Interview: AMITY, finding the right housing for Ukrainian refugees

โ€œCommunicating with people in their own language makes a huge difference,โ€ says Kim, the founder of AMITY, who helps find the right housing for Ukrainian refugees.

Millions of refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion started two months ago. Unfortunately, that is only the first step of an odyssey that will continue in the neighboring countries, where most of them will need urgent accommodation to be able to restart their lives.

Over 300,000 displaced Ukrainians have fled to the Czech Republic in recent weeks, where AMITY, an NGO founded by the realtor Kimberly Bianchini-Scudellari, has come in to provide housing to this vulnerable community. In this interview, we focus on this brilliant initiative and find out how Localazy helped AMITY in their efforts during these trying times.

๐Ÿ•Š๏ธ The Story ๐Ÿ”—

Hi, Kim! Thank you for your time. Let's rewind: how did it all start?

It all started as spontaneous support my husband and I provided to a few families ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ง, allowing them to use a couple of flats we had in Prague. Then, an overwhelming number of requests for housing followed. This made us realize how immense the need was and how limited the opportunities were.

How so?

Finding an apartment for rent in Prague is hard even for locals. Now, add to it the language barrier, the lack of legal understanding, the fact that most property owners require a one-year contract as the minimum standard, and that, in general, they find it easier to trust permanent residents. It makes it almost impossible for Ukrainian refugees to find a place to live. ๐Ÿ’”

Facing the need, and owning a real estate company in Prague, my husband and I decided to offer all of our vacant flats, as well as secure other apartments through our contacts in the real estate market. Later on, we established AMITY as a not-for-profit organization to expand our capacity to support more families in need.

That's incredible. What made you feel compelled to help?

When the war started, I felt the urge to support the many refugees that had arrived from Ukraine, like many other people in the Czech Republic. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ ๐Ÿค ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

As a mother of 5, I know how important stability and certainty are for kids. This motivated me even more to provide these kids with a safe place away from their homes. Besides, before diving into real estate, I worked as a nurse in the United States, where I come from. Supporting others feels good, and I believe it comes naturally to me.

How difficult has it been to get people on board?

It wasnโ€™t difficult at all. You would not believe how people are keen to help. It is not just about getting people on board, but some of our volunteers commit a lot of time to AMITY every week. I feel very lucky to have such people around me.

๐Ÿ˜๏ธ Accommodating People In Need ๐Ÿ”—

Youโ€™ve already accommodated dozens of refugees in flats in Prague. How has the process been?

I find it hard to believe that we managed to inhabit almost 20 apartments in just a month. Once we get the apartment, which is a complex process by itself, we make a list of items based on the specific needs of every family, the number of kids, and the age of the kids. We then publish the list in various forums and collect whatever people donate: from the smallest item such as a vegetable peeler to a fridge or a washing machine. It takes days, even weeks, to collect all needed items, and sometimes we need to end up buying stuff.

When the families arrive, we hand them the apartment with food for the first two weeks to give them a nice start. Some people arrive after spending a week on the road. You should see their faces when they feel like at home again.

Can you tell us a little about these people and their backgrounds?

Most of our families are women with children, as men (in general) are not allowed to leave Ukraine at the moment. The youngest tenant we have is a two-month baby. Most school-age kids are studying online. ๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ’ป Luckily, we got a batch of used laptops from one of our corporate donors for this purpose.

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, and alike. All the apartments that we have secured can be offered at affordable rent once the families become self-sufficient.

One of your initiatives consists of sponsoring familiesโ€™ rents. People with vacant properties can also donate their spaces to help. Howโ€™s the response been?

It is the most challenging part, but we have managed quite well. I feel that my husbandโ€™s and my real-estate background is a big advantage in this aspect.

It is very hard to source new apartments, especially when the budget is limited. Like any other NGOs, we are dependent on the kindness of others. People are very generous and kind, but as the crisis continues, it is getting harder to find new resources. I truly hope that the situation will be resolved soon.

Are you working on other initiatives at the moment?

The disastrous situation in Ukraine takes all of our attention and focus at the moment, but in the future, I hope to see AMITY also supporting women and children that are in need of rebuilding their lives.

For now, success means that a refugee family is settled and self-sufficient. ๐Ÿ  ๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿ’ผ This entails that at least one member of the family is employed to support the entire family, the kids are settled at school, they have secured housing that is no longer dependent on AMITY, etc.

๐Ÿšฉ Why Localazy ๐Ÿ”—

Is any technology helping you in the cause?

At this point, just the basics of having a website and social accounts. As we grow, we will probably need to rely more on technology.

What role did Localazy play for you, and how did the cooperation work?

Localazy used its solution to translate our website for us and make it accessible for Czech and Ukrainian speakers. Localazy did it on a fully voluntary basis, and we already see the impact of it: donations coming from the Czech Republic.

Communicating with people in their own language makes a huge difference. Therefore localization of websites and apps is crucial for businesses.

๐Ÿ†˜ How To Help ๐Ÿ”—

Do you have a team of volunteers?

Our organization is based on volunteers, so 100% of what people donate to us goes to the people that need it. Iโ€™m a part of an international community that lives in Prague, and many of our volunteers are members of this community.

Weโ€™re using our network in the Czech Republic and abroad to raise donations. We also collect corporate donations in money, services, or goods. The support we got from you at Localazy is a good example of that.

How can our readers help?

They are many ways to support us:

  • ๐Ÿ’ผ If you are a business owner that is looking for employees, there are many Ukrainians that are looking for a job at the moment;
  • ๐Ÿ“ฆ If you are related to a corporation that is willing to contribute free services or goods, they may be useful for our families;
  • ๐Ÿ“ Follow us on Instagram to see lists of items that we need from time to time, and let us know if you have anything on the list to donate;
  • ๐Ÿ’ฐ Monetary donations are always helpful and are tax-deductible for both companies and individuals. You can visit our website to learn more.

Many thanks, Kim, for your time and remarkable dedication. You said it better: "Helping others is in every one of us."

Would you like to share your own story? Head to the community section and apply for an interview now! We will gladly promote your initiative on our blog. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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