‘We stopped being afraid to meet local people’: The Czech lunches that connect families

Author: Kitti Palmai

This article is part of Changing the Narrative. Articles in this series are written by student or early career journalists who took part in The Local’s training course on solutions-focused migration reporting. Find out more about the project here.

After an unpleasant encounter at a local market in the Czech Republic that was triggered by language barriers, Sarajevo-born Jelena Silajdzik, 66, knew things had to change.

The ex-film producer had to leave her home behind with her musician husband and two children during the Balkan war to survive. “We hoped we would be back in Sarajevo where we were really happy. We had nice jobs and it was really a paradise,” she says.

It’s been 28 years and during this time Silajdzik made it her mission to promote tolerance towards migrants in the Czech Republic. Her initial idea of bringing natives and non-natives together for a lunch received serious doubts from her young, native colleagues. “They told me: ‘It’s impossible. Czech families don’t meet up so much with each other, maybe… only once a year’,” she remembers.

The now award-winning project called Next Door Family was first launched in 2004 by NGO Slovo 21. In the first year, 200 families participated in the initiative – 100 Czech families and 100 foreign families. The high level of interest from the Czech side left Silajdzik, director of Slovo 21, and the staff in tears.


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