In Slovakia local activist Stefan Straka talks about his idea for a garden project that came out of a dream whilst sleeping on a train: “My inspiration was my own dream about the Roma community in a garden that I dreamed of when I once fell asleep traveling on a train. Seeing some problems – social, environmental and others – I did not know what I could do even after a long period of thinking. Then I just fell asleep with a question on my mind. Sometimes it happens, that after the sleep and the dream I just know what to do. My previous experience in ecofarms in Germany and Austria influenced how I transformed the dream into specific goals and activities.”
Stefan started a project in Rudlov village, located in eastern Slovakia, which also offers a sheltered workplace for people living with disabilities. The initiative is an attempt to link ecological farming, usage of renewable energy sources and provision of services for the Roma community. Out of 650 inhabitants living in Rudlov, 200 are Roma. The sheltered workplace not only provides employment for 20 local people, but also provides natural treatment to clients. The majority of clients are people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
By working in the eco-garden and in local woods, tending to young trees, the clients receive gardening therapy. Through work in the natural environment and with natural materials, the clients receive an improved quality of life. It is obvious from the results – not only has medical treatment to clients been dramatically reduced but land has been cultivated in harmony with nature and the people!
The workplace is located within the buffer zone of the protected area of Slanské vrchy with hundreds of hectares of very old and valuable trees, especially ash and oak. The forests serve as a gene bank for tree nurseries all across Slovakia. Different communities in the region work together on all activities, and the project provides a number of eco-services such as producing and processing biomass and recycling bio-waste. The project’s activities have also provided educational and employment opportunities for the minority Roma community, helping with the larger objective of social inclusion. So from Stefan’s answer in a dream came a solution to a local issue he was passionate about. From one idea came a partnership with local groups, authorities and multiple donors that has improved the lives of some of Slovakia’s most vulnerable people.
The Power of One conference will be a place where individual ideas can develop into inter-regional solutions and partnerships. Perhaps an idea like Stefan’s can be implemented with partners in other countries who also want to work with their Roma communities. As long as we can dream, the possibilities are endless for affecting positive change in the region.