Interview with Kimberly Bianchini-Scudellari, founder of a non-profit organisation in Prague that helps Ukrainian refugees, mainly women and children, who have fled to the Czech Republic
Kimberly Bianchini-Scudellari with two Ukrainian refugee children
“AMITY’s good fortune is to have a team of skilled and talented people who can help at multiple levels: medical, educational, job placement, legal and psychological,” Kimberly explains. A U.S. citizen and mother of five, she has been living in Prague for more than a decade, where she runs a real estate company with her husband Filippo, an Italian entrepreneur. The enthusiasm and energy with which she speaks about her project speaks volumes about Kimberly’s dedication to this initiative.
How did the idea of founding AMITY come about and what kind of help does it provide?
AMITY was established out of the urgent need to provide housing and other life necessities to refugees, who fled the war in Ukraine to the Czech Republic.
Establishing AMITY wasn’t really a constructed decision, but more of spontaneous support my husband and I provided to a few families that grew over time to what AMITY is today. Once we understood how immense the need was, and how limited the opportunities were, we decided to offer all of our vacant flats, and secure other flats through our contacts in the real estate market. The number of flats grew pretty fast, so we decided to establish AMITY as a not-for-profit organization to expand our capacity to help more families in need.
How does AMITY work, how many people make it up, and how do you divide your tasks?
AMITY is extremely fortunate to be working with a talented team of people, whose backgrounds encompass years of broad expertise in business, medical, education, career placement, law, and psychology fields. Each member of the team, which currently consists of 14 members, has his or her own area of responsibility, and we meet on a regular basis to synchronize among the different teams. AMITY is fully based on volunteers, thus 100% of what people donate goes directly to people that need it.
What results have you achieved in these months of operation?
At the moment AMITY houses 103 people (55 adults and 48 kids) in 29 apartments around Prague. Our youngest family member is a 1-month-old baby that was born in Prague, and our oldest is 72 years old. All children have been placed in schools, all households with working age members, have at least one employed family member, and the vast majority of families that arrived in spring are becoming increasingly more self-sufficient.
In less than 6 months of operation, I’m happy to say that we have an efficient onboarding and supporting process for new families.
First, we source a flat that meets the needs of the family, we handle all the legal and practical aspects of the leasing ourselves and provide the family with the flat free of charge, or at a reduced rent, for the first three to six months.
After the housing is sorted out, we are helping the families to settle in the Czech Republic in a way that enables them to be self-sufficient, including school placement, job placement, healthcare, etc. All the apartments that we have secured, can be offered at affordable rent, once the families become self-sufficient.
AMITY continues to welcome new families and relies on donor support to do so. Our goal is to help these families, like those that came in spring, to become more independent in the next few months.
Tell me about a moment, an episode, that you consider particularly significant and rewarding from your experience with AMITY?
One moment that sticks out to me above all others, was when Tanya, who fled Ukraine with her 9y/o twins and was supported by AMITY, shared with me the story of her daughter, who was asked at school to write about what she wanted to be when she grows up. This is what she wrote: “I need to be 26 … to be able to own houses, provide them to people in need, food boxes, you know those kinds of things.” When she saw it, Tanya realized that her daughter was inspired by the support they received from AMITY, and perceived it as a way of life that she wishes to replicate. I was touched to know that we have helped create another circle of support that goes beyond AMITY, or in simple words: we paid it forward.
Among the families you help, is there more of a desire to settle and integrate in Czech republic or does the desire to return predominate?
As much as the families of AMITY are grateful to the people and the government of the Czech Republic for the tremendous support they gave Ukrainian refugees, the vast majority are longing for the day they can return home, unite with their families, rebuild their homes, and get back to the life they had before. Unfortunately, some of our families came from areas that were severely damaged, and it is questionable whether they have a place to go back to.
How do you manage your work and family commitments with this volunteer activity?
Ha, I have five kids. I’m so used to multitasking! (smiles)
What is your idea of the way the Czech Republic (the state, but also ordinary citizens) are reacting to the refugee emergency?
The Czech Republic, a small country, has admitted over 400,000 Ukrainian refugees, equal to about 4% of the population. That is amazing and among one of the highest in the world. But the support is not just about the government, but mainly about the people that opened their houses and their hearts to the Ukrainian people. I personally know a few families that hosted refugees in their homes, it is everywhere. To add to it, there is moral support, seen with so many Ukrainian flags displayed everywhere in the Czech Republic, as well as local demonstrations and news articles.
What future can AMITY have once, hopefully soon, the refugee crisis is over?
After this crisis is over we plan to continue growing AMITY and offer help to women and children in our community that are in need. Using the structure we have put in place I feel we can support women, whose life relapsed for various misfortune reasons, and who need support to rebuild their lives.
AMITY is a nonprofit organization. How can people contribute to AMITY’s activities?
AMITY can be supported through monetary donations, property donations, or corporate donations.
For monetary donations, we accept card payments or bank transfers. Donors can choose how their money is spent, or they can ask us to allocate it for them.
We are always looking for new properties furnished or unfurnished and for short or long term. We take care of all the paperwork and guarantee that the property will be cared for.
We also accept corporate donations in the form of goods, services, or money, and are happy to credit such donations on our website.
More details and ways to donate can be found on website at www.AMITY.ngo
by Giovanni Usai
Rineke Smits and Maggie Lanzarotti (AMITY team)