Three Things I Learned from my Studies in the Czech Republic

Double degree programme fotka2In 2015-16 the Protestant Theological Faculty in Prague (PTF) opened a new study programme at Bachelor level which is innovative and unusual in many ways. It is run in conjunction with the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak) in Helsinki, Finland, and the International Academy for Diaconia and Social Action, Central and Eastern Europe, o.p.s. (Interdiac) in the Silesian part of the Czech Republic, and teaching is provided jointly by teachers from all three institutions. Students are enrolled both at PTF and at Diak, and on graduation they will receive degrees from both partner universities. The title of the study programme is “Social Services Focused on Diaconia and Christian Social Practice”, and it is taught entirely in English. Most of the students come from Eastern European or non-European countries, and the aim of the programme is to equip them with both theoretical and practical knowledge in the whole generic field of social work and social services, with a special focus on the participatory approach, incorporating anti-oppressive practice, empowerment and community development. The programme also includes the study of social work in the context of churches and faith communities (diaconia) which is an additional study that equips graduates to practice in church related contexts. As part of their studies, students have to undertake extensive practice placements.

The study programme is now coming to an end, with students completing their studies in 2018-19. Below one of them looks back on his studies and practice placements, and tells us what he has gained from them.

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I thank God for taking me to the Czech Republic to learn many new things. I am from Indonesia and an assistant pastor in a church in Bandung, West Java Province. In Prague, I study Diaconia and Christian Social Practice at the Protestant Theological Faculty, Charles University. What I used to think and became my principle, has now changed quite a lot after the learning process in Prague, for example about leadership and community development. These two things are different because of different purposes and functions. A leader plays a role ahead of people, while community developers play a role “behind the scenes”.   I always used to think about how to be a good leader, but now I try to be a community developer who influences people and makes them act by themselves and for themselves.

In this study programme, every student is required to carry out practical work. In the first semester, I was undergoing social practice at Bethel, a day center and a night shelter for homeless people in the town of Cesky Tesin on the Polish border. In the second and third semesters, I participated in a service for the homeless at a church ministry in Prague. In the fourth semester, refugees from Iraq and Syria became the communities where I did my social practices. And in the fifth semester, I am doing practical work at the Military University Hospital or UVN  in Prague, where I focus on working with elderly people who are war veterans.

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The age of patients in this place is generally above 90 years. Some are still strong, walking without assistance, while others have to be assisted with their daily activities. Interacting with elderly people makes me think a lot about the meaning of life and my purpose in the world. Once I met a volunteer there. She works at a company in Prague, but she’s also a volunteer at UVN. I asked why she wanted to be a volunteer, and she replied that work is an activity she is doing to get money to meet her needs, and she feels something is lacking in her life if her life is only for work. Just doing something to get some money will not bring her happiness. “I feel happy if I can do something for others without being paid anything”, she said. I was surprised at this answer, which I had not expected. What a remarkable answer, and what generosity it reflects!

Reflecting on what I have learned and experienced in my social work study and practice, there are three things I want to share here as my learning points:

  1. Diaconia is the task of the whole congregation, not just a priest or deacon. We are all called as deacons who serve the Lord in our daily life wich is manifested in serving others. There are a lot of things we can do for other people. The practice at UVN made me realize that a little smile can make people happy. The elderly people are happy to see us work gladly with them.
  2. Diaconia will lose its essence when we set aside Jesus Christ. Working with the elderly at UVN motivated me to convey the grace of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, singing a spiritual song and praying with them. Social work without Jesus is not diaconia.
  3. Diaconia evolves according to the progress of time and development of human needs. In Indonesia, the practice of diaconia is mostly still found within a narrow range, such as services providing money, rice and other basic necessities to the poor and needy. In fact, diaconia covers many aspects involving government, institutions, organizations and society, and continues to grow in accordance with the development of the era and technology.

If I look back on what I was like when I came here almost 3 years ago,  I feel very grateful for the goodness of the Lord Jesus who brought me here to meet my Czech brothers and sisters, and also people from other nations, and to gain so much wisdom and knowledge which are very useful for me personally.

Billy Tambahani