"Kun!,” said Hana in Czech, pointing excitedly to the picture she drew of a brown horse with a black mane and tail. Three weeks earlier, Hana, age 20, rode a horse for the very first time while taking part in a hippotherapy session at a farm two hours away.

Hippotherapy uses the movement of a horse to improve the muscle tone, balance, coordination, and emotional wellbeing of those living with disabilities. Hana lives in a government-supported home for children and adults with mental disabilities in the Czech Republic. Her visit to the horse farm was made possible by a group of five youth volunteers looking to help individuals with physical and mental disabilities.

To transform their idea into reality, the group received a grant of US$2,300 from the Make a Connection initiative, known locally as Připoj se. Launched in the country in 2002 by the Civil Society Development Foundation (NROS) and Nokia, the program promotes youth volunteerism throughout the Czech Republic.

“At first I was afraid; I didn’t know what to expect,” says 20-year-old Věra Strnadová, the group’s leader, of her first meeting with Hana and the others. “When I saw how they responded [to the horse therapy], it felt great,” she adds.

The visit to the horse farm was part of a weekend excursion organized by the youth for residents of the home. Prior to the event, Věra participated in a two-day volunteer training sponsored by NROS, where she learned about project management, teambuilding, media outreach, and evaluation.

“The most challenging part of the project was organizing everything,” she says. “We had to delegate responsibilities, find accommodations, schedule the horse farm, and secure transportation.” Now a university student studying social science and economics, Vĕra acknowledges that the skills she has gained through volunteering will be useful in her career as well.

As for Hana and the home’s 34 other inhabitants, the horseback riding weekend remains a treasured experience.