Students at Palacký University of Olomouc aim to make a difference withfirst Free-Shop on academic soil

Štepán Vaškevič is a student at the Palacký University of Olomouc who is one of the founders of a student association at the school focussing on the environment and sustainability, launching projects such as Out of the Bin, to get the student body to cut down on needless waste. Further, he and fellow members iare trying to make a difference by launching this year the first student-run Free-Shop, where students can donate, take, barter, and borrow items absolutely free.

Štěpán Vaškevič, photo: Facebook Udržitelný PalackýŠtěpán Vaškevič, photo: Facebook Udržitelný Palacký Items can be anything of use form clothes to a bike to get across town. Not only does the shop provide an interesting service, it also aims to foster a greater sense of community and cooperation among students at a key point in their lives.

I spoke to Štepán Vaškevič on a line to Olomouc this week:

“We created Udržitelný Palacký or Sustainable Palacký as a student association in the beginning of the year 2016 and our goal is to make Palacký University an environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically efficient learning environment. Our association sometimes does some punkish things but our serious goal is really to transform our university, and we think that the university can be an example for both public and private institutions. It’s a place where students are spending their youth and so they can learn something which can change their lives and which they can apply in the future.”

I’m glad that you put it that way because that is something I wanted to discuss also in connection with the Free=Shop project. Where else but at the university to experiment, push the boundaries and try new things?

“Yes.”

And the punk stuff?

“Our goal is to make Palacký University an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient.”
“Yes, well we are just an initiative of students and are not officially registered so we are absolutely free, we don’t have any conditions about what we should do and what we shouldn’t but I think that we had good publicity among the students and the professors. They have noticed us. For example; we really only had one punk action which was part of our campaign Out of the Bin. We just made an analysis of what students were throwing out at the entrance of the faculty and analysed all the waste. It was kind of a flash mob event.”

We’ll get right to that but I would just like you to elaborate a little bit on the ways, was it revealing? Did you find out that people were throwing away things that for example should be recycled?

“We found during our analysis that a large amount of the waste could be recycled or re-used. At the end of the last semester we noticed that many students threw away things which had no business being there: clothes, kitchenware and many other things that regular students use.”

If we get back to the Free-Shop, I guess the two are related… how important is it for Udržitelný Palacký?

Photo: Facebook Udržitelný PalackýPhoto: Facebook Udržitelný Palacký “Well the idea behind it that we are trying to find some effective solutions for our university and the programs which are connected with the waste and the part of our campaign Out of the Bin was to show the problems which are connected with waste and sustainability. To be more concrete, the Free-Shop is a place where students can leave things they no longer need anymore. For example; kitchen ware, clothes, food etc. By founding the space were responding primarily to unnecessary waste which occurs most often and also in the largest quantities at the end of the semester.”

The space - where actually is it? What kind of character does it have and what kinds of items have been donated already?

“Yes, well we found a really good space with the help of our Dormitory Administration, which offered us a space at the dormitories and it’s really close to the students’ campus where our shop is situated. So it’s not as big as we could wish but it’s a really good place for students. It has a really perfect design that looks great and I feel that the students really like it.

“Information technology has changed the world: we are more connected than ever and more aware of the problems and potential solutions.”
“Today in the Free-Shop you can find clothes, kitchen ware, books and many other interesting things. For example, some students brought in a skateboard and today we received two bicycles. There is even a barbeque and it’s all for free and some things could be taken forever and some things could be taken for free but if you need, for example, a bicycle for just one day you can just rent it from us for free and then bring it back when you no longer need it.”

What kind of a feeling is it when you come in and you find something that somebody else didn’t need but is a perfect fit for you? It must be quite a good feeling to find something that you can make use of.

“Yes it is I really enjoy this feeling. And people can look up what is on offer on our Facebook page and we have an album, a photo album, where we just put photos of their items which are in the shop right now.”

Where did the concept of Free-Shop originate? Were there similar projects elsewhere that you had heard about?

“Actually, I could say that it’s a trend in the broader world and you can find many Free-Shops in America and Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic we are the first ones to design a University Free-Shop. In Prague there is one, but I believe we are the first students’ Free-Shop in the Czech Republic. But they are widespread elsewhere: one town in Belgium has eight Free Shops.”

Photo: Facebook Udržitelný PalackýPhoto: Facebook Udržitelný Palacký That’s very cool. You are studying at the Department of Environmental and Development Studies and specialize in environmental studies and sustainable development, so this is in your wheelhouse as they say…

“Yes.”

I was looking online at your Facebook page and you also linked through likeminded operations, you a link to the free food supermarket called Ozharvest in Australia. Generally do you think that students today are more conscious about sharing and being environmentally conscious then previous generations?

“I think so because you know the information technology has really changed the world that we live in and we are more connected now and we can see environmental problems and development issues all over the world and online. I guess our generation is more concerned about the problems of our planet and we cans see some inspirational things in other countries and we can inspire change here.”

To come full circle: do you think that projects like these which are a part of student life, that they can serve perhaps as a blueprint for future socially-conscious businesses once outside of school?

“Well, we are a good example of that because many members of our association are making some changes in their private lives and organizing events and they are participating in some other projects which are connected to all of the things we mentioned. I think that many students are interested just in community building, start-ups and social enterprises and I’m really glad about this. There is an interest here in Czech Republic. Maybe in Prague it’s more visible and more popular but we can see a change.”

I’ll end it with this, that is kind of one offshoot of projects like Free-Shop, which is between the lines, there is a sense of community, isn’t there. When that kind of thing is available people come and go, borrow or take or bring something instead. That helps create a bond which is not immediately visible perhaps.

“Definitely and the changes happen so fast. I hope that in the horizon of the upcoming years this change will be remarkable and really visible.”