If we were to name someone who really opened up to foreign people, the finalist of the Czech Miss beauty pageant, Veronika, would among the first names that come to mind. She shared the story of her life from a children’s home in a book, founded the Veronika Kašáková endowment fund to help children in children’s homes… and she also does her best to live her life in a way so as not to have regrets. She opens her arms up to the world, and hopes that life brings her everything she desires and she lacked in the past.
In some of your older interviews, you said that you think that it was predetermined that you were going to grow up in a children’s home, so that you could then go on to help other children. Do you believe in fate, and in the fact that this is how it should have been?
Yes, that’s what I believe. Each of us has a certain mission, a calling in our life. It’s like in school. Either we give it, or we try again – and it’s not just about one single thing, but a lot of situations that we deal with. Either we do it right and move forward, or the cosmos makes us repeat it.
And you think that in your next life you’ll have to do it again?
I don’t think I’ll be in a children’s home in my next life, because I’ve already used that experience – but that’s based on what I know now, and my life isn’t ending just yet, so who knows. A lot could still happen. But I am doing my best to grasp the experience. I have a favorite saying: Experience isn’t just about what happened to us, but also about what we do with that experience. And my take on that is that I don’t want to regret my childhood, I don’t want to play the poor girl from a children’s home – I’m trying to change the situation and the public perception of those children. I feel good about that. And if I feel that way about something, then it’s the way it should be.
At the beginning, people could easily get the perception that you’re trying to exploit sympathies. Especially for competitions such as beauty contests and pageants, it’s often said that every story is a good story. Do you think that the opinions of those who believed that have changed?
We’ve just recently been discussing that. The story is attractive, but it couldn’t be kept a secret. Paradoxically, everyone thinks that it all began with the Czech Miss, but I had a contract for the publication of the book two years before that. The book would be published regardless of the pageant. When you go to a casting, they ask you where you’re from, so there was no way to keep it secret. Back then I thought: I always wanted to compete in the Czech Miss, and I shouldn’t feel obliged not to go just because I come from a children’s home. But then there are thought like – do I actually deserve this, or is it just because of pity, because I’m a poor girl from a children’s home? So you end up fighting with yourself. There’s a lot more interesting stuff you can say about me and my brothers, and yet all you ever hear is that we come from a children’s home. But yes, on the other hand, why not… if it’s a story of so many canceled promises, rejections and traps, a story that could help not only boys and girls from children’s homes. I think that many people sometimes felt rejected, humiliated like a victim, and so I don’t see a reason not to speak about all of this. Basically, yeah, I’ll be the Miss from a children’s home.
I’ve heard you want to visit all children’s homes in the Czech Republic. There are about 144 of them. Did you succeed in doing that?
There’s indeed 144 of them, I started last year and so far I’ve visited 61. So I’m working on it! (laughter) Sometimes I spend seven hours in a car. In terms of time, it’s not easy at all, because I want to visit one per week. But many others have now joined me in my promise, and so when I return also to my children’s home with our therapists, I can’t be elsewhere.
How difficult is it? How large is your team?
Well, we would actually like to expand it now! (laughter) Right now the fund consists of three girls. We now have three large projects, from January there will be a fourth. But I’m happy that people know about us.
One question I’d like to ask is whether this offers some sort of psychological boost or whether it’s all rather a large psychological drain.
We have many excellent sponsors, who join us in 90 percent of our trips to children, and I keep getting really beautiful emails from them: “I don’t want to continue working at our company, take me!” The work we do, it can really enrich you and give you a purpose; in fact, it gave me an incredible feeling of fulfillment. I feel useful and found myself. But when you find your calling and love what you do, you suddenly lose boundaries – you don’t know when to stop, and that’s the problem. I’m now rather exhausted psychologically, because I can’t stop thinking about it all. Additionally, while we’re on the topic of trauma and shock, you keep getting touched by a lot of stuff. Just this Tuesday I had to take a break and listen to a bit of silence, meditate alone, because the work really is demanding; in fact, I myself also have my own therapist.
A lot of people won’t say it out loud when they have a therapist.
Well, he’s more of a coach. I have two. One has worked with me for ten years and that was the greatest positive turnaround in my life, and now I also have a business coach who helps me make sure that the fund stays on track, that the girls who work for me are happy; I’ve never had the opportunity to see how management works, so this is really helpful.
You’re 27 years old, meaning that you’re quite young for such a position. How do the people who donate look at you? Do they take you seriously?
I must confess that I leave most meetings, 90 percent of them, with a positive result. I don’t try to pretend to be someone else or play some role; the story and the whole fund is so authentic and natural that when I’m in a meeting with the given sponsor, director or manager, it all comes naturally. I don’t need to convince anyone about my work. I simply tell them about what I do, and they then decide whether it makes sense or not.
Do you collect funds for a specific goal, or is it rather ideal to get a certain amount each month and then divide it?
We’re still at the very beginning, and are grateful for any form of support. Let’s first say what would be optimal – it would definitely be pleasant to have a fixed monthly income, to make sure our organization stays operational and not have to fear for the future. But that’s not how it works. People want to know where their money goes, so we have three projects, they make a choice and support those projects directly. Some send material items, but I strongly discourage that now because children in these homes have everything they need as far as materials go. But then there are people from the Beko company, who usually send applicants; Oriflame sends cosmetics, we have a car from Hyundai and fuel. Basically, these are things that we need to stay operational. We only get finances in small amounts. We want to keep operational costs low: we have no warehouses, no offices in Prague. Each of my three girls has bags with toys and other stuff at home.
What’s Veronika Kašáková like when she’s not working?
And when isn’t she working? (laughter) I find it really hard to just relax. When I’m bored, I start being mean. I also like active vacations, I’m not really the sunbathing type – and I’m also not the typical girl who likes to go shopping for clothes.
Well, considering the fact you say you don’t go shopping for clothes, you’re very well dressed.
Thanks, but that’s because of my sweethearts from HM who I work with. They always give me a bag of clothes to wear.
So, you really don’t find shopping fun?
I really dislike those constant delays – getting dressed, trying stuff out. I always just take stuff from the shop window or whatever I saw on a mannequin. Oftentimes I then find out that something doesn’t fit or looks bad on me. I don’t even have a good feeling as far as combining items goes, and it’s hard for me to see what looks good on me and what doesn’t. My partner is much better at that – I’m a bit of a punk as far as this goes. But yeah, I do confess that it’s great to get advice. And as for me? I try to maintain a trustworthy media image. I want people to know that we’re a good team, that we do our job with a clear conscience – and so only few people know that I’m also a girl who likes to have fun. My brother says that I’m a great joker, but I don’t let that part of me out in the media. But in private I do like to have fun, go on adventures and to chill out.
I guess it would be strange if a 27-year old girl didn’t like to have fun. So, how do you relax?
Once every fourteen days, my partner goes out with his boys and I call one of my six friends, we go for a drink, turn off, and suddenly we’re once again just girls fresh from our school, full of small talk. And while in normal life I do my best not to judge anyone and be “pure” in a sense, well, there I do actually gossip and turn that “serious” Veronika Kašáková off for a bit. I also often go to my summer home, where I relax without having to wear make-up and in sweats.
Is your boyfriend happy that he has a girlfriend who rather spends time in the forest, wearing sweats, rather than on heels?
I’m both. I think he likes that – that I’m the one to join him for a movie, a dinner or theatre on heels, but then we can also go on a trip in the countryside with my backpack and home-made sandwiches.
Do you make Schnitzels for you trips???
Yup! We don’t even go for lunches in the countryside. I make snacks, on the way we buy some apricots or other fruits or we collect cherries. I want to keep that “countryside” part of me alive. We climb on trees together, and we also discussed buying a dog. I find it all a lot of fun.
So you want a dog for now, but not a baby yet?
Now I’m finally in a stage where life is nice to me. I wake up looking forward to what the day will bring… and it hasn’t been like that until recently. Maybe my peers, who already have kids and weddings, have already had that for longer. But for now I just want to enjoy traveling with my boyfriend, know that we can buy whatever we want, and simply selfishly be here for each other. When I become a mom, I want the fund to already work well. But a wedding will come first, a family is only after that.
Did you consider adopting a child?
We do discuss it. But adopting a child is not a simple question, and before a person decides to do that, he or she should consider all of its aspects. I was a child that was proposed for adoption, but my dad didn’t allow that to happen. I have a lot of friends who were adopted and lived a beautiful life, but I also know those who have returned from their adopted parents several times. These are things that, once I’d make a decision, I’d never back up, but I won’t spread emotional pain all around me. It’s not just a question of wanting, but rather a question of life style and how successful we are with my boyfriend, because having ten children, that’s already quite a task. If we end up being successful enough to support six children, then why not. I really like the idea of providing a home to someone, and I mean “someone”, because out of the 600 children I’ve seen in the past year, not all are legally free. Sometimes it happens that you’re raising a child, and then their genes pop up and in the end you’re hurt. And yet you only went into that with pure love. But if we do find a “Verunka” and “Kájík”, like me and my brother, we’d take them no questions asked.
Will you recognize them?
I think I have what it takes. I’ve been growing up with children, working with children all my life, and I’ve also completed my pedagogy education. But I don’t want it to sound as if we’re picking kids out like in a slaughterhouse. I guess it’s about some kind of energy; you feel it and it then just clicks. And I’m not against also taking older children. Maybe one day I’ll take an older child, which is basically a complete person, and I’ll just provide all the anchors so that it has where to come back to. Then, maybe, we’ll have twenty people around our Christmas tree and I’ll be the happiest person in the world. But, of course, I would want to have my own children.
Right now, do you feel like an anchor, a sort of safety net for the children you’re helping?
I try my best. I try to make them feel that way. When I finish my talk, I give them contact info of the fund, which is available 24/7.
My last questions are about your “I have secrets” tattoo. What are you secrets?
I had this tattoo done when I had a secret but I don’t have it anymore (laughter).
And what was that secret?
I told myself then that I won’t tell anybody about what happened before my life at the children’s home, about my mother and everything. It’s funny because now it is a public secret in the whole Czech Republic. Maybe I will have another secret someday and then the tattoo will have a meaning again.
Judging from your book, one can say that you can’t keep a secret (laughter) but I’ll ask anyway: can you keep a secret?
When I give my word, I always try to keep it. On the other hand, I don’t think that we should tell lies if it could hurt somebody. Right at the beginning we promised each other, with my boyfriend, that we won’t lie to each other and when we are thinking about someone else, we won’t beat around the bush and will tell each other. I’m not the type that would stay with somebody only out of habit or because I plan to have children with them. When I don’t feel it anymore, I leave. I’m a little selfish in this regard. I promised my 12-year old Verunka that I will make my adult life nice and I don’t want to feel guilty and that I owe somebody something. When I don’t feel good with somebody, I won’t lie about it – I’ll just leave.