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Bratislava's volunteer opportunities are increasing

For many, there is no better way to feel a part of a community than to volunteer in it. But if you don't speak much Slovak, it can be hard to help out, or even to know where to offer. According to a Focus Agency survey on the nonprofit sector, 68,000 people in Slovakia say they volunteer regularly. However, most also say they find their volunteer opportunities through personal contacts -- not an easy thing for expats - and few organizations in Slovakia actively search for free help or organize activities to draw people in. Over 90 percent of all Slovak NGOs have no paid staff, however, so most would be happy to have help. It's just a matter of finding the place for you. A good place to start looking is at the Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA), which is also the home of the Service Center for the Third Sector. Along with academic information, the library has the 1995 directory of nonprofit organizations in Slovakia.

For many, there is no better way to feel a part of a community than to volunteer in it. But if you don't speak much Slovak, it can be hard to help out, or even to know where to offer. According to a Focus Agency survey on the nonprofit sector, 68,000 people in Slovakia say they volunteer regularly. However, most also say they find their volunteer opportunities through personal contacts -- not an easy thing for expats - and few organizations in Slovakia actively search for free help or organize activities to draw people in. Over 90 percent of all Slovak NGOs have no paid staff, however, so most would be happy to have help. It's just a matter of finding the place for you.

A good place to start looking is at the Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA), which is also the home of the Service Center for the Third Sector. Along with academic information, the library has the 1995 directory of nonprofit organizations in Slovakia. A spin through the book turns up 1,500 agencies and associations for just about any taste, from environmental groups to brass band enthusiasts.

Some of the best-known Slovak groups stand out in the directory, and are the first to come to people's lips when asked about volunteering: The Slovak Red Cross, which has an information center in Bratislava; the Slovak Catholic Charity; the Regional Environmental Center local office for the Czech and Slovak Republics; and Inforoma, a Romany group.

If you want to dig deeper, SAIA also prints NonProfit, a free monthly newsletter for the nonprofit sector. Although it is in Slovak (except for an English translation of the table of contents), the newsletter is packed with the names and addresses of NGOs, as well as political reports and reviews of nonprofit literature.

From there, just ask around; native English speakers willing to teach or edit for free are in high demand. Many of the large international organizations are best prepared for volunteers. UNICEF, for example always needs volunteers to help distribute their cards at Christmas. And according to UNICEF worker Heather Laycock (an expat who started there as a volunteer), they can use native English speakers to read through the regular international UNICEF reports and summarize the most important points.

A smaller group that works directly with children is Usmev Ako Dar (A Smile as a Gift), which runs children's homes in western Slovakia. Most of their staff speak English, and they even put together a special English camp for the children in the summer.

Other resources include the International Women's Club of Bratislava, which does a lot of fundraising for charity groups, the centerpiece being the Christmas Bazaar. For more information on helping, contact Gail Klevana, the charity coordinator. The Slovak Humanitarian Council also has great resources on where to turn, and has English-speaking staff.

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