My heroine for many years now has been Petra Prochakova. She first came to my attention as a courageous young reporter who managed to cover - and uncover - the most extraordinary stories about the development of organized crime in the wild west atmosphere of post-Communist Czechoslovakia.
From there she moved on to an even riskier beat: covering the war in Chechnya. She became so involved with the struggling people there- especially the women and children left alone when men were killed or disappeared-- that she stayed for years. In the end she was the last Western reporter in the country. So much time spent trying to arouse an apathetic world to the plight of these people eventually exhausted her and she turned, instead, to trying to help directly. She started an orphanage and organized friends in Prague to help provide necessary support for families often left without resources. She married a local Ingusheti man. And then disaster struck. Her husband was kidnapped and the Russians revoked her visa, refusing to allow her to return to the country.
Back in the Czech Republic she became even more active in organizing help for Chechens, even though she could no longer go back. She founded the non-profit Berkat
and after 9/11 went to Afghanistan to report from there. Characteristically it wasn't long before she was deeply engaged in trying to help war widows stuck in small villages and cut off from the rest of the world. Berkat was soon expanded to include Afghanistan and she returned to the Czech Republic to raise money to buy materials for the village she was engaged in. With very little money and considerable skepticism from the international aid community - who couldn't imagine how anything of value could be accomplished with such modest resources, she bought a loom, wool and managed to transport it across the largely trackless distance in an ancient, borrowed car. The villagers agreed to build a community center to house the loom and the women who still had weaving skills began to teach the others. Those that didn't worked on embroidery. Although some of the early attempts were crude and not much to the taste of Westerners all the products found a market back in Prague and the money from the sale went back to the community to support further development.
I will be 'shadowing' Petra Prochazkova through following the Berkat website and watching for interviews and information on-line, such as this one on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKgzpCmKhwA
I will also be attending some Berkat events in person. Perhaps I can get some short video clips, pictures or interviews to share.