An estimated 4,000 homeless people live on the streets of Prague. Whether we’re running errands around our residential district or visiting the historic sights in the touristy areas, our family has seen many of the faces among this city’s homeless population. On a regular basis we pass the desperate form of a person kneeling down with elbows on the ground and a cup or hat in their hands. It’s a heartbreaking posture and one that never fails to leave lump in my throat.
Seeing a fellow human in this state always makes me think about the circumstances shaping our individual lives. I had two loving parents, a stable home environment, caring teachers, a college education and through it all a continuous vision of my future as a productive, contributing member of society. So what would happen if the fates threw a debilitating mental illness into my personal history? Or a childhood plagued with abuse and neglect, devoid of the love and support which shaped me into the woman I am today? What if these problems led me to make a few bad decisions and I’d wound up a drug addict? Under those circumstances, would my life have turned out much different than that of the person begging for a few Czech koruny on the cobblestone streets of Prague?
I began researching the city’s supports for the homeless and found an organization we could work with to help in some small way. The Sandwiches for the Homeless program orchestrated by the International Women’s Association of Prague (IWAP) collects homemade sandwiches twice a month and delivers them to local shelters where they serve as a supplement to the regular meals served in the community.
This was a good project for the girls. We went to the store, bought ham, cheese, bread and little chocolates, and set up an assembly line on our apartment’s kitchen table. We made 62 sandwiches to contribute to the program. While we worked we had some interesting conversations about why some people don’t have homes and how it can be hard for a homeless person to find a way out of the situation.
Later the girls and I took the tram to a cafe where the donated sandwiches are collected. After sitting and talking with a couple members of IWAP, we decided to go along to deliver them. We walked to a community shelter run by the organization NADĚJE, which translates to “hope.” Our 62 sandwiches and the others donated will be distributed to those receiving nutritional and educational supports from the center and will help get them through the weekend while the center is closed.
We know it’s a drop in the bucket, but like the starfish story, maybe those sandwiches really mattered to the people who received them.