What was it like all of a sudden to find oneself in a home for children?

I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was afraid of the unfamiliar environment. I wanted to go home, to my mom. On the other hand, that had ended badly and something new was opening up before me. One of my memories is that our new home was situated in a building that formerly had been a palace. When I saw it for the first time from the car ride, I thought: “My God, I don’t want to become a nun!” I totally confused it with a monastery. I had never seen a palace before.

How did you deal with that?

The beginning was really tough. There were 12 girls in our room. Fortunately, my sisters and I were kept together, and that gave me strength to keep going. I also had luck with our counsellor. To this day, I’m still in contact with Míša Krejčí, who accompanied me through all those years and really helped me a lot. She was unbelievably good, and she reminded me of my grandmother. One could cuddle up to her. She really devoted herself to us and also took care of the various other circles of kids.

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How would you describe the atmosphere in the home? Were there rivalries between the children?

Rivalries, yes, but certainly not in any positive sense. Rather it was about who could make the most mischief. The reality is that for the majority of children there, it would be a success if you were to manage to complete trade school. The children lack most of the customary and fundamental social values, such as respect, responsibility, how to behave politely and so on. And I think they don’t generally have any interest in collective activities. I remember how, one time, we were getting food from the kitchen over the weekend, so we could cook together. I enjoyed this so much and yet, at the same time, it struck me, that the others didn’t want to join in. I can’t say that the others would try to learn something new, to improve themselves.

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How did you get the chance to go to a “normal” elementary school?

The “not-normal” school, or as they call it officially, the “special” school, had been really the norm for me. I didn’t know anything else. The truth is that school always came naturally to me; I always got the best marks. But what changed when I moved into the children’s home was that my teachers suddenly started paying more attention to me. And one day my oldest sister, along with my counsellor, informed me that I could transfer to the elementary school.

What was the change like for you?

Really huge. I soon had the feeling that there was much more to learn. For example, my favourite subject, mathematics, was a lot harder. But I must say that at the same time I really enjoyed school. A former teacher from the special school helped me with the material so that I managed that first onslaught.

How did the children from so-called normal families behave towards you?

On the whole, they were much better than those at the special school, even though there were those who laughed and teased me because I was from the “kid’s home”. Fortunately, I quickly found friends and we stuck together right up until our last year. It was totally normal friendship; we spent lots of time together and regularly visited each other. Sometimes, they even came over to the home to visit me. And I have to say that our class teacher was super and he really supported me. I could come to him at any time and talk about what was bothering me, what wasn’t going well for me, and that sort of thing.

In whom or what did you find the motivation for improving yourself?

My biggest role model and motivator was my oldest sister. A lot of it had to do with the fact that she showed how to be successful on her own. She completed elementary school and then went on to a military secondary school. That gave her security in her work and housing situation. I saw her making this progress, and I knew that I wanted to achieve something like that. And there’s one more thing: From the time ever since I was moved to the home, I always said that I never wanted to end up like my mom.

So it was clear that you’d go on to secondary school?

Yes, but it wasn’t so easy. Following my sister’s example, I also tried to enlist in the military, but they didn’t accept me. Then I started to think seriously about hotel school. One day, my counsellor came to me and said that another possibility could be to enrol at the technical secondary school in Opava. More specifically, in mechanical engineering management, which was a bit of economics and some technology studies, and a little bit of everything else. “After all,” she said, “you’re good at mathematics, so you might enjoy it.” And that’s where the technology bug really got hold of me.

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Secondary school was another important step in your life.

Secondary school was something else altogether. The other people there already had a more mature approach. They treated me completely normally. And yeah, when you’re from a home and you study in secondary school, then you’re doing well, you’re making a go of it. People respect that. What’s more, we had good camaraderie and our teachers were great, too. Everything really came together. In secondary school, I already was toying with the idea of going to university. Of course, I have to admit that there also were times when I’d ask myself if I was even going to manage this secondary school. Fortunately, during my secondary studies, too, my counsellor from the home and also my classroom teacher helped me.

What was the reaction at the home when it was clear that you were going to secondary school and then on to university?

I didn’t really have much to do with people from the home, I didn’t have anything to say to them. They were mostly kids who were always getting in trouble, and I said to myself that I don’t need that in my life. Why get in trouble, when I can make myself better? I mostly hung around with my sisters, my counsellors, and my best friend from the home. And they all wished me well. Of course, I know that the reaction of most of the kids at the home wouldn’t be exactly positive. But today, when those kids ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m doing well, and at the same time the thought is running through my head that if they’d only paid attention to their education, they could have it so much better.

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How do you approach the new challenges your life brings?

I have to admit that I get terribly nervous. Every exam or test in school seems like it’s going to be a disaster. Fortunately, my close friends always support me. They tell me that I’ll manage just fine, like always, and that I don’t have anything to be afraid of. And then, when it’s all behind me, I experience real moments of joy and happiness. For example, at my graduation, when my oldest sister came with the family, our counsellor, and the people from the Tereza Maxová Foundation, it was a great feeling to know that something had worked out successfully and that there are people around me who are supporting me. To me, that’s proof that they think about support very seriously and that they truly care about me.

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You mentioned the Tereza Maxová Foundation. How did your paths cross?

I think I met up with the Foundation for the very first time at a fair in connection with the Handy Hands event, where children from the homes for children sell various things that they made themselves. Then there was a gap of a few years until I was admitted to university and I was told many times by my counsellor that I could ask them for financial support for housing. So, I did that and about a month later I received the answer that they would support me. That was a great feeling. Before that, I hadn’t really put any faith in these foundations. I had the same idea that a lot of others do that, yeah, foundations only exist to line somebody else’s pockets. Now, I definitely don’t think that anymore.

What roles has the Tereza Maxová Foundation played in your life?

For me, they are a really close, good friend, almost on the level of a family member. I really like the people from the Foundation – and it has a lot to do with the actual people. They’re interested in what I’m doing, what’s ahead of me, what I’m planning for the future and that sort of thing. Really, they’re interested in almost every exam that I have ahead of me. They always keep me in their hearts, so when I call them it means something. They also help me with school study materials, which, at least in my field, are pretty expensive. In the end, based on my own personal experience, I even convinced my younger sister to hook up with the Foundation. And they already are helping her with secondary schooling, such as with financial support for transportation, textbooks, and even language courses. Things really can work out for the better.

 

 

I always want more out of life. I’m not satisfied with things handed to me on a silver platter

Did someone prepare you for the world beyond the walls of the home?

I don’t think it’s something somebody can prepare for in a theoretical way. Yes, at the home they told us that life isn’t going to be easy, but I’d already learned that well enough on my own! For me, it’s important to know there are things we can do to make life easier. The Tereza Maxová Foundation works along these lines. I’ve always believed – and I still believe – that if I treat people decently, they will pay me back in kind.

What do you think are the chances on the job market for those from the children’s homes?

Of course, employers look at people from the homes differently. I’ve encountered this many times when the HR lady tells me right out that she doesn’t believe I know how to work because I’m from a children’s home. My sister encountered similar reactions. Here, I have to remind people about the Foundation again. They are educating us in this direction, saying to us that, yes, you’ll meet up with rejection, but you need to believe that not everyone is the same and that it definitely is worthwhile to persevere. I also found a long-term, part-time position where I worked for about a year. My sister found one, too. You mustn’t give up. The world is not black and white, and you will meet up, too, with good-hearted people.

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About this part-time work you mentioned, what did you do?

Fortunately, it was in my field. I worked as a lab technician for material quality, so I encountered the structures, properties, and design technologies used in manufacturing. And I have to say that I really enjoyed that. I’d certainly like to put into practice what I’m studying. On the other hand, nobody ever knows where the world will take them. I could open a travel agency or have a home bakery, which also greatly interest me.

What is still ahead of you in school?

In September, I have the defence of my thesis and my state exams. Then I will continue on to get my doctorate. That means I need to take entrance exams again, but as always, thankfully I have positive people around me, including friends, who keep telling me that I’ll manage it and that I’ll soon be a Ph.D. It’s all about having people around you who care about you and naturally support you. And so far as work goes, I’ve already chosen one of the most prominent regional employers in the industry and I believe it’ll work out.

ŠKODA is one of the Tereza Maxová Foundation’s partners which participate in financing the studies of disadvantaged children through the Educational Fund and the ROZJEDU TO! Programme. Have you ever thought your professional future might be at that firm?

Recently, people from the Foundation told me that I could have a chance to apply for the Trainee Programme at ŠKODA. I can’t manage it timewise right now, though, because it conflicts with my state exams. But I’m very fond of ŠKODA, and I even drive a ŠKODA! For me, ŠKODA is a traditional Czech brand that is really quite interesting for young people. I definitely would love to work with such an employer, but at the moment everything is still up in the air. We’ll see!

 

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Eva Ptáčková
(*1992)

 


In 2001, when she was just 9 years old, Eva Ptáčková and her three sisters found themselves placed into a home for children. Eva and her sisters had been taken to the home directly from school. Her father had been imprisoned and her mother had developed an addiction to gambling machines. The girls often had been left home alone and had had to learn to take care of themselves. This was the unenviable starting position from which Eva began her journey to overcome all the obstacles which life in a children’s home can present. Eva is the first to admit the beginning was tough. She didn’t really understand the other children there and or have anything to talk about with them. She was at that time attending a special-needs school, where she already had been placed by her parents. Fortunately, at the children’s home Eva recognized that she could do more. She transferred to a normal elementary school and her life began to move in a better direction. She later attended secondary technical school in Opava, and now, with financial support from the Tereza Maxová Foundation for children and from ŠKODA, she is finishing her master’s degree from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague and is preparing for a doctoral programme.

Eva Ptáčková

“I’ve collected these samples while working on my thesis. They are samples of manganese–boron steel, which is used to produce frames for car seats, pressed into Bakelite for metallurgical analysis. That involves determining the structure of the particular steel and its hardness. Preparing these kinds of modified samples isn’t so simple and you have to take your time about it, so I’m especially proud of them.”

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