How ŠKODA helps others to help

How ŠKODA helps others to help

RESPONSIBILITY

Visually impaired children, people with a disability who learn to take care of themselves, and assistance dogs. Donated ŠKODA OCTAVIA cars are a great help for the individuals mentioned above and for many more besides. See how ŠKODA helps others help.

21. 12. 2020

ŠKODA Storyboard set off on the trail of three ŠKODA OCTAVIA cars that are helping those in need.

For infants and pre-school kids

Imagine you’re looking forward to a new addition to your family and happy moments with your baby, but the reality is an endless round of medical examinations and bad news: your child won’t ever walk, won’t learn to speak, won’t be able to see... It’s a huge blow. Few are able to manage on their own in moments like that, and expert help and assistance is very welcome. This is known as early care.

“These are activities that help families raising a child with a disability from birth to the age of seven, so that the families learn how to care for the child in the home environment. This is based on the conviction that the best experts at bringing up a child are the child’s parents – and that also applies to families where the children have special needs. We teach them how to communicate with the child, how to provide them with as much stimulus from their surroundings as possible so that they can develop as well as possible despite their health limitations. And above all, so they can be with their mummy and daddy, brothers and sisters and other family members every day,” says Jana Ježková, head of early care services at the EDA organisation.

#SKODAAUTOhelps

Notebooks enabling disadvantaged Czech children to take part in distance learning; buying beds for the sick in India; and supporting hospitals, doctors and medics. That’s just a short list of the ways ŠKODA has helped respond to the pandemic this year.

As the biggest provider of social services and healthcare mobility in the Czech Republic, the company also donated one hundred ŠKODA OCTAVIA cars. Hospitals, social services providers, old people’s homes and NGOs helping vulnerable people in the field could apply for the cars. “Healthcare and social services providers make intensive use of the cars. That and the fact that the employees and their clients are also very satisfied with the cars in the vast majority of cases makes us very happy,” explains Bohdan Wojnar, member of the board for human resources management.

“Thanks to this car we are providing medical care to clients in their home environment, which does away with the need for them to visit hospitals and so reduces the risk of infection with Covid-19 in a high-risk group of patients,” says one of the nurses who drives a ŠKODA OCTAVIA in her work.

The company, which this year celebrated thirty years since its founding, has around 260 families in its care. Some are still waiting to be accepted; others have been visited by counsellors for years, and now the visit is facilitated by a ŠKODA OCTAVIA. Some have one child, others three or even more; some live in the centre of a big city, others in small villages or remote spots in the countryside. “Every child is different, of course, and needs a different approach. Our counsellors have to be very flexible and adaptable and have lots of ideas up their sleeve for how to hold the attention of infants and pre-school kids, who can range from the very timid to the fairly wild.

It’s a joy to watch a child who finally gets the right prescription lenses and starts taking an interest in the world around it. Or to see a little child toddling about even though doctors said it would never take a step. “Recently, on Early Care Day, we were treated to a singing and accordion performance by Vítek, a blind former client who is now a talented musician and goes to school. We also look after little Kuba, a disabled boy who was taken into temporary foster care from birth when nobody wanted to take care of him. Instead of letting the boy end up in a home, they decided to keep him, partly thanks to the support they received from an early care counsellor,” Ježková says, recalling some of EDA’s clients.

ŠKODA OCTAVIA in the front line of assistance

One hundred ŠKODA OCTAVIA cars help organisations classified as “publicly beneficial” manage their day-to-day work in these difficult times. “Thanks to the car we can visit families that have small children with communication and mobility difficulties and work with them in their natural environment. The car is spacious, which lets us load up with large quantities of aids of all shapes and sizes,” says one of the social services’ employees. “It’s not just the financial value – ŠKODA really helped social and healthcare services at the right time,” adds Monika Jindrová, director of the Czech Association of Publicly Beneficial Organisations, who was one of the expert guarantors of the donation.

What have one hundred ŠKODA OCTAVIAs achieved so far?

• Over 330,000 km – the distance travelled so far by one hundred OCTAVIAs in the services of publicly beneficial organisations

• 18,700 – the number of clients needing social or healthcare services who have been helped by organisations using the cars

• The cars have delivered 10,700 lunches, 173,900 pieces of protective gear, and 2,700 shopping purchases.

• They took patients to 1,200 appointments with a doctor

From the church to the pub

The Neratov association based in the municipality of the same name in the Eagle mountains looks after adult clients with a mental disability. This organisation founded in 1992 provides help to twenty-five clients. And it gives work to dozens more.

“Each of them has an individual plan governing how the sheltered housing staff work with them. These days, we take clients to shopping, to the doctor, to the authorities, for culture and leisure activities in an OCTAVIA donated by ŠKODA. After breakfast, which they either prepare themselves or eat in our canteen, they go to work. The clients work in sheltered workshops in Neratov, in the garden centre, pub or laundry, and doing cleaning and assembly work or staffing the canteen. That is followed by lunch, after which some of them go back to work. When their duties are finished, there are activities in sheltered housing such as learning to cook, assimilating good hygiene habits and learning how to be more independent. They can all pursue a number of leisure activities: sewing, embroidery, various forms of art, music therapy, even chats, games, walks, excursions or visits to museums,” says Jana Němcová, listing some of the services offered by the association she heads.

And she introduces us to some of her clients. It is clear from the look in the eyes of their “boss” how proud she is at the way they are coping with their difficult situations. Such as Jirka, who is illiterate and lost both parents in the same month. His uncle tried to find a suitable home for him, but it was clear from the beginning that Jirka could not live on his own, let alone take care of himself. When he came to Neratov he was aggressive and unmanageable. Now he’s lived here for over ten years. In that time he has changed beyond all recognition. He’s sweet, friendly and has learnt lots of new things. His life is properly structured and organised.

Luboš came here after his father died, because his sick old mother could no longer look after him. They had a big farm where he couldn’t stay. At first he had to learn good hygiene habits, how to tidy up and cook. He had problems with his teeth and his clothes were old and dirty. Now Luboš is dressed smartly and can look after himself much better. He has assimilated good hygiene habits and keeps his room in an exemplary state of cleanliness.

Neratov

The history of the Neratov association began before the overthrow of the communist regime in 1989 when Father Josef Suchár discovered a ruined church in the abandoned village of the same name. The atmosphere of the place enchanted him. He promised himself he would return one day and repair the church. Step by step, the decrepit buildings came to life again. And this was when the idea the association was founded on was born: the pilgrimage site would not be brought back to life for disabled people, but with them. The village’s dominant feature is the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady with its glazed roof. The church never closes and can be visited at any time without prior arrangement.

The association currently employs over 250 people, 200 of them people with a disability. “We offer accommodation for paying guests in the Neratov chalet, we have a canteen that cooks for association employees, paying guests and our sheltered housing clients. There is also a laundry that serves both the association and the general public. We have a shop, a pub and a garden centre. We stage cultural events and concerts. Our theatre festival featuring actors with a disability, Menteatral, has already established itself as an annual tradition. And the Neratov Pilgrimage Festival is also popular,” adds the head of sheltered housing Klára Kadlecová, before getting into her donated ŠKODA OCTAVIA for the afternoon’s sets out for other duties.

It’s a dog’s life 

Hermiona, Luna, Bob, Alfred. These are the names of some of the assistance dogs that are being trained for their future “vocation” by the specialist trainers of an organisation called Pestrá. The organisation provides internationally accredited natural training in the home for assistance dogs. They select and train dogs specifically suited to a client's requirements and lifestyle. The client and dog meet regularly and get to know each other while the dog is still in training. The specialised training lasts roughly eight or nine months and takes place entirely in a home environment. This gives the assistance dog the best possible preparation for its life with its new master.

“There’s always a lot going on here. Puppies from tried-and-tested breeding stations we have worked with for a long time come to us at the age of roughly two months. A verified voluntary trainer then takes charge of the dog for about a year and a half. With guidance from experienced trainers, the volunteer teaches the puppy the basics of socialising such as answering to its name, toilet training, travelling in public transport, walking on escalators, going in a lift and coming into contact with other people and animals,” explains Jana Sirotková, director of Pestrá, adding that specialised training only starts when basic training is complete (see box).

As the training centre does not have its own kennels, the dog lives at home with its trainer right from the start. Consequently, the dog gets to know all the pitfalls of human households from a very young age and gradually assimilates the rules. It naturally learns to keep things clean and tidy, learns where its place is and where is out of bounds for it, and it gets used to other members of the family, both humans and animals. Every day it comes into contact with the usual noises and all kinds of machines. And it gets used to being alone when the trainer is away.

Pestrá has already provided 61 assistance dogs, and five more are currently in training. Twelve junior dogs are currently biding their time in the “dog kindergarten” that couldn’t exist without volunteer trainers. These days, the dogs are taken to see their clients and to the training centre in a car donated by ŠKODA.

Special training of assistance dogs

After about a year and a half of basic training, the young dog is taken over by a fully qualified trainer. That means that the dog moves in with him or her. Our dogs share our homes with us. In this way, the trainer can observe the dog’s behaviour in a wide variety of situations during the day, and he can adapt the dog’s training accordingly. The training takes place naturally and basically non-stop throughout the day,” says Michaela Perčinová, head of dog training.

The day starts with morning walkies, and the dog learns how to behave when out and about. That is followed by obedience training. The dog learns special actions or positions (passive canine therapy). It regularly spends time in busy places, like shops, and goes on public transport. In addition, every dog needs a long walk to stretch its paws and clear its head. The trainer’s work with the dog doesn’t end till the evening, as the dog needs to be taken out again before it goes to sleep.

You may be wondering whether certain breeds of dog are better suited to this line of work than others. “We most often train border collies, golden retrievers and Labradors and Portuguese water dogs. But we’ve also trained a alert Chihuahua called Alvina and a Rhodesian ridgeback called Aisha, who helps little Adam with his autism. Our trainers can tell which puppies are suited to training and which aren’t. As a result, it’s very rare for us to find out that a dog is unsuitable during training. Naturally, dogs aren’t robots, so it can happen. In that case, the first thing we do is get in touch with the breeder to find an adoptive family for the dog together so we’re sure the dog will have a good life,” Sirotková concludes.

Jan Šibík

The public-benefit organisations EDA, Neratov and Pestrá were photographed for ŠKODA Storyboard by Jan Šibík, the internationally acclaimed Czech photographer. During his career he has been on 250 reportage missions to all corners of the globe. He worked as head of the photography department and image editor at Reflex magazine for twenty years. He has organised dozens of reportage photography workshops, both in the Czech Republic and abroad. In 2004 he received a World Press Photo award. He has also won three awards in the prestigious international Fuji Press Photographer competition and two main prizes in Czech Press Photo.

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