I meet with Marion in Košutka, the north border of Plzeň, at the end of the tram line 4. It is close to the longest natural area in the city. During summer, everybody who stays in Plzeň goes there to have a bath in the lakes. Later, in September, walking through the trees, it is common to see some people looking for mushrooms, constituting one of the most characteristic stamps in Czech Republic.
But we are not going to stay in Košutka. It is 7:50 in the morning and some of her coworkers are waiting for us in the car. I must recognize I feel quite sleepy at first, not used to get up so early, but Marion, as always, is already full of energy. We leave Plzeň and took a single-lane road through the forest. After almost one year living here, it keeps surprising me how easy is to get inside the nature and how nice it looks even now, when the beauty of autumn has already gone. Our destination is Ledce, a small village of 600 inhabitants, only 10 minutes far from Košutka. There, next to the church, there is a charming rural house and a small farm, which are the main center of Ledovec, the organization where Marion is doing her EVS.
She is 23 years old and comes from Pontrieux, a small village in Bretagne (France). After studying social work, and given the lack of opportunities in her field at her hometown, she decided to start a new life in Plzeň, where she arrived last May. Although she has worked in other places before, it is her first experience with people with mental health problems. Ledovec, which means “Iceberg” in English, is an NGO that offers psychosocial support to people with mental disabilities under the concept of mutual social rehabilitation. The name couldn’t appeals more to their philosophy. Normally, only one-ninth of the volume of an iceberg is above water. Regarding to people is pretty the same: “We often stay in the surface, when we see someone of them we ask: What’s the problem? But we don’t look more deeply, we don’t realize it doesn’t matter… there are a lot of things “under the sea” and there, is where we have to look at”, says Marion.
The morning starts early in Ledovec. At half past eight, I can meet for the first time some of the clients: Petr, Lukáš, Eliška, Jirka… Some of them remind me Marion a lot, always talking and laughin for something, as if there is nothing on earth which can annoy them. It is not strange that they really get on well… After the meeting, the domestic activities have been assigned: making the bread, making the laundry, cooking the lunch, taking care of the animals, washing the cars… It is different everyday. The key is working together, no matter who is who and their handicaps. “We all have handicaps, you and I, for example, can’t speak Czech but it doesn’t prevent us from doing our things, we all just have to gain confidence…”, remarks Marion.
In the farm you can bump into ships, chickens, cats, a really calm dog… But what attracted me more were all the traditional instruments you can find there to do handcrafted work. For example, there is a room in the attic where people with psychiatric problems can learn to sew and create handmade jewelry. At three o’clock, after having an exquisite lunch all together and spending one hour drawing, playing games or just reflecting on the work done, the clients leave.
But the “farm” is just one part of Ledovec, an NGO which has been running already for 14 years.They offer counseling, therapeutic work, educational courses, employment support… Tuesday, for example, is the day for social activities and there is always some excursion to do. During the last month they have been in an ecofarm making juice, in an exhibition about “the twelve senses” in Prague, in a trip in Rabštejn nad Střelou…
And Thursday is the day of creativity (ceramic, drawing, painting…), which takes place inside a school in Plzeň. They also organize different craft events, a summer workcamp, cultural festivals and a very special project, “Cirkus Paciento”. The team spends around one week in one psychiatric hospital doing different activities dressed as clowns, a therapy which makes patients more active and sociable. The program finishes with a common circus for the entire hospital and the general public.
In the future, Marion wants to keep working in the same field and improve her knowledge about it. When I asked her why is she doing it, she answers naturally: “I could tell you that I am here to have more experience, to gain more confidence… and this is true, of course, but the main reason is because I like it. I have fun everyday”.
The same feeling appears when she is asked about her life in the city. She looks at me strange, she smiles and just says: “I don’t know. I never thought about it. Plzeň is now my city. When I am coming back from a trip, I feel I am coming back home. Plzeň is my home”.