NEW YORK, JUNE 12 -- This is all still new. Olga Havlova is only beginning to get used to over-familiar photographers pushing through the well-wishers at cocktail receptions to call out, "Olga, Olga, over here!" A quiet and serious woman in low-heeled shoes, she hasn't yet learned to adjust the microphone at a podium or maintain eye contact with an audience. In fact, she had to borrow a blouse (and her husband, Vaclav Havel, a suitable tie) on the day, just six months ago, when he was suddenly transformed from heretic playwright to president of Czechoslovakia and she, for so long his fellow dissident, assumed that heretofore unknown position, First Lady.

In the Eastern Bloc, the notion of a national leader's spouse playing an influential public role was unheard of, "apart from Madame Ceausescu," Havlova points out, with an ironic smile: The tyrannical Romanians hardly constitute a useful role model. There's Raisa Gorbachev, of course, but Havlova politely declines to claim her as a major influence: "I'm not really aware of what exactly Raisa Gorbachev does except that she accompanies her husband."

On the other hand, though she's adopted a charitable cause in the American political wifestyle (she's here to raise funds for her country's long-neglected handicapped), "I can't be in the same role as the president's wife in a Western country," she says through an interpreter. "The situation is very different; the financial situation is different. One has to literally start from scratch."

So, working without a staff, relying on contributors for air travel and hotel rooms, carrying along charts and graphs that show the sad results of inadequate health care in her country, the 57-year-old Havlova is looking for help, inventing her position as she goes along.

In this she has had some assistance from other women accustomed to operating in the social and political limelight. Eunice Shriver and Jean Kennedy Smith met with her Monday in her suite at the Plaza to discuss their own organizations for the handicapped, Special Olympics and Very Special Arts respectively.

That suite, and Monday evening's reception at the Plaza for the Czechoslovakian Society for the Handicapped, were both contributed by Havlova's former countrywoman, hotelier Ivana Trump (nee Zelnikov). The Trump connection came about through the Havels' longtime friend, emigre film director Milos Forman, who at the crowded reception also announced the receipt of a $5,000 check from Paul Newman. For Havlova's first charitable event outside Czechoslovakia -- the evening's take, much of it contributed by Czechoslovak expatriates, exceeded $60,000 -- it wasn't a bad start.

"She is becoming known," assessed Forman at Monday night's gathering, "but it's a little against the perceptions of 40 years. People {in Czechoslovakia} have to change their opinions about the function of a First Lady. ... It's the old patriarchal system the communists borrowed from the czars, that woman's place is in the kitchen. Or doing very hard and dirty work."

But with a freer Czechoslovakian press (which also reported in considerable detail on Ivana Trump's marital misfortunes) and the publication at home of Havel's prison correspondence "Letters to Olga" (Jane Fonda's bought the film rights), her profile is being heightened. Czechoslovaks "think she is a very human, thinking woman," said Jan Bubenik, a medical student elected to the Federal Assembly and a member of Havel's Civic Forum organization, which, with its allies, won 46 percent of the vote in last weekend's elections. "She has much moral credit in Czechoslovakia, not only as the wife of Vaclav Havel but as a person."

She is silver-haired and fine-boned, with a grave dignity and a somber history that make questions about her favorite fashion designer unthinkable. The daughter of a working-class family, a veteran of the assembly line at a vast shoe factory, she was employed as a cloakroom attendant when a friend introduced her to the more bourgeois Havel, a self-described "child of the middle class and ever the diffident intellectual."

They have been married for 34 years, five of which he spent in prison and many of which were spent under continual police harassment. Their farmhouse in the Bohemian countryside attracted its very own adjacent police guardhouse to keep track of visitors. Havlova was not only her husband's supporter and his conduit to sympathetic Westerners, she was a member of the human rights group Charter 77 and the founder of Video Journal, an underground network that circulated videocassettes of demonstrations and Western news reports like flickering samizdat. Video Journal still exists, and the First Lady is hoping to secure a new Betacam for it in the course of her other fund-raising.

Small wonder that, like others in her country, Havlova admits feeling sometimes overwhelmed at all that needs to be done. When she looks at the events of the past months (a year ago her passport was seized by the police when she applied for permission to visit France and Austria), "it seems sometimes extraordinarily absurd," though not exactly funny.

"I have taken on myself such improvements as I am able," she says, "by starting a charity." The Czechoslovakian Society for the Handicapped is the first independent charitable organization since the years before World War II. Though the nation had a charitable tradition, "it was suppressed in the last decades," Havlova says. "It was forbidden. Even a tiny little sum, if you'd try to give it to someone, they'd have difficulties." A few government-approved groups such as the Union of Invalids existed, but "it was rather doubtful what happened with those monies, where they went."

When Havel took office and letters began arriving from "all sorts of people in all walks of life, people who had political troubles, who were old, who were not cared for," it was the pleas of the handicapped that particularly touched her. There are a million handicapped people in her country of 15 million, she says.

"All these people were locked in their houses. They weren't seen on the street. Statistics were falsified." Hospitals and institutions are overcrowded and in poor repair, Havlova reports; public health is further endangered by air and water pollution. The Society (to be known in the United States as the Olga Havel Foundation, since his surname is believed more recognizable than the feminized Havlova), operating for now under the aegis of the New York-based Charter 77 Foundation, is assisting such projects as construction of a factory to manufacture wheelchairs.

Being a First Lady and running an international charity out of a home office has necessarily entailed personal costs. "What I like best of all is being in the country, gardening and chopping the firewood and going out to look for mushrooms and quietly reading a book," Havlova says, a bit wistfully. "Those are the things I miss." And then there are all those curious journalists. "The only difficulty is that one can't just discuss matters with the press; one has to get on with the work as well."

But she is not complaining. "I can't allow myself to feel deprived of privacy," Havlova says. "All our lives we tried to change the regime, and now that it's been achieved I can't have my {selfish} feelings. ... I just want, as everyone does since the election, to be able to change things."

Her itinerary, before returning to Prague, does include a bit of diversion, however. This afternoon, her press and fund-raising duties fulfilled, the exuberant Forman takes charge of her schedule. "I'm going to take her a little around," he announced with true relish. "And then I'm going to take her to see Madonna."