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About men in the Czech Republic, helping people and the future

Fast Confession: Monika Granja: I Continue in The Legacy of Olga Havlová

Karolína Lišková
12.Nov 2018
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7 minutes

The Comitte of Good Will - Olga Havel Foundation has been in the Czech Republic since the early 1990s. Olga Havlová has a great name even long after her death. Her legacy still keeps going, but only few know that Monika Granja is the head of this foundation today. She comes from Lithuania, she studied law in Prague and decided to stay here and continue in the legend of the first wife of President Václav Havel loved by the whole nation. She talks about her beginnings in a new country, what was Václav Havel like and about the Foundation in the Luxury Prague Life interview.

How long have you been in the Czech Republic?

I came in 1992. It was the breakthrough year when Czechoslovakia was divided.

How old were you?

Freshly nineteen.

You came here from the East. Did you notice any difference?

Arriving in Czechoslovakia was already a big change for me. Lithuanians, and my family in particular, as my parents did not belong to communist officials, were sealed in the Soviet Union without the possibility to travel. Getting scholarship for my studies in Czechoslovakia was my first opportunity to travel outside the territory of Lithuania. The world opened to me with completely new possibilities.

Prodej exkluzivní vily, Praha 4 - Kunratice
Prodej exkluzivní vily, Praha 4 - Kunratice, Praha 4

So you liked it here?

Yes, it was a stunning and great experience.

At the age of nineteen, you suddenly had such freedom that could easily draw you to wrongdoing. Did it happen?

No, certainly not. I had two younger siblings that I had to take care of all the holidays, which was three months. We spent the summer with my grandmother on a farm where I looked after them, cooked and helped my grandmother with the farm. I was led to independence and responsibility for others ever since I was a child.

Have you been surprised by something, even in a bad way? How did you look at our cuisine back then?

Everything was new to me. And I took it like that. I had to get used to some things – for example dumplings and heavy meat dishes I didn’t know. Now I like the traditional Czech cuisine, but I eat it rarely, I prefer lighter meals. I have never got used to the famous Czech beer. I simply don’t drink beer.

Had you already decided during your study at the Faculty of Law to stay in the Czech Republic?

I had, actually, because at that time I already had a family. My daughter was born and had already started to attend a Czech kindergarten and school later. And you are suddenly attached to the place where you live and where you have your family. It was natural that I stayed here.

What do you think about men in the Czech Republic? Are they different from those in Lithuania, or are they similar?

I think the Czechs and Lithuanians don’t differ much. We were formed by a similar historical reality and today we are both in the European Union. The difference is rather in their appearance – Lithuanian men tend to be fairer and taller. That’s probably why they enjoy playing basketball... Maybe we as a nation are more "into the world", we like to travel, we often study abroad and are not afraid to settle abroad.

You said you don’t own a TV. Why? And what about your partner, how does he watch football?

My partner reads Shakespeare and listens to Mozart, so he doesn’t miss the TV. I have decided to live without a TV more than ten years ago, especially because of my daughter. Television was taking our time we had for school, hobbies, reading... And it turned out to be a good solution. When we wanted to see something nice, we watched it online or went to the cinema.  

Your daughter isn’t living with you now; she is studying in Berlin. So why hadn’t you buy a TV, then?

We don’t even think about it now. And I think it is the current trend among young people.

So you don’t know for example the TV soap The Surgery in the Rose Garden?

I’ve heard about it, yes, but I’ve never seen it.

Czech TV also offers good series, documentaries and films. Especially now, during the anniversary of the Republic...

These are available online, so I watch them occasionally.

What series did you see last?

Not a series, but for example a documentary about Soňa Červená by Olga Sommerová. I am more interested in documentaries than in TV series.

You are traveling a lot and you’ve seen quite a lot of the world. You said older people like coming back home. Wouldn’t you like to settle somewhere else?

If I bent my imagination, it would be nice to spend the old age in the countryside, for example in southern France. But when I take it rationally, I think I should go back to Lithuania. I'm still thinking about what will happen when my parents get old and who will take care about them. And I miss the country I grew up in and where I have a large part of my family more and more.

Let's talk about your work. How did you get to work in the Foundation after you graduated from Law School?

I originally worked for the Association of Foundations and Endowment Funds in the Czech Republic. I was in charge of a legislative project, later increased for care for members of the association, providing consultations and organizing training seminars. Thus I got in close contact with the endowment sector. When I decided to change my job after six years, the Director of the Olga Havel Foundation offered me work in a slightly different field. In communicating and getting new donors. It was a challenge I took for myself. I have been working for the Foundation for more than ten years now.

Luxusní byt na prodej Praha - 320m
Luxusní byt na prodej Praha - 320m, Praha 5

How does the Foundation with such credit as the name of Olga Havlová operate? Is it easier in comparison to other foundations that also raise money to help?

The public perceives our Foundation very positively. But this is a big part of the long-term and diligent work that Olga Havlová had started and in which the former director MUDr. Milena Černá continued. For almost thirty years, the Olga Havel Foundation has been operating in the spirit of Olga's legacy. It helps where it is most needed and where no other help is offered. We always transparently report how every gift we received is handled and we care about the efficiency and effectiveness of its use. The name of our foundation opens doors, but it also places a great responsibility on us. Our activities mirror not only the work of our Foundation but also the entire foundation sector.

Is it difficult to get money for the handicapped these days?

Finding new donors and keeping them is not a matter of course. That's why we pay close attention to contact with the donors to let them know exactly what their money was spent on. We help those in need in different areas – disabled, seniors, homeless people. For some projects it is easier to raise money than for other.

For example, when helping the handicapped, the donors can visualize the impact of their help: If I help to buy a wheelchair, a disabled person will be able to get to school, work, to see friends... But it is more difficult to get money to help homeless people, victims of domestic violence or for the Romani people.  

How do you explain this? Do people think that these groups got into this difficult situation by themselves?

If someone wants to help somebody who’s on a wheelchair, they don’t try to find how he or she got to be on a wheelchair – whether they were born this way, or whether it was a result of a disease or a car accident caused by them. We all know that this person needs help, and we offer him a helping hand. Unfortunately, the same principle of reasoning doesn’t apply, for example, to homeless people or victims of domestic violence. Instead of thinking about what he can do for them, he donors think whether they deserved it.

This can easily happen to any of us…

This is very easy.

I suppose you know the stories of these people personally. Is there something that really touched you?

All the stories brought to us by the people touch us...

... but when you meet these people personally?

We meet with people who ask for help or have already received it. For example, we regularly meet young scholarship applicants. During the selection process for scholarship we talk with them, we get to know their life stories and we are amazed at what they had to overcome in their lives in order to study. These stories strongly motivate us to persistence at work.

When you hear stories that emotionally touch you, how do you disconnect from them?

We support each other in the Foundation office. Your family background is also important, like hobbies, sports or reading, which allow you to disconnect from work at least for a while. I am personally not very good at it because I am still looking for what could be improved, where to find new donors and how to move the Foundation a step further.

How do you feel about the recent Vogue magazine issue with a picture of Karolína Kurková as Olga Havlová?

Personally, I am delighted that the name of Olga Havlová still resonates and that she was selected as one of the most prominent personalities of this country representing freedom. I think it is important for the public to recall the legacy of Olga Havlová and the values ​​she shared. She certainly didn’t want to be a fashion icon, she avoided photographers and media. The editors of the magazine chose this way to bring Olga's name closer to the younger people.

Did you meet her?

No, I did not.

And did you meet Václav Havel?

I had the opportunity to meet Václav Havel at the events of our Foundation. For example, we consulted with him the preparation of events reminding Olga Havlová.

And how did you like him?

I only knew him from the media was very surprised in a good way when I first met him. He was informal, he was interested in the matter and contributed with his ideas.

When I look at you, you seem fragile and kind like the Snow White. As a director, however, you also have to be hard to get what the Foundation needs for its job. Have you ever encountered a situation where people were surprised and didn’t believe that you could be the director of a big foundation?

Sharp elbows may work, but I think it’s only temporary for me. I think long-term effect for good cooperation is brought by understanding, dialogue and the search for a two-sided solution. As for the fact that I look a little subtle and younger than I am, then yes, sometimes people are surprised.

What are your plans for the future and what other projects do you have?

The Foundation is planning several events until the end of the year. On November 18th we are organizing together with a law firm Kocián Šolc Balaštík a traditional benefit concert to support our projects. Donors can choose for what purpose will their financial contribution go. Whether they want to help, for example, seniors, disadvantaged students or homeless people. The concert takes place in the church of St. Simon and Judy, and our former scholar Tomáš Kačo, a very gifted piano virtuoso, will also be performing.

We are preparing a fund raising for the Roof First Project within the national campaign Giving Tuesday. The project helps people who have lost their homes. It will allow them to get free accommodation in dormitories or shelters for up to two months. The new background and support of professionals will allow them to breathe again and help them find housing, handle missing documents, social benefits and find jobs.   

Together with Cirk La Putyka, we are preparing a benefit show Up End Down Symphony in December, which takes place under the auspices of Marta Kubišová. The earnings will be used for the support of palliative care.

Thank you very much for the interview, I wish you a lot of success.

Fast confession:

Name the three things you love on Lithuania.

Sea, faith in people, tradition.

What persuaded you to stay in the Czech Republic?

Cultural life, historical monuments in Prague and my family.

What do you still have problems with in the Czech language?

Word order, reflexive pronoun ‘se’, sometimes I still don’t know where to place it.

What should the Czechs learn from the Lithuanians?

Love for history, I think.

What does good will mean to you?

It means consideration, generosity, help to the neighbour.

What do you think Olga Havlová would say about the state of today's political situation?

She certainly would not approve of it.

How would you improve the Czech legal system in one sentence?

There is no law on social housing, so I would reccomend the adoption of this law.

Where do you think is the most beautiful place on the planet?

Wherever you are at home.

How did your daughter last surprise you?

She hasn’t for a long time, because we agree on most things. Maybe that she's mature was surprizing for me.

Which Czech man is most sexy?

My partner.

Which Czech President do you think had done the most for the Czech Republic?

Masaryk for Czechoslovakia, Havel for the Czech Republic.

The most popular TV show?

I haven’t had a TV for ten years, I watch online programme or go to the cinema.

Recipe for stress relief?

Walk with a dog.

What would you ask President Miloš Zeman if you had the chance?

I am afraid that even if I asked him that the answer would be sent to me by the press agent.
The interviewer asks the editor:

Have you ever been to Lithuania?

Yes, I have.
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