Hand written messages in Arabic, Ukrainian, Dari and Burmese appeared in the streets of Prague, Brno, and Ostrava early this month. The message was “Czechs, thank you.” Among the authors were Amal, a young girl from Syria; Mohamad, a teacher from Afghanistan; Mr. Rudolf, from Eastern Ukraine; and volunteer, Thet Maw, from Myanmar. Through this campaign, organised by Czech NGO People in Need, they had a chance to thank the Czech Republic and its people for their humanitarian and development aid. Their full stories, in addition to three more from Georgia, Ethiopia and Cambodia, are published on the website www.cesidekujem.cz.
News of the billboards, written in these foreign scripts, immediately went viral. People swapped messages and photos asking who had written them and to whom they were addressed. “The billboards are not only in Prague 4 - I saw them also in Černy most, Prosek...Prague is full of them. It must have happened yesterday...Nobody saw who put them up? I am afraid - even when it means Czechs thank you - it can be a sign...where, when and how…,” posted someone on Facebook. People and media focussed primarily on the Arabic message, even though if it was in other languages too.
A week later, NGO People in Need revealed that the messages were written by ordinary people from countries where PIN provides humanitarian and development support. “The organization, People in Need, wants to highlight the situation of people who face poverty, war, and natural disasters. For 25 years we have been improving access to education, clean water, healthcare, livelihoods, and providing basic humanitarian aid such as food. We help real people,” said Simon Panek, director of People in Need.
Since its creation the NGO has helped around 18 million people in more than 50 countries. “Through this campaign we are showing the stories of people we have helped. We decided to connect people who would probably never meet - the donors and beneficiaries,” said Jan Mrkvička, director of PIN Relief and Development Department.
On the website - www.cesidekujem.cz - you can find stories from Syria, Afghanistan, Barma, Ukraine, Georgia, Cambodia and Ethiopia. People in Need provides aid in 22 countries.
Turunge Misebo from Ethiopia also expressed thanks saying: “Thanks to People in Need, I don’t have to carry water for long distances. It is a big relief for me.” Czechs have been working in Ethiopia for over 10 years. In this region where Misebo lives they have helped to provide access to water for more than 100.000 people. Children and teachers from war-torn Aleppo sent their ‘thank yous' as well. Here, Czechs support a kindergarten called ‘Hope’, where at least for a while children can forget the horrors of the war around them. People in Need has been working in Syria since the beginning of the conflict.
“Through these individual stories we show how our help is working. We help people in poor countries so that they can help themselves. We support their education or we remove the obstacles which hinder them to break the cycle of poverty,” explains Jan Mrkvička.
The team at Bistro Agency came up with the idea of the campaign “Czechs, thank you.” “In the first phase, we wanted to raise a public discussion and curiosity. The Arabic language caused the biggest agitation even though Arabic was only one of the languages used in the campaign besides Dari, Burmese, and Ukrainian,” said Michala Langerová, from Bistro Agency. The messages appeared on nearly fifty billboards around the cities. “In the second phase of the campaign, we present the stories, which are powerful, exactly because they are real. They illustrate that development and humanitarian aid matters.”
The billboards were provided for free and the campaign’s collaborators worked pro bono. The minimal costs were covered by the Media4Development project, whose goal is to raise awareness about development and humanitarian aid. Contributions from private and individual donors were not used - these are allocated for the aid for people, like those, who wrote the messages, “Czechs, thanks you”.
The campaign quickly went viral. Czech celebrities and influencers have been supporting it on social media and started to make fun of unjustifiable fear it initiated. (e.g. TMBK on Facebook)