Arriving in Croatia with several truckloads of humanitarian aid involves a lot of pre-planning and preparation on our end. Thankfully, we were able to learn the ropes from an experienced Baptist organization here and so more easily address the reams of red tape involved.
Our load of clothes, shoes, bedding, coats and toys from Germany, plus wheelchairs and walkers for handicapped children are all certainly needed and much appreciated by the very neediest of the refugees who receive these when we distribute them.
We donated the wheelchairs and walkers to the Caritas center for handicapped children, with whom we associate. The manager and volunteers there were so thankful, as they take care of a growing number of handicapped children there on a daily basis. Here, a wheelchair costs much more than what the parents of a handicapped child earns in a month.
The aid that we bring in from Western Europe, along with similar items donated by local companies, are sorted and incorporated into packages for needy families. We then distribute care packages to destitute families, as well as patients in local hospitals, making sure each child receives a personal package of at least a toy and some candy.
We never cease to be shocked by the low living standards in some of the homes we visit. Most families live in a one or two room hovel. They keep their woodstove fed with fuel all the time in an attempt to keep the chill out. What this usually means is that the kitchen is outrageously hot, while the other rooms barely get any heat at all.
One family in particular broke our hearts. A single mom with five children, who we have helped before, wasn’t able to pay her electricity bill, and we arrived to find that her electricity was cut off. As a result, four of her children were taken into custody by the state. We found out that she had a fifth child still living with her, though she was listed with only four. And because we didn’t know about the 5th child, we hadn’t brought a present for him. The mother broke down in tears, telling us how much she missed her children, and pouring out her heart about her many troubles. We spent an hour talking to her and encouraging her to go on, and prayed with her, all of which seemed to give her faith to carry on.
We also learnt that this single mother and her child had literally only a crust of bread to eat for dinner! Samuel, one of our volunteers delivering the supplies, happened to have a granola bar in his pocket, which he offered and it was quickly devoured by the little boy. When we asked the child what he would most wish for, he said he really wanted a Christmas present, especially since his siblings had gotten presents from us. At Christmas, we returned with a toy wrapped up for him, along with a box containing fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and bread. What a privilege to help make this poor woman and her son’s wish for a Christmas present come true.
When we present gifts to these children, they are always very happy with their gifts, though many are often too dumbfounded and shy to open them in front of us, but we see from the happy look in their eyes that we have made some almost impossible wishes come true.
Children joyfully displaying their presents that we delivered (Gabriella, Project Manager, at far right).