Special Appeal: Fire Damage at Orphanage

Yesterday, 25/01/2016, at around 15.35pm a fire started at the orphanage Egipatsko Selo in Mostar. The fire quickly spread to the dormitories and it was due to sheer luck that there were no casualties. Following the intervention of Mostar fire brigade the fire was extinguished but the damage to the building became apparent. There is considerable damage to two dormitories and the roof and it is estimated that the cost to repair the building and put it back to use will exceed £5000.

Young people who have lost their dormitories in the fire have been placed into temporary accommodation.

The Egipatsko Selo orphanage in Mostar is home to about 45 children between the ages of 4 and 18. Many of them have learning disabilities and other mental health problems.

In poverty stricken Bosnia and Herzegovina it is often difficult to secure the funding for the basic needs of children in care and institutions and Egipatsko Selo is no exception, so the damage caused by the fire will create additional pressure and it may take a long time - all this during the cold winter months when the shelter is most needed.

In order to get the bedrooms back to use Our Kids Foundation is appealing to all to help us fundraise for them, with however much or however little you can afford. So please support us to help the orphanage!

You can donate directly to the Foundation on our web site. Alternatively Silva, one of the Foundations trustees, has started an online appeal here: https://www.justgiving.com/Silva-Memic2

Thank You

Anđela’s Wheelchair

Following the floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, Our Kids Foundation launched an emergency appeal and many generous people came forward to donate. We delivered a lot of aid in the weeks immediately after the flood but we were not able to spend all the money. The remaining funds were set aside to continue helping families and children who needed longer term help.

Anđela and her family live in Doboj. They lost everything. Their ground floor apartment was completely flooded. The family were already struggling. Anđela has Rett Syndrome, a severe neurodevelopmental disorder. There is no known cure and it’s such a rare disease that very little is known about it. Among the many debilitating symptoms, children often suffer from scoliosis or curvature of the spine. This can be avoided or at least greatly reduced with the use of a specialist wheelchair during the critical years of childhood as the spine is growing.

Such equipment is very expensive and the family simply could not afford it. The ministry for health was able to cover only about a quarter of what they needed.

Our Kids Foundation heard about Anđela’s situation through Djeca Doboj (facebook.com/djecadoboja), a children’s charity working with disabled children in and around Doboj and Maglaj. We visited and spoke with Anđela’s father and Sanja, the founder of Djeca Doboj. It didn’t take long to conclude that enabling the purchase of the wheelchair would be a good use of some funds from the flood appeal.

Anđela, her brother and her parents have moved back into their apartment. With this wheelchair and ongoing physiotherapy (which you can see in the pictures below) we hope that Anđela will be able to develop more mobility and independence. The wheelchair can be adjusted as Anđela grows and will provide excellent support for her for at least the next 4 years. We wish them all the best for the future.

Here's a picture of the old wheelchair which does not have the necessary braces to keep her back straight.

Project Update: Nasa Djeca Children's Club

Our Kids Foundation designs, initiates and funds projects for the benefit of children and young adults in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nasa Djeca is one such project which we set up back in 2009. It has been very successful and continues to deliver a wide range of services.

The Nasa Djeca project is now a locally registered charity in its own right, managed and operated by a dedicated team of employees and volunteers in Mostar and Pazaric. This local empowerment is extremely important to ensure that the project meets the needs of the local communities and contributes as much as possible to the wider economic and social development of the country.

Our Kids Foundation still oversees the project’s activities, and works with donors in the UK and our international partners to raise funds and provide practical support for Nasa Djeca's work.

We’d like to share some photos and updates with you from this year’s activities to give you an insight into their valuable work, and so you can see where your donations go.

Children’s Club – Egipatsko Selo Orphanage

The Egipatsko Selo orphanage in Mostar is one of the most severely under-funded state institutions in the country and faces many challenges. It is extremely difficult for the institute to provide high quality care for the children living there. Nasa Djeca has been working with the institute for over 6 years providing much needed social care and educational support for the children.

One of the main activities is the Children’s Club which Nasa Djeca hosts within one of the buildings in the orphanage. Originally the building was in a very poor state of repair but Nasa Djeca has worked hard to keep it well maintained. At the beginning of the current year Nasa Djeca redecorated and equipped it with additional resources and teaching aids to facilitate different types of activities. The children of the orphanage participate in various creative and educational workshops including sports, music, art and literature. Within these workshops they celebrate the children's birthdays and all the important national and religious holidays.

The workshops are designed and planned by Nasa Djeca with approval of the institute and local educators. As the new school year starts, Nasa Djeca are providing educational assistance and counselling to the children, as well as professional help from qualified teachers, psychologists and social workers, to help the children overcome the difficulties they face every day.

These workshops are also vital in developing the children’s social skills, enabling them to more easily relate to and communicate with their peers and other people in the community.

There is no doubt that this work has greatly improved the quality of life for these children, as well as improving their prospects as they grow up and prepare for life outside the orphanage. In the next article we’ll explore more of Nasa Djeca’s work, including what happens to the children when they reach the age of 18 and have to leave the orphanage.

Below you can see some photos of the rooms where the Children's Club is held.

Project Update: Halfway House - Part 3

This is our third and (for now) final update from the Halfway House project. Here we're focusing on social enterprise and vocational training.

Social Enterprise is an important part of the project. Running businesses will provide opportunities for training for the beneficiaries, as well as generating income for the project. We hope that the income will be sufficient to pay for all the project’s operations and may even help us to expand and fund other projects. But this is a long term plan perhaps taking 5 or 6 years or more to achieve. In the mean time we will be supplementing the project’s own income with fundraising, grants and private donations.

Tourism and agriculture have been identified as high growth sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The World Tourism Organisation’s figures show that the country will have the third largest worldwide growth in tourism over the next 5 years. The Halfway House project is designed to take advantage of this. Among the businesses we want to set up we are planning a cafe in the town, as well as a training kitchen, and bed and breakfast accommodation at the house. We also have the opportunity to produce fruit and vegetables in the grounds.

As well as offering training to the beneficiaries within these businesses, we will be showing them how to run the businesses themselves - taking them through financial management, business planning and marketing. In a country where there is such high unemployment, the ability to start a business can be a good way for someone to to create their own opportunities.

As ever, there are challenges to overcome. The building is about 10km outside Mostar center in a village called Vrapcici. This makes it difficult to develop a hotel business, but we have done the research and believe that a small bed and breakfast offering will be successful.

The grounds surrounding the building are small but useful. We can either grow produce for sale at local shops and markets, or for our own use in the house. This particular point has also presented some legal challenges: agricultural businesses are regulated to some degree and the system is not designed to enable charitable organisations to conduct agricultural work. We are actively working with other organisations in the area to learn from their experience and perhaps find ways to partner with them.

With regard to the cafe and the training kitchen, we are working with Mick who runs an organisation in Bulgaria called Phoenix Inspire. He has successfully set up a café business in Vidin, in north western Bulgaria, which provides training and job opportunities to vulnerable adults. We visited his café and learnt about his operation. Mick is a highly skilled and experienced chef, and he’s currently looking to expand his activities by creating a professional training kitchen and two other cafés in Bulgaria. In particular they specialise in high quality pastries and other bakery products. We are hoping to replicate his model in Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide similar jobs and training for the beneficiaries of the Halfway House. The professional kitchen at the house will be used for training, and then we will operate a café in Mostar. In the long term we hope to set up more cafés in other towns but this will come much later.

Here are a few photos of Mick's café in Vidin to give you an idea of what we hope to achieve:

The Halfway House building will also be a useful resource for the local community. There are plenty of opportunities to use it as a meeting venue and involve school children from Mostar and beyond.

All of these businesses provide excellent opportunities for the beneficiaries to learn transferable skills which they can take anywhere in the country and will help them to find work in tourism, hospitality and agriculture. Indeed, they may even be able to travel to other countries to work and gain further experience.

It's also worth pointing out that this project is about developing each individual’s own potential and the beneficiaries will not be limited to these activities. We will of course support them in applying for their preferred education and training programs, or indeed to find a job in different fields if that is what they want.

Overall this is a very exciting project with a solid plan. But as always funding and “hands on deck” are our biggest long term problems. Right now we’re looking for all the equipment and supplies we need for the house: things like bedding, cutlery, plates and dishes, pots and pans, and a few items of furniture. We have a long list and if anyone is inclined to do some fundraising and wishes to help us purchase specific things we need, we would be very grateful indeed!

Project Update: Halfway House - Part 2

In the long term we hope the Halfway House project will become financially self-sustainable. The aim is to set up income-generating businesses which will provide training opportunities for the beneficiaries, as well as pay for the project's operations. Because of this, we needed to register a new local organisation which will be legally responsible for the project’s activities.

This has proven to be very difficult indeed. We have spent many hours in meetings with lawyers and local officials. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s legal and administrative framework is still relatively immature and hampered by ethnic and political divisions. Never-the-less, we remain committed and continue to work to obtain the registration we need.

Until the registration is complete we are severely limited in what we can do. We cannot accept any beneficiaries for example. But some significant progress has been made in other areas – starting with the recruitment of the local team who will manage and run the project.

Our first appointment was Mirjana who is our Project Director. She has been leading the registration process on the ground in Mostar, supported by our team in the UK. She has also been making contact with local businesses and organisations who will partner with us to provide training and job opportunities for the beneficiaries.

We also appointed Ivan to look after the facility and Sanela as Education Coordinator. Sanela will be responsible for arranging the education and training programs, and working closely with the beneficiaries to create individual development plans. This is a very important part of the project’s design. We are not providing a free home. The aim is for the beneficiaries to become accustomed to the realities of life outside of institutional care and to that end we will require all of them to seek employment or enroll in our training programs or some other educational course. If they are in training or education then we will support them, but if they are earning an income then they will contribute to the cost of the home.

We have also formed a partnership with the Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion (FSCI). They have been running projects like this under their "House of Opportunity" program in Bulgaria for many years and have developed a wealth of knowledge and experience which they have now used to create a strategic program for regional development. A region-wide program will be eligible for larger grants and investment, and ultimately the partners will achieve much more together than they could on their own. Our Kids will benefit from their experience and training, and we will help to promote and develop the program for the benefit of the entire Balkan region.

Our two organisations are very well aligned and we’re delighted to have signed a formal agreement of mutual support with them.

Left to right: Sanela, Ivan, Chris (FSCI), Russ and Mirjana

Left to right: Sanela, Ivan, Annette (FSCI), Russ and Mirjana

 

Project Update: Halfway House - Part 1

The Halfway House “Kuca na Pola Puta” is a new project we’re setting up. It will provide care leavers with vocational training and support them in making a successful transition from living in a children’s home to living independently.

This is the first in a series of updates about Kuca na Pola Puta, so you can see where your money is going and what our future plans are. In the next article you can meet the local team and our project partners. In this article we'll focus on the aims of the project and the house.

All young people face a challenging time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with about 44% unemployment overall and 70% unemployment among 18 to 25 year olds. However, those leaving the children’s homes at the age of 18 face even greater problems. Often the homes provide only basic care: a roof, a bed and food. They do not prepare the children for life outside the institution.

These young people are therefore particularly vulnerable and do not have the support network that a family would normally provide. Some of them become involved in crime, drugs and prostitution. A little extra help as they leave the children’s homes is really important and this is where the new project comes in – providing a temporary home, training and practical help.

The project was devised by the Italian NGO Luciano Lama Foundation. The construction of the purpose built facility located about 10km outside Mostar was funded by Luciano Lama, the Italian Foreign Office and the Municipality of Mostar. Our Kids Foundation will operate and fund the project going forward.

The building consists of two floors. The second floor is the living accommodation for the beneficiaries. It has 6 bedrooms. Each bedroom has two or three beds and a shower room. There is also a kitchen/family room and a laundry room.

The first/ground floor has guest rooms, a large meeting and restaurant space and a professional kitchen. These facilities will be used for the income-generating social enterprise part of the project - we'll explain more about this in a future article.

The house has some furniture and appliances but we still need lots of bedding as well as supplies for the family kitchen such as pots and pans, cutlery, plates and dishes.


Summer Youth Program, Weeks 2 and 3

The Mostar Summer Youth Program is finished for another year.

The students and teachers have returned home. Besides a full program of classroom lessons, the final two weeks were packed with activities.

Arts Festival at OKC Abrasevic:

Business Challenge at Intera Technology Park, where students heard from local young entrepreneurs and organisations working to support youth entrepreneurship. They then competed in a team challenge, tasked with designing and pitching an innovative business venture related to tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina in under 3 hours!

There was a talk about constitutional reform, from K143.org:

Sports Night at Egipatsko Selo orphanage:

A sunny stroll through Mostar after classes, learning about the city's history and some of its most important monuments.

Several participants also took part in a workshop later int the evening, which explored the relationship between Sex and Gender and was lead by Banja Luka based NGO Perpetuum Mobile and Mostar based NGO Youth Power!

A weekend trip to Doboj to learn about the city and it's history, as well as having a bit of fun at the lake:

And a "World Cafe" in which our teachers, who live, work and study all over the world shared their experiences.




Summer Youth Program, Week 1

The first week of the Mostar Summer Youth Program is over. Classes began on Monday covering such diverse subjects as Modern Cluture and Media, International Relations, Study Skills, Ethics, Ethnographic Techniques, Business Development, Social Project Design, Human Rights, Tourism in Mostar, Literature and Language - to name just a few.

Each day, after classes, we organised some activities and guest speakers. These included a games session organised by Mostar-based non-profit Youth Power, an inspirational story from a young woman who successfully took over her family business at the age of 17 after her father passed, a somewhat provocative question and answer session about the media with a local journalist, and a very relevant and interesting presentation about international opportunities for further education.

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We ended the week with a day hike through the beautiful Blidinje National Park organised by MTB-Blidinje (mtb-blidinje.net). They provided a guided four-hour hike followed by a wonderful lake-side picnic. The weather turned a little cold so everyone was grateful for the opportunity to cook food around an open fire. Judging by the laughter and noise in the coach on the way home, the students are really enjoying the program and making new friends.




Mostar Summer Youth Program is Under Way

The Mostar Summer Youth Program started today! About 70 participants aged 14 to 18 have signed up. Most are from Mostar and nearby towns, although we also have one participant all the way from Northern Ireland. We have a dozen volunteer teachers from Turkey, Netherlands, Australia, Nicaragua, Japan, UK, US and of course several cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Over the next 3 weeks we'll give you regular updates from the classes and events. The subjects are many and varied.

The program was co-founded by Our Kids trustee Freya along with friends Sho and Dilia, and is supported by Our Kids. MSYP aims to be a hub for youth leadership, volunteerism and entrepreneurship.


MSYP Participant Applications

Mostar Summer Youth Program: Participant applications are now open!

Anyone aged between 14 and 18 is eligible to participate in the program. We will prioritise applications from young people attending a school or other educational institution situated in or close to Mostar. Applicants should be able to attend courses for the duration of the programme (3 weeks, starting 22 June).

You can find out more and apply on the web site: http://www.mostarsyp.com

It's free and features teachers from all over the world. MSYP aspires to be a hub for youth leadership, volunteerism and entrepreneurship.