Helping Bring About Change, One Community at a Time
Her Excellency Jana Šedivá shares the Embassy of the Czech Republic’s efforts to uplift the lives of Filipinos and strengthen Czech-Philippine relations.
BY GODFREY DANCEL
To say that Czech Ambassador to the Philippines, Jana Šedivá, is living out her childhood dream would be an understatement. As a child in the 1970s, Her Excellency had dreamt of going beyond the borders of her native land, particularly to Asia. “[Then-Czechoslovakia] was under a totalitarian regime, so we could not travel,” she recalls. “So my dream was, one day we will have freedom and I will be able to travel. So actually that’s what I wanted.”The 1989 Velvet Revolution restored democracy in the small Central European country, part of the wave of democratization that swept through Europe. A little over four years later, the country was split into two sovereign states namely the Czech Republic (Czechia) and Slovakia. Democracy paved the way for Šedivá to study Sinology and Political Science at Charles University in Prague from 1993 to 1998 and at Beijing University from 1995 to 1996. She formally joined the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2000. In the past 22 years, she has traveled the world, not only to enjoy freedom, but to help bring about change and build lasting links between her people and other peoples.
edivá’s first overseas posting was at the Czech Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. As a female diplomat, she has had to deal with additional difficulties aside from those usually experienced by her male counterparts. Through the years, however, she has seen much improvement in her chosen field. She notes that although “diplomacy is traditionally known as a man’s field and there are a lot of stereotypes in this job but thankfully… we are seeing more women in the job and women who are equally performing and contributing as their male counterparts.”The career diplomat identifies another challenge, which isintrinsic to working women in all fields of endeavor. “To me thebiggest hurdle remains to be family issues,” reveals the mother ofan 11-year-old daughter. “It is still a challenge to balance career andfamily life, especially that life in the diplomatic field tends to be verydemanding. It is important to have a good support system and toreally be able to manage time and energy wisely and make sure that Iam present in both my work and my personal life.”
A LONG HISTORY OF CZECH-PHILIPPINE RELATIONS“
Our diplomatic relations is deeply rooted in our people-to-peopleties,” Šedivá says. Looking back, she relates how diplomatic tiesbetween the Czech Republic and the Philippines go a long wayfrom the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in the person of Pavel (Pablo)Klein and Georg Joseph Kamel, the friendship of Dr. Jose Rizal andProfessor Ferdinand Blumentritt, and the valiant Czechoslovaknationals who fought alongside Filipino and American soldiers inBataan during World War II.“Culturally speaking, we also share similar devotion to the InfantJesus of Prague, which is considered to be the cousin of Sto. Niño deCebu,” she says. “On the aspect of economic and political affairs, weat the Embassy of the Czech Republic work closely with our Filipinocounterparts on areas of mutual interest.”The embassy is actively involved in efforts to make moreand more Filipinos aware of and take pride in the longstandingrelationship between the two countries. “We are working closely nowwith Professor Ambeth Ocampo who is in the process of preparinga book regarding Czech-Philippine relations,” Šedivá reveals. “It willcontain information about the early friendship of our two states upto the present cooperation that we are doing.”As is expected, the Rizal-Blumentritt connection will also be part of the book. “A big portion of the book will tackle the friendship of Professor Blumentritt and Dr. Rizal and similarly the friendship that Calamba and the town of Litomerice (where Prof. Blumentritt lived) enjoys. We are also in conversation with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to put a commemorative plaque at the bust of Prof. Blumentritt at the Rizal Park,” she shares.
HELPING IN VARIOUS FRONTS
Today, the Czech Republic is helping the Philippines in various fronts. These include national defense, development, and humanitarian assistance.In October 2021, Šedivá signed, on behalf of the Czech Ministry of Defense, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND). “This MoU represents another milestone in Czech-Philippine defense relations that have witnessed rapid development in the last years,” she says. “Byinking this memorandum, both sides agreed to deepen the ongoingcooperation and expand it to other areas of mutual interest such asthe defense industry and logistics. In practical terms, it means thatwe opened new channels for exchange of information enabling jointresearch and development of defense equipment and facilitation ofsupplies from Philippine and Czech defense industry companiesto the partners from the respective governments.” Said MoU camea little over four years after the two countries signed the DefenseCooperation Agreement, which signaled the convergence of the CzechRepublic’s interest in expanding into new markets and the Philippines’establishment of closer ties with non-traditional defense partners.“The core values on which the MoU is based are friendship,reciprocity, and common interest,” she says. “Through the MoU, thePhilippines could gain access to expertise and technology that havebeen accumulated by Czech defense industry companies over the lastcentury. The same goes for the Czech Republic, as we can also learnfrom the Philippine experience with the developing security situationin the region and its wider implications.”The lady diplomat feels strongly about the importance ofsecuring a nation’s defense system, saying that “Unfortunately, we arewitnesses to growing efforts to destabilize and deteriorate rules-basedinternational order by Russia that has been guaranteeing peace andsecurity for decades. With this sad development, peace-loving nationsmust step up their commitments to provide security for their citizens.”With regard to economic affairs, the Embassy of the CzechRepublic works closely with Filipino counterparts on areas of mutualinterest. In 2019, for example, the Czech Republic and the Philippines signed the Agreement on Economic Cooperation (AEC) whichestablished the Joint Economic Cooperation Committee (JECC)in order to increase opportunities on trade promotion, industrialcooperation, and investments rooted in mutual interest between thetwo countries.Close cooperation between Czech and Filipino officials alsoproved useful during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “ThePhilippine government both at the national and local levels, waskind enough to help us facilitate repatriation of Czech and EuropeanUnion (EU) nationals who were stranded in the Philippines,” Šediváreveals. “On the other hand, we helped Filipinos in my countryand in the same manner; the Czech Republic through the CzechHumanitarian Aid and the European Union provided financialsupport to establish a community quarantine facility in Malabonat the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Furthermore, we area partner in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX)program, through which the Czech Republic along with EU memberstates donated vaccines to the Philippines.”Šedivá, who has been serving as Czech Ambassador to thePhilippines (with concurrent jurisdiction to Marshall Islands,Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau), looks back at the challenges sheand her embassy team had to deal with during the height of thepandemic.“The same with the difficulties encountered by most people,travelling was one of the challenges of the pandemic. I would have wanted to visit more places, which would allow me to see greateropportunities for partnership; however, mobility was limited. Itwas also hard to meet people because of the pandemic and thetraditional way of conducting public diplomacy initiatives were notpossible so we needed to be more innovative in our approach,” shelaments.
LIMITED SCALE, BIG IMPACT
The Czech Embassy also has projects focused on education andskills training, as well as agriculture and health. Compared tothe aforementioned, these are quite limited in scale, and wereimplemented or are being implemented in selected communities.The ripples created by each, however, are expected to reach farawayshores.Czech experts have been sharing their knowledge in agriculture,particularly in the dairy industry, with Filipino farmers. About ayear ago, the Embassy organized a webinar where solutions on howto increase milk production in the Philippines through innovativesolutions and knowledge from the Czech Republic were presented.The embassy, under the umbrella of Aid for Trade, has also beenimplementing a project that shows local farmers in differentlocalities in the Philippines practical steps supporting the furtherdevelopment of the dairy sector in the country. “We had Czechfarmers who travelled to some farms in Visayas and Luzon, sharingtheir experiences on how take care of cattle and how to make milkand yogurt,” Šedivá shares. Engagements with farmers in the pasttwo years—the latest of which was in August of this year—have ledto very positive results.The experience with farmers reflects the embassy’s approachto helping bring about change in the Philippines. “We try toput people together,” she stresses. “We believe that once we put[stakeholders] together, at least a few of them, they stay in contact.They have emails, they have Zoom meetings and they exchangeideas directly. They don’t need institutions to do it on their behalf.”Another field with unfulfilled potential that can positivelycontribute to the sustainable development of the Philippines iswater treatment and water management. The Czech government hasextended assistance in this regard. For instance, Czech companiesG-Servis and Ekomonitor installed in September 2019 a municipalwater treatment plant in Panay Island. The small-scale projectpaved the way for residents of Sapian, Capiz to have access topotable water through Czech water treatment technology that turnsnon-potable groundwater to safe drinking water. The project isalso environment-friendly, as it lessened the use of plastic drinkingbottles which would otherwise pose a threat to the municipality’senvirons. “This is proof,” Šedivá says, “that close cooperationbetween the local governments and the Czech companies can bringthe best available techniques used and seen in the Czech Republicand implement such in the Philippines.”Of special interest to the ambassador are projects whichprovide education and vocational training to Filipinos. She cites theembassy’s partnership with World Vision to help 80 youngsters inBaseco, Manila. The Bridge to Employment Project, launched in late2020, helped youngsters enrolled in the Department of Education’sAlternative Learning System (DepEd-ALS) and the TechnicalEducation and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) overcomeeducation- and training-related difficulties brought about by thelockdowns. They were enrolled in technical-vocational coursessuch as welding, bookkeeping, housekeeping, caregiving, contactcenter services, and microenterprise training like hairstyling, soapmaking, and cookery. The project partners provided the studentbeneficiarieslearning materials and equipment, as well as access to classes suited to their needs. This gave them proper training and afighting chance to land gainful employment.“We prepared training programs for them to equip them withthe necessary skills,” Šedivá recalls. “And when these young adultsgraduated and earned their certificates, we linked them up withrelevant companies where they can have jobs.”The idea around which the small-scale projects revolve is simple:once the pilot projects succeed, beneficiaries could share theirexperiences with similarly-situated individuals or communities, whocould replicate such projects. “The young ones who benefit from orwitness what we do take such as the norm,” the ambassador says.“So when they travel somewhere else or they marry and resettlesomewhere else, they introduce it to their new community.” Simplysaid, they become agents of change.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHERTHROUGH MUSIC AND LITERATURE
Two other areas the Czech Republic Embassy has used to bringCzechs and Filipinos together are music and literature.“Before the pandemic, we had cultural events; we had concerts,”Šedivá recalls. “I had some musicians here from the Czech Republicand also we did lots of literary events. It was actually something Iinherited from my predecessor who is himself an active writer.”“We hope to continue bringing in Czech musicians who couldconduct concerts in the Philippines and we intend to host moreexhibits and film showing as we have seen that in the past, thesewere enjoyed by the Filipinos and an interesting way to showcase theCzech culture.”Translating the works of Czech authors, the ambassador says,“has become a tradition” for the Czech Embassy. “We translateCzech authors not only into English but also into Filipino andother Philippine regional languages, for instance Bicolano. So wealready have books, novels, and short stories translated. And it’svery interesting because people are always surprised when theyread Czech literature in Filipino or Bicolano. And we also translateFilipino authors into the Czech language.”Šedivá cites the translation of renowned Czech playwright andessayist Karel Čapek’s Rossumovi Universal ni Roboti into Filipino(Robot Unibersal ni Rossum or R.U.R.) by the late Filipino literaryicon Rogelio Sicat. Said translation was published in book form inMay last year. The project, completed in cooperation with Ateneo deNaga University (ADNU) Press, gave Filipinos the chance to read amasterpiece of Czech literature in their own language. Incidentally,R.U.R. was nominated under the Translation category of thePhilippine Book Awards this year.Another recent book project is EUROPEANA, Isang MaiklingKasaysayan ng Ika-20 Siglo, the Filipino translation of PatrikOuředník’s EUROPEANA, A Brief History of the 20th Century. The translation of the novel, described by the ambassador as a “compellingmasterpiece of Czech literature,” was done in partnership with theFar Eastern University (FEU). It provides speakers of the Filipinolanguage—the use of which is actively being promoted by the CzechEmbassy—a chance to see the main events in European history of the20th century, including wars and technological advances, “in greatsimplicity with a dose of delightful humor.”Again, Šedivá points to the aim of bringing people together.Through stories, Filipino readers, she says, “can see that Filipinosand Czechs have the same problems, the same joys, the same way ofthinking.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO NEW OPPORTUNITIES
As we move into the New Normal, the Czech Republic Embassy in thePhilippines stands ready to face the challenges and maximize the newopportunities that lie ahead.“We are looking forward to new possibilities that may open upfor our countries,” Šedivá states. “I believe that even as we alreadyhave very, very good ties, there are many possibilities for closercooperation, closer ties between the Czech Republic and the Republic ofthe Philippines.”With the Czech Republic taking on the European Union (EU)presidency for the second half of 2022, Šedivá and her team havebecome even busier. The Czech presidency will focus on five closelylinked areas of concern, namely managing the refugee crisis andUkraine’s post-war recovery, energy security, strengthening Europe’sdefense capabilities and cyberspace security, strategic resilience of theEuropean economy, and resilience of democratic institutions. With theinterconnectedness of nations across the globe, the success of the Czechpresidency of the EU will indeed have important effects even in thePhilippines.Even as the above will ultimately mean more work for her and herteam, Šedivá remains positive that she will be able to live up to thechallenge. “My belief is that every day presents an opportunity to dosomething meaningful. We just try to work hard every day,” she ends.