Stepping up

During the war most of the aid that arrived in the country first went to the most populated areas. Eventually, if they were lucky, some of the aid trickled down to smaller towns and villages. For that very reason, our team always took the road less traveled. In our 4 ton Bedford trucks we delivered aid to some of the most remote communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More often than not the recipients of that aid had never even seen a humanitarian convoy. They were off the grid. And due to limited capacity and resources the places that didn’t make the news didn’t get the aid. Simply put.

I am touched that Bosnians from far and wide have stepped up to help even as the flood waters continue to rise in some places. In the absence of anything resembling an organized nation (with the exception of the armed forces) – ordinary people have rallied to do what in most developed nations would be the responsibility of the authorities to whom we pay taxes.

I hope, however, that we all ask where the 20 million KM emergency fund that was intended for civil protection disappeared to. I hope we ask why rafting companies and volunteer mountain rescue services had to come to save people trapped in their homes instead of a well-equipped civil protection force. I hope we ask why local officials continue to turn a blind eye – and even give permits to – poor people who build homes in dangerous landslide areas. I hope we ask ourselves why we are such gluttons that we allow them to continuously disregard the safety of our families, homes, and communities. This natural disaster did NOT have to be this bad.

We’ve heard of the heart wrenching stories of families who first lost everything in the early 1990’s to war, managed to rebuild a modest life and home for themselves, only to have it destroyed again. These people will need help, both emotional and material, to go through the rebuilding process once more.

floods

There seems to be a flood (forgive the pun) of aid heading towards Maglaj. And no doubt this town will need all the help it can get. But there are also many other communities who have yet to be even mentioned by the local media. And the wave of water heading from Bihac to Bijeljina will certainly wreak more havoc in the coming days.

I recently formed an organization with some friends called Terra Dinarica. We are not an aid agency but rather a group dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable mountain development in the Dinaric Alps region of southeast Europe. We’re putting that aside for now and will be heading off the beaten path again. Gil Scott Heron once sang ‘no one can do everything but everyone can do something.’ That something for us is helping our friends in Zavidovici, a small community in Bosnia’s northeast.

I have already been asked by many people on how they can help, who to contact, and what is most needed. There are many great organizations, like pomozi.ba or the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society who are organizing aid. Everyone is trying to do their bit. We’ll be heading to Zavidovici tomorrow to first see what they need most. We’ll take a jeep load of baby clothes with us and will let folks know what we learn and what the needs are.

This is not an appeal to help us help them. It’s an appeal to remind everyone, especially diaspora, to help in a smart way. Please be wise on who you send money to. Check the organizations you put your trust in. There are many outstanding and honest organizations and individuals who are mobilizing others to help. There are also others who don’t deserve our trust and who will undoubtedly take advantage of this catastrophe for personal gain.

Too many people in Bosnia know what it means to lose everything. And sadly some have to go through it again. I tip my hat to those who have so quickly stepped up and mobilized to help. Thank you. I humbly follow in your footsteps. peace

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