MAREK, a four-year-old boy who lived in our Bratislava apartment building, died last year from a brain tumour he had been fighting for half his life. Towards the end, as his head swelled dramatically, he was unable to speak, walk or eat.
Losing a child is the one of the most violent things that can happen to people. It's an emotional Leviathan capable of tearing up marriages, blowing apart families and taking survivors to the deeps of depression.
I don't know where she found the strength, but Marek's mother responded to his death by joining a civic foundation serving terminally ill children and their families. Their idea is to raise enough money to start a hospice, a place where these miserable children could go with their parents to die in warmer surroundings than hospitals offer - among familiar toys, in a room of their own, instead of on one of Slovakia's dilapidated, crowded and understaffed hospital wards.
The foundation is called Občianske združenie Plamienok (Flame civic organisation), and it's one of 4,035 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are eligible this spring to receive money directly from the taxes people pay in Slovakia.
According to a law passed in 1999 but only taking effect now, taxpayers can this year have the Tax Office send one per cent of the taxes they were assessed for 2001 to the NGO of their choice.
With 2.1 million people working in Slovakia, and another 280,000 self-employed, these NGOs could raise Sk250-300 million ($5.2-6.2 million) if every taxpayer participated.
Any expat working and paying tax in Slovakia can do this by filling out and submitting to the Tax Office in April two forms available from www.rozhodni.sk These forms can be filled out electronically and then printed.
Here's how to do it. Go to the website listed above, and in the middle of the screen you'll see seven links. Click on the one called tlačivá (printed material). That will take you to a screen showing links to two documents - Vzor tlačiva Potvrdenie o zaplatení dane (Confirmation of tax payment) and Vzor tlačiva Vyhlásenie o poukázaní sumy zodpovedajúcej 1 % zaplatenej dane (Declaration on sending a sum equal to one per cent of taxes paid).
Start with the first document, the tax payment confirmation. Print it out and have your employer fill it in. The most important information here is the figure in row 01: Daň (tax). This shows how much you paid in tax, and is the figure you use to calculate how much money you can order the Tax Office to send to your chosen NGO. Then print the second form (the declaration on where you are sending your taxes), or fill it out on the screen.
At the top look for a box titled zdaňovacie obdobie (tax period), in which the word Rok (year) appears. Fill in '2002'. Yes, even though the tax year was 2001.
Then complete the priezvisko (surname), meno (christian name) and rodné číslo (birth number, which you will find on your green card if you are working legally) categories, moving on to your address: ulica a číslo (street and number) PSČ (zip code) názov obce (name of municipality) and štát (country).
The key box here is 08, where you are asked to write in how much you are sending. You have to calculate how much one per cent of your taxes comes to, and enter the figure in crowns with no decimal points. If you have already paid your taxes during the previous year, you have to say when in box 09.
Finally we get to the meat of the matter, which is the NGO you want to benefit by going through all this paperwork. You can find the information you need at www.rozhodni.sk by clicking from the main page on zoznam prijímateľov (list of beneficiaries). You can search for the one you want either by region (kraj) or by the name of the organisation.
Once you've found it (let's use again the example of Plamienok), you have to record in box 10 the full name of the organisation (Občianske združenie Plamienok), in box 11 its address (Stupava, Vajanského 3), in box 12 its identification number, or IČO (30786193) and in box 13 the legal form of the NGO (Občianske združenie).
Then you take both forms (confirmation and declaration) to the Tax Office. After getting the first one stamped to prove you have paid all the taxes you owe, you can then take your declaration on which NGO you have chosen to another window and submit it.
If you've read this far then you've probably already decided to fill out the forms and suffer the minor hassles that doing a good deed sometimes involves.
But if you're unconverted, please excuse a little preaching: Many people in this country acknowledge that Slovak civil society has made a huge contribution to democratic change, such as getting the vote out in 1998. And yet few people will actually lift a finger to help NGOs out, even when it doesn't cost them anything, and even though NGOs offer solutions to social problems the government ignores with 99 percent of our tax money.
Like letting children die among strangers in the country's neglected hospitals.
Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs will appear on stands March 11, Vol. 8, No. 9.