The International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) is primarily a postgraduate facility offering Masters and PhD degrees within the British academic framework in partnership with University of Wales. It also offers Magister degrees validated by the Czech educational authorities. IBTS holds an Erasmus charter and is a recognised educational institution within the Czech further educational system.
The students and staff at IBTS come from a wide variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and from many different nationalities across Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. As part of our community engagement programme, and to aid the character and spiritual formation of students as well as enhance their learning experience, IBTS partners with an international mission group working with children from seriously dysfunctional families, poor social environments and struggling with serious educational problems. Many of the children live in overcrowded conditions and some face racial discrimination because of their Roma origin. The Teen Challenge Centre for Children in Prague, known as CDM, is recognised by the Czech authorities as an authorised provider of low-threshold facilities for vulnerable children and youth. CDM runs a children’s day centre 5 days a week, engages in street work and can offer foster care facilities. IBTS students have the opportunity to volunteer for regular involvement with CDM. Faculty members accompany students and are directly involved in the project but the project is student led with a student co-ordinator appointed each academic year. Students prepare basic English language lessons for the children and plan recreation activities such as games and hand crafts.
The objectives of this volunteer programme are:
• To develop students’ sense of social responsibility
• To heighten awareness of the nature, and challenges associated with, urban social depravation
• To enhance students’ learning experience by grounding theological academic reflection in the real world
• To make a contribution to the community by supporting the work of CDM as part of IBTS’ community engagement programme
The main impact of the initiative lies primarily in the lives of our students. It would be disingenuous to suggest that the main impact is in the lives of the children in the care of CDM. While the involvement of our students and faculty is appreciated by CDM and greatly enjoyed by the children, it is the consistent ongoing commitment of CDM staff that most impacts the lives of the children. For this reason, and for other ethical reasons, we do not make any formal evaluation of the usefulness or impact of IBTS involvement in the lives of the children but liaise closely with the management of CDM and take their guidance on IBTS’ input to their programmes.
In regard to the impact on students we monitor the number of volunteers, consistency of attendance, and we use open forum reflective discussion as a means of assessing the learning gained and benefit of the programme.
The IBTS involvement with CDM featured as part of a cross cultural Adult Non-formal Life Long Learning project sponsored under the European Commission’s Grundtvig Partnership programmes in which IBTS partnered with organisations from the UK, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
The originality of our contribution to the CDM programme comes through the input of one member of staff who was formerly a professional puppet theatre director in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Following his PhD studies in theatre direction at Charles University, Vladko Parushev worked in many countries of the world as a puppet theatre specialist. A fluent Czech speaker, his skill and expertise are employed in a number of ways, primarily in improving the communication skills and the learning capacity of the children. Students gain new insights on the role of theatre, puppetry (once a major cultural force in many former Soviet central and eastern European societies and recognised as an invaluable tool in working with vulnerable children), communication and learning.
Sustainability of the programme within the life of the institution, despite its voluntary nature, has not been a difficulty with each cohort of students remarkably willing to engage with the project. This is in large measure due to the sharing of experience and benefit by other students. We anticipate that the programme will be sustainable for the foreseeable future.