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Slovakia: “Yes to life”, 20 years on the side of the family. Where is the political establishment?”

Concrete support to women and children in need. Focus on family relations viewed as the foundation of society. We discussed these themes with the co-founder of YTL Anna Veresova. “The State – she said – behaves as if NGOs were less reliable, which is not true, and in our case two decades of thorough, effective work are evidence of this.” People in need are assisted and rescued through job creation, housing,childcare services… But an alliance with the political establishment is direly needed

Support to human dignity in every stage of life, protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. In addition, the commitment to give concrete help to women in need and to their children with temporary housing facilities, professional advice, creation of job opportunities, material help… The list of activities and projects provided by “Yes to life” (YTL) is very long, which makes this organization one of the most successful Non-Governmental Organizations, crowned by successful results in Slovakia’s social services. The following interview with its co-founder, Member of Parliament, Anna Veresova, falls within the framework of the twentieth anniversary of the NGO’s foundation.

How would you describe the past two decades of YTL and the challenges it is called to face today?
The Organization kept growing until it became a respected professional body that enjoys the cooperation of dozens of institutions, assisting over 900 people whose life was improved and in many cases saved thanks to our intervention. Twenty years ago we understood that our Country’s agenda with regard to the protection of human life and of its dignity through concrete support to pregnant women and their children was being neglected. The problem of violence inside the family was completely ignored even by professional workers in this sector. So we decided to help other women in critical conditions and we started providing emergency accommodation for them. We then ensured social assistance as well as legal, medical and spiritual counsel, and we realized that this form of support had to be provided in a more organized and coordinated manner.

A multi-level commitment …
We created new jobs for these women in the cleaning service sector and in confectionary laboratories, adapted to their needs, since many of them are single mothers who also need to raise their children. As relates to contemporary challenges, our experience shows that it’s fundamental to devote greater attention to prevention inside the family. It’s time to start working with families in their natural environments. It’s much faster, cost-effective and successful as compared to trying to fix something that was already “broken.” The greater the crisis the harder it will be to solve it. Our prevention strategy was launched two years ago, even though we did not receive public funding. It’s a shame that the State “lags behind” in this process.

What kind of support can this kind of NGOs expect from public authorities? What could be improved in this sector?

Civil initiatives, including those provided by social services, are not appreciated in our society, despite the fact that we practically replace the role of the State. The law on social services prioritizes official suppliers of services to people, while non-public suppliers (private organizations) are strongly discriminated against, especially in terms of public funding. This system is nonsensical because our services are offered to citizens, the citizens of the Republic of Slovakia! The State behaves as if NGO s were less reliable, which is far from the truth and in our case it is demonstrated by two decades of thorough, successful work. This separate treatment should not be based on the principle of the difference between public and private suppliers but on the quality of their services.

In the latest parliamentary election you received a considerable number of votes thanks to your commitment and to the above-mentioned activities. How do you view the question of family policy as a woman politician and what do you think can be done in practical terms to meet the challenges in this sector?
Based on my experience in the area of social services I know that focusing on the family is of the essence. As US family therapist Virginia Satir said, “the family and society are the small-scale version and the large-scale version of the same essence.” Today nobody denies that worrying demographic developments, coupled by rapid population ageing are the greatest threats not only for Slovakia but for the whole of Europe. I have met with colleagues from several European Countries to learn more about their pro-family policies, hoping to find inspiration. I firmly believe that the implementation of active family policies does not mean interfering with the families’ autonomy. The goal of family policies should be to create the conditions and the means to support the family and promote its sound development.

How can this be done, for example?
We need investments and cooperation between various public institutions in this area. It’s time that support to families stops being considered a burden on the national budget. Indeed, at the beginning this approach will require significant investments, but with no doubt it will deliver long-term results.

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