Collier Shelter Program Director Will Travel to Slovakia


Saturday, July 7, 2007

At the Naples Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Jan Christiansen directs programs that go beyond providing meals, clothing, and a place to sleep. Career counseling, education and other support services are administered there each day.

Christiansen soon will share her expertise at a fledgling shelter in Bratislava, Slovakia.

In November, she is scheduled to visit the Duha Domestic Violence Shelter to monitor development of its programs.

“My trip is being funded by the Naples North Rotary Club Foundation, and a donation by William and Barbara Meek of Naples,” Christiansen said.

The Duha Center currently provides emergency shelter for women and children in need, but soon it will be a multi-service facility.

While in Bratislava, Christiansen will make presentations at the universities about domestic violence and its effects on communities and society as a whole.

Limited research available in Slovakia shows that one in every five women experiences some type of domestic violence. The Duha center, just a year old with space for 20 residents, is the only emergency shelter in the country.

Upgrading the Duha shelter is part of an ongoing project of Bryan College’s International Development Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“We run 10 to 12 projects in Central and Eastern Europe each year, to help communities with various needs,” said Dennis Miller, the center’s director. “Our work with the Duha shelter started about three years ago, when Dr. Eva Havelkova came to Chattanooga to learn about our women’s shelters.”

Havelkova founded the women’s rights movement in Slovakia, and is a former director and current board member of the Janhus foundation. She lives in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“Through her work in the foundation, Dr. Havelkova assisted in developing the first abused women’s shelter in Slovakia,” Miller said. “It’s called ‘Duha’, which means ‘rainbow’ in English.”

While Havelkova was interning at Chattanooga’s Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, she went with Miller to visit Micah’s Place, a shelter in Amelia Island in Florida.

“That’s where we met Jan Christiansen,” Miller said.

As executive director at the time, Christiansen was involved in developing Micah’s Place.

“It’s a 16-bed facility that opened in 2003,” she said. “They provide education, counseling, and supportive services.”

Havelkova was impressed with Christiansen’s work, and invited her to come to Slovakia and help get Duha’s programs going.

“After I came to Naples, they continued their interest in having me come over,” Christiansen said.

Slovakia was occupied by Germany during World War II, and under Communist rule from 1948 to 1989.

“The country’s economy was devastated, and it’s still in a recovery period,” Miller said. “There’s very little money available from its government for social programs.“

Bonnie Marie Yeager, the current Bryan College student body president, is in Bratislava this summer, researching and writing grants, Miller said.

“Like the Naples Shelter for Abused Women & Children, the goal of the Duha center is to empower the women and children they serve,” Christiansen said, “helping them reach a greater level of self-sufficiency.

“We teach communication and conflict resolution skills, as alternatives to violence when anger arises,” she added. “Prevention is a central aspect of these programs.”

Bob Belcastro, president of Naples North Rotary, said the Duha shelter project is in line with two of Rotary’s avenues of service: local community and international humanitarian efforts.

“We felt this project is within our vision to promote world peace on a more personal level, and improve the plight of those in need,” Belcastro said. “Domestic violence is not confined to one area, or one country. We were pleased to be able to accommodate the Naples shelter with their request.”

The Bratislava International Rotary Club, two Rotary groups in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Rotary of Fernandina Beach in Florida have partnered to provide operational dollars for the Duha shelter.

“We are grateful to the various Rotary groups for their support, and the generous donation from the Meeks,” Christiansen said. “And we’re excited about working with the Duha shelter. Their programs will make a difference in many people’s lives.”

Correspondent Ann Marina can be reached at  © Naples News