Jan Christiansen, "My Trip to Slovakia"


    During the fall of 2006, I was contacted by Dr. Eva Havelkova from Slovakia and Dennis Miller of Bryan College in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were interested in speaking to me about domestic violence and the programs I have directed. After spending a couple of days together, they asked if I would be interested in coming to Slovakia to give input on the only domestic violence center recently opened in Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) and do some lecturing on the topic of domestic violence. I readily agreed, found a sponsor and planned my trip for November 2007.
    On my first day in Slovakia, Dr. Havelkova took me to the DÚHA Shelter in Bratislava where I spent the first two days of the week. The crisis center DÚHA, as they call it, is the first-contact and prevention facility for social services, serving as a point of reference in cases of acute threats to the health, life, and proper upbringing of an underage child or adolescent. They serve abused or neglected children and their “mothers whose lives or health are under threat or who are exposed to violence from close or related persons sharing their household.” In other words, they serve victims of domestic violence.
    When I entered the DÚHA Center, I met the director, Dr. Dagmar Povodová. Dr. Povodová acquainted me with the center and we had a lengthy discussion on how the center came to be, their current programs and the difficulty they were having finding funding.
    The DÚHA center is a 24-bed facility which operates 24 hours, 7 days a week. The length of stay for residents is three months to six months. After people leave the crisis center, they are subsequently offered “ambulant” or outreach services in order to minimize the risk of recurrence. Along with providing shelter services, the DÚHA center also provides essential care such as food, transportation and hygiene items, “crisis intervention, social counseling, prevention, social and psychological diagnostics, psychotherapist care, pedagogical care, pedagogical therapy care and legal aid.” 
    I spent two days at the center and I was able to meet the staff, sit in on support groups (they provided a translator for me), ask questions and provide input and feedback on what I had observed. The staff was very interested in the operations of the Shelter for Abused Women & Children and we discussed programs and ideas throughout my visit.      The rest of the week was spent lecturing about domestic violence. I spoke at the University of Art in Bratislava, and to groups of Psychology and Gender Study students at Comenius University. My last lecture was at the Platform of Non-governmental Organizations in Bratislava. 
    Everywhere I spoke, the audience was very interested in the topic of domestic violence and how oppression and violence against women and girls impacts society as a whole.  Because Slovakia spent over forty years under a communist
regime, many social issues
have not been addressed. They have been rebuilding their society after the fall of communism in 1989 and have been focused on building their economy.      All of the students at the university lectures communicated in English. They were very interested in social issues and how they can get their government to pay attention to the issues of oppression and violence against women and girls. They wanted to know how they can work to bring about social change in their country. Their passion and enthusiasm was infectious. They asked brilliant questions and were eager to hear
more. I stayed after one of my lectures for more than an hour answering questions and talking about our programs at Shelter for Abused Women and Children and the domestic violence movement in the United States. 
    I encouraged them to keep asking questions and to advocate for change when they see injustice and to remain vigilant in their quest to end violence against women and children, keeping in mind that change will not happen overnight, but with a strong united voice the world can be transformed.

Jan Christiansen is the Director of
Programs for the Shelter for Abused Women
& Children in Naples, Florida

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