In March, I had an opportunity to spend 20 days in Prague, the Czech Republic. It was the first time I travelled outside the island and I saw many things that deeply impressed me.
The list of activities we did in the Czech Republic included a visit to Bilina, a small town about two hours from Prague, where I could see how local people live, what they do for a living and how very different they are compared to their fellow citizens in Prague. Most importantly, I could feel the contrast with my home country. In Bilina, we visited a centre for education and social integration, which, as we discovered, offers free services to children from low-income families, children of unemployed or very young mothers, who are in turn encouraged to cooperate with the centre and do some community work in exchange for the aid provided to them. These very important social services are provided in a poor part of the town with a high rate of people with drug addiction, young people with no schooling and families that are mostly of Roma origin.
The centre for education and social integration in Bilina provides excellent services with regard to access to facilities such as exercise equipment, musical instruments and computers with internet access that are used to teach kids to work with them. There are also playgrounds and rooms for dancing and doing choreographies as well as playrooms with toys for the smallest children. Those who are interested can also attend classes of English. Some of the mothers support the centre using their manual skills – they make wool dolls or toys from various materials, jewellery, or dedicate themselves to other activities. Children make their own drawings, which are hung up on the walls all over the place.
What I liked most about the experience was the interaction with the children, who were very affectionate. Many were impressed when we told them about the country we come from – they didn’t know it, so we showed it on the map. We participated in their activities such as drawing or dancing and we taught them some words from our language in exchange for theirs. The children were delighted at our visit, which really pleased me. We gave them some candies and made a drawing with the flags of the Czech Republic and Cuba. Then we shook hands as a proof of friendship, so that even the smallest children could better understand what was the purpose of our visit to their country.