The fight to raise funds for those in need gathers people together in the Balkan countries.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 11/02/13
The International Women's club in Zagreb held a holiday bazaar in December. [Petar Kos/SETimes]
The mission to minimise poverty is among the universal issues facing citizens across the Balkans.
Those who need the most help often live on the social margins, and in the past two decades of transition in the region that segment of society has not always had proper institutional protection. But numerous charity organisations have been working to help.
High unemployment and difficult economic conditions have made charity work more challenging in recent years, but not due to a lack of willing donors.
"When it comes to the global economic crisis impact, there is no doubt it affects all parts of society. But the interesting thing is that as much as the crisis is intensive, the number of humanitarian efforts organised by various associations is bigger, but their chances of raising funds is lesser," Nerka Jugo-Ahmic, secretary of the International Women's Club of Sarajevo, told SETimes.
International Women's Clubs, comprised of foreign embassy employees and their spouses, sponsor annual charity bazaars across the region. Food and other items are sold as the embassies provide a unique experience for the public, allowing local residents to gain a better insight into the heritage of other countries.
"Sometimes, it was just one bazaar, for years … but now we have many more efforts, activities, even happening at the same time," Jugo-Ahmic said. "If we count on the same visitors/buyers, all of us work more, but earn less."
The Sarajevo club has existed since 1997, and charity bazaars are its basic fundraising source. Thanks to embassies and NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the club, after three years of fundraising and planning, finished the Šareni Park project, the first playground in Sarajevo that includes attractions for all children, including those with special needs.
"This playground represents a fine example of teamwork, including the full co-operation of the municipality, school and our club," Brankica Topić, president of the International Women's Club of Sarajevo, told SETimes.
The International Women's Club of Sarajevo raised funds for Šareni Park, a playground for all children, including those with special needs. [International Women's Club of Sarajevo]
"But, it is very important to involve as many organisations and people who are willing to contribute to the community through voluntary work in areas which are already and for long time are a problem. The poverty and human need for help is growing on daily basis," Topic added.
A club-sponsored charity bazaar has been held in Belgrade for 12 years, raising funds to help the less-fortunate.
"Ambassadors and their staff and hundreds of volunteers make the annual Charity Bazaar an unforgettable experience for thousands of local people who attend it every year," Ann Magill Pesic, the Honorary Irish Consul in Serbia, told SETimes.
"All of the money raised at the Bazaar goes to charity. In 2012, there were 11 projects funded to assist children, people with special needs, vulnerable elderly, education for Roma children, employment opportunities for vulnerable women, single mothers, and to purchase some needed equipment for Tirsova Children's Hospital and the gynecological department of the hospital in Pozerevac."
The International Women's Club of Zagreb is also trying to help women's and children's causes, the physically or socially deprived and elderly people. The club designated funds it raised in 2012 for a new homeless shelter.
The association Most from Split participated in the effort to help homeless persons.
"We managed the network of homeless shelters for the whole country and this has marked 2012, as well as our struggle for new spaces for new shelters," Đordana Barbarić, Most president, told SETimes. "In 2013 we will have the same aim -- the struggle for shelters, which could be more beautiful but they should be enough for all who sleep under the open sky."
The Open Heart Street event in Belgrade has been an annual tradition since 1988. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Other charity events are also popular in the region.
The Open Heart Street, held each year on January 1st in downtown Belgrade since it launched in 1988, is a traditional humanitarian gathering of citizens, artists and officials. Proceeds have gone to B92 Fund's humanitarian campaign "Battle for the Babies."
This year, the event aimed to raise funds for the purchase of five CTG units, which are used for measuring the heart rate in newborns. According to B92, more than 10,700 euros were raised.
Every year, Open Heart collects funds from the sale of Christmas decorations at the event. In past years, the organisation donated funds to fight childhood cancer and to help children living and working on the streets.
In Montenegro, corporate support is a significant part of charity activities. Celebic, a construction company, contributes to social progress by participating in reconstruction of schools and hospitals.
"These activities are very important for us and we have to budget for them," Maja Krstajic, public relations and marketing manager for Celebic, told SETimes.
"Even in situations when we have to cut costs due to recession or other money issues, the budget for this must be there. Being there and helping people need is something special and indescribable," Krstajic said.