Woman Who Talks Little and Does a Lot

Diana Sternbergová (Franziska Diana Phipps Sternbergová) has been connected with the Committee of Good Will – The Olga Havel Foundation - since it began.

And she still is, even though she has left the Board. People who received help through her decisions or personal gifts as well as those, who only met her at the foundation, will not forget. Thank you, Diana!

You met Olga Havel for the first time in 1988, which was 27 years ago. Can you remember your first meeting? What was your impression?
I tell this story often, because I find it the most descriptive recollection of my first meeting with Olga. It was in 1988 in Prague, together with a group from the Helsinki Human rights Federation we went secretly to visit the Havel’s. We walked upstairs silently, feeling our way in the dark, afraid to be noticed by the secret police. When halfway up, the stairwell was suddenly bathed in light. A good looking and elegant lady stood above us on the landing, hand on the light switch and asked: “Why are you walking in the dark, don’t you know how to turn the lights on?!” This was Olga Havel to me. She was brave, factual and logical, smart, unsentimental, with a quick wit and sense of humour. For me she will always remain “bathed in light”.

You have been a Board member of the OHF for a quarter of a century. How do you recall those years? Does it make you feel satisfied, remembering the good moments within the community with which you shared the same opinions, or does it make you think more about the people who suffer and need our help?
I´ve met good and interesting people at the Foundation. As the times changed, so did the Board and the employees. We became a respected organization. Well led, well organized. I have great respect for the staff of the Foundation. Personally I feel a bit ashamed that I wasn’t able to be more like Olga Havel in my work with the Foundation. I knew the people in need only through papers, but never met them in person. Olga went to visit them and listened. It is the fault in my character – unable to be at ease in public. Olga Havel had the same problem, but was far more disciplined, her position demanded it. 

Would you dare to name what has changed within the foundation in those 25 years? Have the people changed? Or the reasons why they ask for help? And what about the Czech society, how did it change? Is it better now?
Charity and people connected with it have a different attitude in different countries. In America social conscience has a long tradition. Americans in general are goodhearted.  But it is also a matter of social recognition and tax benefits. When I lived in England, an American friend whose husband, a bank manager, was transferred to London, asked me which charities were socially correct. To her it was more about collecting money and meeting people. Organizing events such as dinners, balls, concerts, and auctions rather than being involved with those for whom the help was meant. It is different in England. They do more and talk less. I had a friend, who used to visit prisoners just to talk to them. Other ladies went to hospitals – they are called “book ladies” – with a cart full of books. Patients would either chose a book, or, if they preferred, the book lady would read to them. One cannot say which activity is more important. Every kind of help is good. The attitude of Czech society towards charity has improved, although right now it seems we lack enough understanding for the refugees who are fleeing their homes. So many of us Czechoslovaks found help and understanding in foreign countries during difficult times, we must not forget it. 

You used to be a member of the Board; you are an active donor, welcome handicapped children at your castle in Častolovice and care for them. Do you think these children are the most endangered group? Or is it the same with the socially excluded and old people?
Children and grownups from the Foundation Sun have come to spend the day in Častolovice every May for the last 15 years. About 45 of them. We know each other well, we’re friends, I like them and I hope they like me. Not just I but all those working at the castle look forward to their visits. We dance, sing, eat and play with clowns. Olga Havel took me to the opening of the Foundation Sun in 1991, where I first met the director Dr. Blanka Dvořáková. Her clients are people with combined handicaps, but thanks to her they enjoy life without being aware of them. It is amazing!

„We wish that the right for dignified life is also enjoyed by those who live with handicap or mental illness, abandoned and old people, those who have a different skin colour or a different way of life, those in poverty or attacked by a malignant disease.“ Olga Havel
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