressed need to control things. We also discussed the cycle of violence and in many cases alcohol and drugs are blamed on domestic violence here. I shared my first encounter with the Lenore Walker books on domestic violence and the cycle of violence. I shared that I believe that those things exacerbate the behavior but they do not cause it and if we let it be an excuse we are not holding abusers accountable.

We also discussed the importance of education as a key to prevention and changing the environment of complacency in Bratislava. No one seems to think domestic violence is a big deal, not my problem. Again the issue of funding came up. With no coalition of programs, there are no strong lobbying voices to help speak out for social issues, funding and services.

It seems that economic growth is more important than social issues. I think when the social issues are sleeping in the mall entrance or asking for handouts in the mall, maybe things will change. I think when women and children die at the hands of abusers because no one thinks is their problem; I think when someone important's family is impacted by domestic violence, things will change. I think when the daughter of an important person is raped, things will change. I ask myself, why does it have to be this way. And then I think...isn't that what happened here in America; Tennessee and yes Chattanooga and sometimes still happens.

It was great to see this very large shelter and know that women are being helped at least for now.

After my visit, I went to buy tennis shoes and chocolate. My feet will be eternally grateful. Then I met my great Friend Eva Havelkova and Dasa and we went to see the opera Faust. It was a tragedy. Very sad. I had forgotten my college literature. Even with the Italian song and Slovak translation it was still sad. Tomorrow I go to Brana de Zivota and visit another shelter and then will lecture at Eva's class at the University. Chow

Dancing with the Stars Chattanooga - Big Announcement Coming!

We have a big announcement coming this Saturday that we are just soooo excited about! If you came to the Partnership's Dancing with the Stars Chattanooga event last year, you know what a great time was had by all. This year's event is going to be even bigger and better in so many ways! We have six WONDERFUL dancers from the local talent pool known as Chattanooga. We have a sizzling special guest dancer from the actual ABC hit show, Dancing with the Stars. If you loved Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko last year, you will surely love our guest star this year!

We have a new venue which will maximize the performance, and will provide LOTS of seating to accomodate everyone who wants to see the show! We sold out last year, over two weeks before the event.

Make sure to check our website at this Saturday - May 1st - to see who our guest dancer is and who our local performers will be! Also - make sure to pick up a copy of Chatter Magazine and the Times Free Press for these special announcements.

Many thanks to our presenting sponsor, First Tennessee, for making this event possible. And to the Chattanooga Times Free Press for print sponsorship of DWTSC 2010!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bratislava Day 3

See you Soon.Some things are the same no matter where you go in the world: families, adults relaxing in a park, children playing in a park or trying to feed the birds, dandelions (I saw some today), relationships beginning and ending, birth, death. Some social issues are the same too. We see domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, homelessness, hunger in every country.

I took a picture of St. Michael's Tower which is so beautiful to me but on closer look....

I saw this homeless man in the archway. Later when I was walking across the bridge to Petrazalka I saw two more homeless men sitting under the freeway on the sidewalk in what looked like they were preparing for the night. Erie Chapman, the author of Radical Loving Care, advances the idea of the Good Samaritan and the idea in the story is the golden thread that is found in every great faith through history as well as the humanitarian tradition. He says that "love not only sits at the center of humanity but that love can be present in all people and all things." He also says that charitable work is sacred and that "without the guidance of love humanity is degraded to lower forms of living... and human life itself lacks meaning". Pretty heavy stuff, huh.?

Homeless people are in every country, around the world.

I did do some relaxing stuff today. I walked forever and soaked up with my eyes so much architecture, beauty and sense of history and awe. There is this feeling in my brain like I get when I am traveling I24 from Nashville to Chattanooga just past Monteagle Mountain and I see the mountains to the right. It always takes my breath away in Spring and Fall.

On a practical note, I have figured out how to stay cool in the Botel. I have taken out the entire window. American ingenuity. Much cooler. I have also started my own little travel guide for Women Travelers (who are not the jet-setting type if you know what I mean on a social workers salary). A few of them are: 1) always bring tennis shoes; 2) always bring your own paper products and 3) always pack extra clothes in your carry on.

I am going to have to find chocolate for the 5th graders at Brainerd Baptist School and since they want chocolate, I bet the 2nd graders will too. I've been told to buy German Chocolate - not Polish. We shall see. I also must buy tennis shoes. My feet are killing me and I continue to trip. I tripped again today but did not completely fall down. Good catch.

I will be going to Majak Nadeje ( Lighthouse of Hope) tomorrow. I have gifts from the Partnership and look forward to our time together tomorrow. I finished my PowerPoint today for my lecture. It is a motivational piece on activism. Surprised? The rest of the week will be busy. It is late.
Good night.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bratislava Day 2


Day 2 Bratislava

Last night I went to dinner with Dasa (Dagmar), Paulko (her husband) and Samuel (our friend who visited Partnership from Duha). Dasa is the Director of the shelter and started it in 2006. Anyway, I fell down the stairs coming from my room to go and meet my friends. Luckily it was just the last stair, I did no serious harm, and I did not feel too unembarrassed. It's not like I will ever see any of the 7 or 8 strangers in the room who clearly did not speak English ever again. C'est la Vie. We walked to a nice restaurant and then up to the Castle (Hrad) Bratislava. There is a great deal of history in Bratislava.

The Castle was partially destroyed at one time by Napoleon Bonaparte and there are also remnants of a Roman Encampment also on the grounds of the castle. It has been repaired many times over many centuries going as far as the 9th century. Makes America seem very young by comparison. Okay,enough of the meager history lesson.

I must also tell you how much I miss my children, husband, cold drinks and ice. Europeans are not much for cold beverages and certainly not ice. I also know why you don't see huge percentages of obese persons in this part of the world as well. They walk everywhere or bike. Samuel bikes 10 miles to work every day. That's crazy I say. Common practice here.

Today I went to Duha and saw some of my colleagues from my previous visit. It was a good visit. they have hanging in the stair way the T-shirts from the T-Shirt project we did when I stayed in 2007. The children in the shelter do many types of wonderfully creative art which I hope to duplicate back home.

Their shelter has many of the same problems our shelter faces every day. They face funding cuts. Dasa told me if the government currently in power continues to cut social services like the Crisis Center they will close after next year. My very passionate opinion that I shared with Dasa and Samuel is that young people are not social activists. They don't vote based on my conversation with Samuel. If there is to be a future for domestic violence victims; rape victims; children who are abused; the homeless and others in need, the community (i.e. the young people) must become motivated to change the current climate of politics and not accept the status quo.

I only wish someone had talked to me about these issues when I was 2o. I wonder what I might have done with that power at such an early age. I see women like Dagmar and Eva Havelkova who believe in the rights of women and children and stand up for victims. I only wish there were an army of Dasa's and Eva's in Bratislava, making life safer for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking; child abuse; rape and other crimes. (Sorry I got on my soap box.)

I hope that things change here so Duha and the other centers can continue to make a difference the lives of women and children affected by domestic violence and homelessness. Much education is needed and Dasa does not have enough staff to do the daily operations of the shelter and outreach also. I know that story only too well. We suffer the same fate. Education is the key to prevention.

I feel so privileged to work and live in a country where I truly believe one voice can make a difference. We have to make our voices heard about violence against women and children. Men must take a stand against violence. While most individuals who abuse are men; most men are not abusers. Men can make the difference and help us change the world.

Well it is past my bed time. I have been to McDonalds for supper tonight and tomorrow have a free day. I will let you know how that turns out. Chow.

Bratislava and Domestic Violence

[Posted by Regina McDevit, Director of Crisis Services at the Partnership]
My first blog post. Ever....and I am doing it from another country. I have already had to figure out how to change the language at the top back to English from Slovenske. As my husband would literacy is a challenge for me. Please remember I am a novice.

I am so excited be visiting for the 3rd time, thanks to Dennis Miller; Bryan College and the Chattanooga Rotary Club and of course the Partnership. I have had the privelege and honor to consult with programs working with victims of domestic violence in Bratislava for 4 years. Domestic violence and other forms of violence against women are very much a thriving activity across the world. Sadly, many countries are 20 to 30 years behind the United States.

The Bratislava programs and my good friend and human rights expert Eva Havelkova is interested in quality of services that the Partnership provides to victims and the multi service aspect. There are no agencies similar in Slovakia.

I have worked with the Duha Shelter since 2007 and can't wait to see all of my friends there this week.

I arrived yesterday and my luggage arrived today (for which I am very grateful). I can now dry my hair and use my curling iron and computer. I have had only one altercation with a taxi driver who was not happy when I did not believe he was giving me a good price to my hotel. Thankfully my friend Dagmar and her husband showed up right after that and I did not have to discuss the matter any longer. I am trying to figure out the Euro and think I may have been ripped off but since I can't count it I don't know. I shall ask Samuel, our friend from Duha that visited Partnership in February, about the currency.

I saw this dog looking out the window on my way to the old city center today. He was people watching.

Tomorrow I hope to visit one of the shelters. I will also visit 2 young brothers about the ages of my sons. They were at Duha shelter last visit and now they are in another shelter. I hope they remember me. They were abandoned by their parents and have no one to care for them. There are 2 new domestic violence shelters in Bratislava since my last visit. That is good news. I shall keep you posted on my adventures.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Dogwood Shop

If there was ever a time for thriftiness, it’s now. Luckily, there are entire shops devoted to thrift where you can go to save money for more important things like food and rent. If you’ve lived in Chattanooga for any time at all, you know where to find the big thrift stores, but they’re not the only ones around. One of the smaller stores, the Dogwood Shop in Hixson, is actually run by the Partnership. I paid a visit to the Dogwood shop recently and spoke to Sue, the proprietor, and Betty, one of her many volunteer workers.

Dogwood has been around for sixteen years, and Sue has worked there for eleven of those. It was originally owned by The Cancer Society, then it changed to Lutheran Services, and last February marked the store’s fifth year with the Partnership. The transition from Lutheran Services to the Partnership was smooth according to Sue. She told me that the Partnership is a good organization that lets her do her own thing, which seems to be working for her.

Besides Sue, the Dogwood Shop is staffed by elderly volunteers. Many of her volunteers, including Betty, have been at the shop for close to ten years, almost as long as her, and a few have been there even longer. Some are in their 80’s and still working for the simple joy of it, but most of them are around 70. Betty takes clothes and other crafts home and mends them, and her husband pitches in as well by fixing watches and performing any technicall work he can get his hands on. “If he can fix it he will,” Sue said. He often mends jewelry, and he recently repaired a manger made out of olive wood by meticulously cutting new pieces to replace the ones that had broken away.

“They’re just wonderful ladies,” Sue said. “They do what they like to do.”

They must like what they do (after all, they’re still volunteering when they don’t have to work any more) but that doesn’t mean that their work is easy. “We work very hard to keep everything looking nice,” Sue said. Everyone pitches in with mending and cleaning – and make no mistake, everything needs to be mended or cleaned. If you buy something from the Dogwood Shop, you can rest assured that it has been thoroughly washed, disinfected, scrubbed, washed again, steamed, ironed, stitched, and patched.

They sell more than linens, clothes and decorations though – a whole wall and another shelf near the counter was full to bursting with every kind of book. The Grumpy’s that used to be next door to the shop has moved, and McKay’s recently moved farther away from most of the area’s customers as well, which has led to slightly increased book donations. This is good for us bibliophiles because Dogwood’s markup is noticeably less than the two big used bookstores.

There isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to the donations that the shop gets and the business they do, but a few things can be counted on: inclement weather is bad for business, as is the Christmas season, oddly enough. They do the best business at the beginning of each season, when people are repurposing their wardrobes to the changing temperatures, but Spring and Summer, when people are having yard sales and donating anything left over, are the peak.

As with everything else, the Dogwood Shop has been hurt by the recession. This didn’t make sense at first (after all, what better time to shop at a thrift store than an economic climate that requires thriftiness) but Sue reminded me that most of a thrift store’s clientele shop there no matter what, and a recession means that that customer base often goes from having just enough money to shop at stores like Dogwood to having almost none.

On a lighter note, McCallie recently donated sixty-five prom dresses to the Dogwood Shop. There were fifty left when I spoke to Sue, but it’s been a few weeks since then. There should still be some left though – she told me that their sizes ran small, which was keeping them from flying off the shelves. Still, I had a look at them, and there isn’t a thing wrong with them. If prom isn’t already over and you or a girl you know doesn’t already have a dress, you can’t go wrong taking a look at Dogwood’s selection.