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15th annual concert raises funds for children's homes

A Christmas benefit concert for youngsters living in children's homes took place at Incheba Congress Centre on December 5. Known as "A Smile as a Gift" (Úsmev ako dar), the concert attracted up to 2,000 children from 56 orphanages and 30 boarding schools across the country.
Although state institutions can meet the basic needs of abandoned children, budget funds barely cover basic operating expenses. Events like the Bratislava Christmas concert offer extra financial assistance and personal contacts with the larger community, which can help these children deal with and overcome problems like isolation, lack of guidance, low education, low self esteem and lack of preparation for living independently after leaving children's homes.


One of the 5,000 children living in a children's home.
Courtesy of Úsmev ako dar

A Christmas benefit concert for youngsters living in children's homes took place at Incheba Congress Centre on December 5. Known as "A Smile as a Gift" (Úsmev ako dar), the concert attracted up to 2,000 children from 56 orphanages and 30 boarding schools across the country.

Although state institutions can meet the basic needs of abandoned children, budget funds barely cover basic operating expenses. Events like the Bratislava Christmas concert offer extra financial assistance and personal contacts with the larger community, which can help these children deal with and overcome problems like isolation, lack of guidance, low education, low self esteem and lack of preparation for living independently after leaving children's homes.

"To live in homes modelled after boarding schools, to be lonely and unhappy when they realize they don't have a mother and father, that's the destiny of these kids", said František Mikloško, chairman of the Society of Friends of Children from Children's Homes in Slovakia.

The Bratislava concert was attended by actors, dance groups and music figures like Peter Nagy and Fredy's Dance Group. For the 15th year in a row, it was organised by the Society of Friends and Slovak Television (STV), and staged for free at Incheba.

This year, 400 volunteers helped to look after the children. Organisers managed to attract more than 300 sponsors, including companies and individuals, for a preliminary total of 2.8 billion Sk ($78 million). The concert was not open to the public, but will be televised on December 24 at 13:00 on STV.

The money raised by the concert will go towards supporting causes like Domovák magazine and buying Christmas presents for the children. Other programmes include workshops, training sessions and camps to help children develop their talents and life skills as well as to overcome their insecurity and loneliness.

Another children's support programme, called "the Smile of Saint Nicolaus," collected money at the concert to support summer camps reuniting brothers and sisters who have been separated and have never seen each other.

The concert was directed by Ľubomír Fifík, a professor at the School of Performing Arts (VŠMU) in Bratislava. "Some might think that having 5,000 children in 88 children's homes is nothing," said Fifík, "but every individual has a very specific destiny. The main goal of this year's programme is to promote the idea that maybe one day, every child will have parents."

Smile as a Gift is a nation-wide non-governmental organization dedicated to improving the lives of orphans and abandoned children. It started in 1983 when a group of truck drivers working for STV arranged a Christmas party for a group of children in the Holíč Children's Home.

Currently, Smile as a Gift has 13 branches throughout Slovakia. The central office, which is in Bratislava, supervises all volunteer programmes and coordinates their activities. A board of professionals and supervisors meets twice a month to decide how the society's funds, which exceeded 5 billion Sk ($139 million) in 1997, will be spent.

There are many ways to get involved in the work of the society. You can participate as a volunteer in one of its many projects, donating your expertise or skills in almost any field. You can also provide gifts in the form of goods and services. For more information, please call STV, Mlynská Dolina 1, 845 45 Bratislava, Tel.. (07) 65 42 29 23, or e-mail: usmev@internet.sk The code of the society's bank account is Ľudová Banka, 4040029-105/3100, IČO 173 165 37.

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