|From April 2000, we were going, usually twice a year, to Bosnia. While staying in Medjugorje, we would visit 120 refugee families living in an old army camp, Tasovcici, Capljina,10 miles from Medjugorje, Southern Bosnia Herzegovina. We have always taken food, clothes, toys, art materials for artworkshops, facepainting with the children etc. We have also taken reading glasses supplied by Sight Station in London and these were a huge success. We have supported the work of Janet Leff, an American Medical Social Worker and Matthew Procter of the MIRACLES Charity as well, getting involved with the Women's Refuge and the Romany families surviving, as best they can, alongside the Neretva River in Mostar and visiting the Dental Clinic and Prosthetics Centre in Mostar, two of Matthew's projects. All year round we fundraise in any way we can, to build houses and provide humanitarian aid, to give these forgotten people HOPE and normal lives back ...
In July 2010, a lorry of wonderful aid, collected by ourselves and others, went to Bosnia and under the supervision of Janet Leff was distributed to those who needed it most, still struggling because of the War, 1992-1995.
Do you know the Starfish story? This is our philosophy ... 'It was worth it for that ONE!'
For those of you who have not yet heard the story: A child is on a vast sandy beach covered by starfish washed up by the tide. The child is throwing the starfish back into the sea, one at a time. An adult approaches and asks what the child is doing, pointing out the futility of throwing starfish into the sea one at a time when there must be thousands stranded on the beach. The child throws another one into the sea and looks up to the adult saying, 'But it was worth it for that one!' It will always be worth it for that one.
As we made more and more contacts each visit, new friends and aid workers, we always liked to think of ourselves as 'links in a chain' putting other people in touch with each other, all for the benefit of the refugees.
There is a huge need in Bosnia and yet Bosnia is 'yesterday's news'. The War has been over for so many years yet people say things are worse now than at the end of the War for so many people. There is no benefits system in Bosnia and there are still around a million refugees, ethnically-cleansed, displaced people, according to recent Amnesty figures. All sides suffered in the War and they still are. People are too afraid to go back where they came from because the people who committed the atrocities against them are still there. Many people have been able to go back but there are so many who have not.
They live or exist in refugee camps or worse. They are not so far away from us. Croatia as a country seems to have recovered better but they have the wonderful Adriatic coastline and, with good reason because it is so wonderful, the tourists are back. Bosnia does not attract tourists in quite the same way and there is 60-80% unemployment, sometimes 90% which means some people are barely surviving.
THE IMPACT OF OUR FIRST TRIP TO BOSNIA, April 2000
We will never forget the impact our first trip to Bosnia made on us - visiting refugees for the first time in our lives.
Before we left, during the preparation stage, Sister Josephine had said that the refugees were most desperate for SHOES. The shoe shops of Bourne, where we live, were so incredibly generous (with NEW shoes) and the Rainbow Supermarket (Co-op) was similarly generous with large suitcases that they sold to us for just a few pounds each, so we were well organised. The suitcases were to be left with the refugees as well. We stuffed balls of wool (knitting wool is always appreciated) in all the shoes and friends helped us pack as efficiently as possible. Other friends drove us to Heathrow to see us off on our great adventure! We arrived at the airport with a lot of suitcases - and Sr J did a great job of negotiating with the airline authorities for the excess baggage!
We will never forget visiting CAMP TASOVCICI in Capljina (10 miles from Medjugorje) for the first time. The people clustered round the minibus in great numbers in anticipation of all the things we had brought them. (Then I understood why the hours I had spent putting the Continental sizes on all the shoes was so important!) Once we had distributed everything, not only shoes, clothes, bedding, baby things etc, we visited with the refugees in their little huts. What an eye-opener that was! Anyone with even a smattering of English was a great help to us for communication and they all wanted to show us their huts. The children, like children anywhere, were gorgeous and so friendly. We gave them crisps - they didn't grab but shared with each other. That really impressed us!
We made strong and memorable contacts that first time that have continued to the present day. The overall impression then was that, despite the awful conditions of living in a refugee camp, these were people just like us and if such a terrible thing as the War they had lived through had happened to us, we too would be just longing for others to come and help us. We related to them in this way from the beginning ... and we loved them.
We were then taken to visit people still living on THE TRAINS - old, disused railway carriages in another part of Capljina. For seven years, old railway carriages had provided shelter for hundreds of people displaced by the war, but now, in 2000, the government had decided to restart the railway so those old railways carriages were in the process of being demolished - unbelievably, with some families still there!
Whereas Camp Tasovcici had seemed to us like some inferior version of a Holiday Camp - a poor comparison, maybe, but there was some sort of community feel about the place - the trains were completely different. They were eerie. They were 'silent' with just the wind whistling - howling even - between the long lengths of side-by-side railway carriages and there was no sign of life, just the odd, stray dog, until, gradually, we began to find people. There was an old alcoholic calling from one broken window and then, further down, unbelievably, more people. We found a few families and we began to hear their stories: seven years on the trains, just surviving, dependent on charity - one Charity in particular called NOBODY'S CHILDREN, these words written along the side of one carriage. No facilities! Sr J had organised 2 showers and 2 toilets at an earlier stage but this was the first carriage the government agencies had demolished. We saw precious water flowing pointlessly from it as a result. How had these people survived? How would we have survived? We think the trains affected us the most on that first visit. We thought of home and hot showers and baths and flush toilets with seats, and we wondered how these people we were meeting, dismounting from their carriages, could be so normal still - and they were, in despair, but normal people just like us. No wonder some turn to alcohol, we thought, though where and how they would get that we had no idea.
The third place we visited on our first trip to Bosnia was DOMANOVICI. This was an old, disused, mental institution housing several hundred elderly and mentally ill people. A lot of people were gathered outside on our arrival and we had more shoes and things to give out from the back of the minibus. When that was done, we approached the door of the main building to go in and the 'stench' hit us with a force that knocked us back. We could only compare it to what we had heard of the situation in Romania years before when the aid workers went into the orphanages. The reason - as we climbed the concrete stairs and glanced in a bathroom to our right, we saw two overflowing loos that obviously had not worked properly for sometime. Having forced ourselves to go into the building and climb the stairs, we found a lovely couple with one room which was tidy and you could see that they, like everyone else we met in those dire circumstances, were trying to keep their standards and make the best of their situation. They even had a row of little seedlings growing in little pots on the window sill and their bed was pulled together and tidily made. There was a table and a couple of chairs and a sink in the corner. They lived in that one room.
Oh the resilience of human beings hanging on to their dignity in impossible situations!
We did far more in that one week of our first visit than we are describing here - the whole Medjugorje Pilgrimage experience too - and when we look back we are amazed. It was a week that changed our lives, because no longer were we just reading about other people's tragedies in the newspapers, now we were involved with Bosnia and we could not walk away and just forget, we had to help -and what a privilege and a joy that has been ever since. We have learned so much since then ... and we are learning still ... read more ...
||Friday 17 July 2009 - update
Charitable Status ... AND Fundraising