Humanitarian actions in the Balkans reflect the holiday spirit


Government and civil society undertake humanitarian actions during the holidays to help vulnerable individuals.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 30/12/13


Non-governmental organisations and the local branch of the Red Cross deliver humanitarian packages to rural areas in Ohrid municipality. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]

Government institutions and civil society across the Balkans are organising humanitarian actions during the holiday season to assist children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Humanitarian activities are important because children have specific needs and it is the best time to make them happy, according to Aleksandra Pesic, manager of the Osmeh na dar (Present a Smile) Foundation in Belgrade.

"It is obvious that the number of activities for the new year is increasing in the past four to five years among the newer as well as the other NGOs, but also the number of activities by the public and private sectors," Pesic told SETimes.

Established in 2009 as the first student-founded foundation in Serbia, Present a Smile organises activities for children with special needs, including for returnees in the territories of the former Yugoslavia affected by the recent conflicts.

"We have organised seven new-year activities so far and gave about 20,000 [food and toy] packages to children throughout Serbia. Last year for the first time we organised activities in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in areas where returnees live," Pesic said.

Pesic said the foundation is co-operating with the government now to extend its reach to hospitalised children.

"In the last couple of years, we are organising new year's performances in which Air Force personnel participate. They bring Santa Claus by aircraft to give the children presents," she added.

Similarly, Croatian students at the universities of Zagreb and Dubrovnik organised a traditional humanitarian auction and collected nearly 3,300 euros that they presented to the NGOs Debra in Zagreb and Idem in Dubrovnik, to disperse to needy children.

The Macedonian government organised Share the Joy, a humanitarian action for food and toy packages for orphans and foster children. It also organised a new-year celebration show for 700 children in Skopje.

"As a responsible society, we will continue to care for them so that they can overcome the obstacles they are facing," Dime Spasov, Macedonia labour and social policy minister, told SETimes.

Officials said the Ohrid municipality provided assistance to children and the elderly in rural areas, and organised a luncheon for more than 200 people with special needs.

"We are ready to assist the centres for individuals with impeded development. We received lists of needed items from them and we are securing them with funds from local government," Ohrid Mayor Nikola Bakraceski told SETimes.

Some assistance was dispersed through the local branches of the Red Cross in the harder-to-reach rural areas.

"We delivered food packages to the most disaffected families in the rural areas of our region. We also installed a new floor at the Centre for Children with Special Needs, and organised a blood donation drive, securing 35 units," Aneta Jovanovska of the Red Cross in Ohrid, told SETimes.

Local government in Bosnia and Herzegovina secured more than 1,000 packages with food and necessities to organisations that care for orphans and children with special needs.

"In the past several years, we received packages and presents for new years from the local government and some NGOs. We hope they will not forget us this year," Majda Salkic, an unemployed mother of three in Sarajevo, told SETimes.

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The Mostar city government provided vouchers of 75 euros to the most economically vulnerable families.

"Also, every year about 80,000 euros are disbursed from its budget as individual financial assistance that was allocated on the request of the citizens," the city government told SETimes in a statement.

Correspondents Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.

What else can government and NGOs do to help children and disaffected populations in the holiday season?

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