The Green Island – A Chance for the Deaf

Lucie (36) was born deaf. It is true that she receives a disability pension, but she has a little son, so she has to do her best. To find a job with a little child and a disability is tough even in times of economic prosperity. The deaf have limited choice of professions and many companies are afraid to employ such persons. However, the Green Island (Zelený ostrov) is definitely not one of those companies. It is a social enterprise that runs a laundry in Zbraslav and Dobřichovice and provides cleaning services. It was in Dobřichovice where Lucie found a job.

The laundry has been opened for almost three years now. As we are experiencing a growing demand for cleaning services, we have decided to provide cleaning services for private households and public spaces as well. Lucie was employed here last September,” describes Ilona Bedrnová, the founder of the Green Island (Zelený ostrov). Lucie was referred to the Green Island (Zelený ostrov) by the Quiet World (Tichý svět), an organisation that helps the deaf find a job, among other things.

Lucie was at first trained in cleaning techniques – the training was interpreted into sign language – and then could start working. She cleans either on the premises of a huge residential compound where the Green Island branch is located, or in private households. There are also barrier-free flats in the modern compound, where elderly people live. Even they use the services of the Green Island (Zelený Ostrov) that, apart from cleaning, does everyday shopping for them and does their laundry, delivery service included. “Some of our clients insist that only Lucie cleans in their homes. They are satisfied with her services and one elderly woman always has cookies prepared for her,” says Ilona Bedrnová smiling. 

Lucie is also happy. She works full-time, Monday to Friday. Her superior is a cleaning operations manager who tells her where to go and what to do, but she works independently. When she is not cleaning, she helps out in the laundry. The enterprise management is also willing to let her go home earlier when her son needs her.

And how do the hearing employees communicate with the deaf ones? A counsellor from the Quiet World (Tichý svět) who speaks sign language visits the branch regularly and discusses with Lucie what needs to be discussed – work-related or even personal matters. At the same time, the hearing employees learn the basics of sign language. “Communication with the deaf is time-consuming as you have to show everything. For example, you cannot call at someone, you need to get up and go to them,” explains Mrs Bedrnová. When something needs to be addressed immediately, a finger alphabet or a pencil and a paper are used.

Thanks to the Operational Programme Employment, the Green Island (Zelený ostrov) could afford to expand its portfolio of services. The subsidy made it possible for the Green Island (Zelený ostrov) to buy various cleaning equipment or a special dust mite vacuum cleaner. However, a social enterprise is not a charity. It needs to make money for its operation like any other company. “For the sake of sustainability, we cannot rely only on subsidies as a time will come when there will not be any,” says the manager. “We look for clients anywhere we can. We have advertisements in local newspapers, there was an article about us in a magazine… However, what works best is when people tell each other about us, especially when they are happy with our services,” she adds. They currently have to refuse some clients due to lack of spare capacity. “It is true that people still do not quite know what social enterprise is, but most of the clients use our services intentionally as it is the added value that is important to them – the fact that they give work to someone who was not as fortunate as they were,Ilona Bedrnová concludes.

There are around five hundred thousand deaf people living in the Czech Republic. The vast majority is comprised of elderly people whose hearing deteriorated as they got older. There are approx. 7,600 people who were born deaf or lost their hearing at an early age in the Czech Republic. Most of these people speak sign language.

Operational Programme       Operational Programme Employment
Project name Green Island - Cleaning
Project number CZ.03.2.60/0.0/0.0/16_067/0005686
Beneficiary ZELENÝ OSTROV s. r. o.
Realization 1. 3. 2017 - 28. 2. 2019
Subsidy 1 856 125,- Kč
Website www.zelenyostrov.eu

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