The experience of war and the experience of being driven out of ones home are both traumatic and for the time being we cannot change them. The experience of being a refugee in one out of hundreds of camps and the return to a destroyed homeland can become a trauma too. Here we can help.
Die Erfahrung des Krieges und die Erfahrung, aus der eigenen He
Balkan Sunflowers organises volunteer efforts from all over the world, providing the opportunity for non-medical and non-technical people, as well as those with medical and technical backgrounds, to participate "hands-on" in the humanitarian relief effort. This can bring the much-needed spirit of solidarity and community to the refugees.
We are establishing community centres within the refugee camps, villages and towns to aid in the establishment of a sense of community and normality, by providing a place for social and organizational gathering, schooling, classes (such as arts and crafts, language, music, community theatre, pottery, painting etc.), organised sports and many other activities. Of course it is also necessary to respond to the need for basic facilities such as toilets and shelter. Volunteers with construction experience organise materials and work with the refugees to construct these facilities.
Balkan Sunflowers relies on its volunteers, who do all of their own fund raising, to achieve its goals. Volunteers must pay for their travel to the region and their living expenses. Each is challenged to design their own classes based on their own individual talents and provide their own materials.
World-wide 'core' fundraising is conducted at our co-ordination office in Germany. These funds are used to build up our infrastructure, e.g. offices in Tirana and Skopje and secure necessities such as housing for volunteers. We have good contacts with other humanitarian agencies, both governmental and private. The project has a long-term focus: all the facilities and centres established remain staffed with volunteers until the camp itself is disbanded and its residents return home.
From experience we have seen that mass exoduses such as these can create camps that remain in place for years. Many refugees' villages have been completely destroyed and therefore they have nothing to which to return. Many fear for their lives if they were to return home.
Four years after the Dayton Accords ended the conflict between Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, hundreds of thousands of people remain in refugee camps. And even with the return to Kosov@ being the fastest seen, the problems are not solved.
The Development of our Program
In May 1999 our first group of 'pathfinders' arrived in Albania and Macedonia. Their task was to assess the situation, establish a local office, network with other relief organizations in the field looking for opportunities to work together, and set up facilities in one or more camps, thus paving the way for a larger group of volunteers to come over.
At the end of May the first group of international volunteers arrived to start work in the first projects.
The signing of the peace treaty did not mean the end of the action with the refugees. The current situation in this torn-apart region cannot be called 'peace'. Balkan Sunflowers intends to help with the reconstruction in Kosov@ and organise projects which don't only encompass the practical reconstruction but also a positive interaction between the diverse ethnic groups.
Our volunteer groups have been working in an orphanage in Tirana, in a hospital and also continue to organise activities for refugee families in remaining camps, e.g. the camp of Premier Urgence in Kashar.
We are helping with summer camps, from the beginning of August in five different places for both Kosovarian and Albanian youth. Another idea being developed is for a project with street-children, mainly from roma-families.
Balkan Sunflowers is cooperating with the Kosovarian Youth Council and UNICEF to build up so called 'Child Friendly Spaces' within which will be organised social activities, as well as mine awareness education.
In several places activities were started to clean mine-free parks and recreate children’s playgrounds there. There are initiatives underway to do insulation programmes and other environmental activities. A central emphasis is put on community activities.
Shutka – a neighbourhood of Skopje where many thousand Roma-gypsy families live – including Roma-refugees from Kosov@. Working together with the Roma-community we are organising language courses and social activities.
Cegrane – a refugee camp in the west of Macedonia, near the Albanian border and there are about 6000 refugees there. Balkan Sunflowers is organising social activities with the children and youth, as well as care for the old and infirm.
Pathfinders have been underway in Montenegro to find ways to support refugees here as well.
The History of Balkan Sunflowers:
The Balkan Sunflowers was initiative was started with a call for support by Wam Kat, a Dutch peace activist, sociologist and father of three children. Wam traveled to Croatia in 1992, during the Balkans War, to work with an organization called Anti-War Campaign Croatia (ARK in Croatian). While there, Wam was one of the founders of a project called ZaMir (for peace) to facilitate communication between peace-, human rights- and relief organizations, as well as between the warring parties. Wam and his co-volunteers organised a working e-mail and BBS system with nodes in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.
In his first venture, Wam and another ARK member began recruiting international volunteers to work in refugee settlements. Within a year, the organization had grown to encompass 37 locations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, 4,000 international volunteers and a paid staff of 60. The initiative became known as SunCokret (sunflower in Croatian) and was supported by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees). SunCokret still exists and supports this new initiative Balkan Sunflowers.
The name SunCokret was chosen as a name in memory of a lesser-known project of Wam Kat. When spring came to Zagreb in 1994 Wam took it upon himself to run around putting sunflower seeds into the left behind sandbags that formed bunkers all around the city. By the summer hundreds of sunflowers had sprouted throughout Zagreb – one of the most poetic anti-war statements in the long history of war in the Balkans.
Next, Wam was one of the organisers of the Volunteer Project Pakrac. The project, composed of both international volunteers and locals, worked to rebuild a town that was divided by the cease-fire line and facilitate the peace process by returning some normality to the lives of those who called the town home.
During this time, Wam Kat kept a diary about his work and experiences in the war-torn area, which he uploaded to the Internet on a daily basis. The diary quickly caught the world’s attention and was reprinted in papers such as USA Today. The ZaMir Transnational Net and Project Pakrac were such a success that it caught the attention of Vice President Al Gore who stated:
'..it (the Internet) has brought us images of war and peace, of tragedy and joy, in which we all can share. There's a Dutch relief worker, Wam Kat, who has been broadcasting an electronic diary from Zagreb for more than a year and a half on the Internet, sharing his observations of life in Croatia. After reading Kat's Croatian diary (the Zagreb Diary), people around the world began to send money for relief efforts. The result: 25 houses have been built in a town destroyed by war. Governments didn't do this, people did. But such events are the hope of the future…'
(Al Gore, Vice President of the United States, in a 1997 speech before the International Telecommunications Union Development Conference)
Let the Sunflowers Blossom Again!
How do I Contribute
Each volunteer is responsible for raising their own funds. To contribute to their efforts, just make out a cheque to the volunteer requesting the funds. 100% of your donation goes toward financing the volunteers' travel and living expenses while they help. If you wish to donate to the core account in Germany, make your cheque payable to Balkans Sunflowers and send it to the address below.
Help spread the information
… to friends, to people who may be interested to work in a refugee camp for three weeks as a volunteer, to organizations and initiatives who could support this project financially and to all who can help!
Help find the tools for the job!
Ask us for our „wish list“ – the things we need so that we can fulfil our aims. For example, children´s colouring books, picture books, toys and games, tools for construction ……
Account #: 160 160 1
Account Name: Balkan Sunflowers e.V.
Bank: Oekobank Frankfurt (Germany)
BLZ (bank identification number): 500 901 00
balkan sunflowers e.V.