Fantasy workshops celebrate life

JUST AS Slovakia's summer comes to an end, with the days getting cooler and the nights getting longer, Žilina's downtown will bloom into life, its streets reverberating with youthful energy and infectious laughter.

FAIRYTALE characters visited the festival last year.
photo: Jarmila Hlávková

JUST AS Slovakia's summer comes to an end, with the days getting cooler and the nights getting longer, Žilina's downtown will bloom into life, its streets reverberating with youthful energy and infectious laughter. The young townspeople, mostly volunteer secondary students, plus a handful of adults are putting on Jašidielňa 2005, otherwise known as Žilina's international festival of creativity and fantasy for the disabled.

This year's event is expected to draw people from all corners of Europe.

The brainchild of Soňa Holúbková, a long-time social counsellor and psychologist, the festival is meant to be a joyful experience for the handicapped and the able alike.

Jašidielňa was first organized in 1990. "The idea was to bridge the gap between the two groups. While working together and enjoying themselves, they learn a great deal about each other. It's not only in the three days when

PARTICIPANTS bridge the gap between abled and disabled.
photo: Jarmila Hlávková

Jašidielňa officially takes place. They meet long before the festival to prepare workshops, exchange ideas, talk and play football, for instance."

Holúbková is the director of the Land of Harmony Foundation in Žilina, a non-profit organisation that caters to the physically and mentally impaired. "We call the festival participants 'fellows'," she explains. One fellow excited for the upcoming festival just left her office. He came for a chat and to describe what he cooked for lunch that day.

Festival activities evolve from a different theme every year. Last year, the focus was children's stories. Famous fairytale characters wreaked havoc throughout the festival's story world, with fellows accomplishing small tasks in order to find their way out of the "chaos". With help from volunteers, they helped return fairytale characters to their rightful stories. In the end, volunteers and fellows joined together with the festival's prince and the princess in the streets of Žilina to celebrate.

BARRIERS break long before the festival opens.
photo: Jarmila Hlávková

Since its inception, the festival has attracted thousands of students as well as renowned Slovak artists, children's writers, storytellers and singers, who often become the workshop coordinators or take an active part in entertaining both the organizers and the participants.

Jašidielňa, says Holúbková, is a labour of love. It stands or falls on volunteers and sponsors. "We get logistical and financial support from local institutions, businesses, health and charity organizations as well as ordinary people."

About 200 people work to provide food, entertainment and guidance for more than 250 disabled participants from the Czech Republic, Germany, England, Denmark and other European countries, to name but few.

This year's Jašidielňa aims to undertake an imaginary tour around the world. Volunteers will take participants through Africa, America, Australia, Asia and Europe. To add verisimilitude to the experience, participants will dress in the costumes of their "native" continent. According to the organizer, the fellows will be taken on a fascinating trip through each continent, learn about different cultures, customs and meals. While completing simple tasks, they will experience the exotic feel of far-away places.

In early August a group of secondary student volunteers met in a Žilina park to start preparing for the festival. The "Africa" team showed enthusiasm in their very first session, brimming with ideas. Sixteen-year-old Ivana said what it meant to her to be part of the team.

"It's fun. I love it. It's my second year with Jašidielňa. I very much enjoyed being with the fellows last year. It's so good to make them laugh. They're very spontaneous. I'm really looking forward to my Africa workshop this year."

The earth is a beehive, says an African proverb. We all enter by the same door, but live in different cells. Whether a seasoned traveller or casual tourist, a music or fun-lover, able or disabled, whoever comes to Jašidielňa is bound to feel part of something big.

Along with workshops there will be an exhibition of artwork by disabled artists at the Regional Cultural Centre of Žilina. Evening activities and social gatherings are planned every day and night, such as fire shows and music. There will be discos and a blues band from the Czech Republic. Disabled singers from Denmark are planning to contribute to the programme. All the concerts and festival activities, including the workshops, take place outside. In case of inclement weather, the town council has arranged alternative venues.

What: Jašidielňa 2005 - international festival for the disabled.
When:September 7 to 9.
The festival is held under the auspices of Eduard Kukan, Slovakia's Foreign Affairs Minister. The Ambassador of Great Britain in Slovakia, Judith Anne Macgregor, will be present as an honoured guest.

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