Upholding the spirit of caring for everyone like one’s family, local Serbian volunteers respectfully presented to each Committee Members of the refugee centre, a pair of winter boots with both hands and a 90-degree deep bow. (Provided by Tzu Chi’s Serbian volunteer)
Upon receiving the winter boots from volunteers, the Committee Members worn them immediately. In the face of harsh winter conditions, having a pair of boots to protect against the cold would be a fundamental necessity for the outdoors. However, in Serbia’s Obrenovac Refugee Centre, it was difficult for them to afford this cost. It was only until Tzu Chi’s volunteers extended their help, were they able to head out for work safely in the harsh cold weather.
Serbia is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Due to political reasons and its geographical location, it had attracted a congregation of refugees, causing many shelters to be overcrowded, which gives rise to hygiene issues. Since 2016, Tzu Chi’s European volunteers have continuously rendered care and concern towards local refugee centres; providing resources such as clothing, food, computers, television etc., allowing the refugees to have a better quality of life. However, after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic across the globe in 2020, volunteers in Europe became immobilised. Not being able to travel to Serbia for the entire year to render their help, they still constantly thought of the refugees and wondered if they were keeping well.
In September, Tzu Chi received a mail from the Serbian Refugee Committee, seeking for Tzu Chi’s assistance. Upon receiving this request, local Serbian volunteers decided to take on this mission by themselves and headed to the refugee centre to help.
Amidst the struggle with the cold and pandemic, a blanket provides much comfort and warmth to the heart
Since Tzu Chi started its outreach assistance to Serbia, this marked the first time where a mission was handled entirely by local Serbian volunteers, without the company of any European team. As that was their first time spearheading a mission, the volunteers were meticulous in the preparation details, from the request to purchase of necessary inventory, communication with the Committee Members, to the schedule of distribution, decoration of venue and eventual hosting of the distribution ceremony. All done with the hope that apart from rendering care and support, the refugees were also able to feel that they were being respected.
Notwithstanding, under the severe COVID-19 pandemic situation and in compliance with local pandemic preventive measures, many procedures had to be simplified. On December 29th 2020, without holding any kind of ceremony, volunteer Tamara and her husband, Boris, led a lean team of only 6 other local volunteers to deliver and personally hand out blankets to the refugees in the centre.
Tamara’s trip to the refugee centre was not just to distribute blankets, she also took the initiative to provide concern and comfort. Through heart-warming conversations, the refugees who had long endured the cold, were deeply moved. As they held and touched the soft blankets in their hands, their hearts were warmed up.
Distribution of blankets and winter boots to help refugees withstand the harsh winter
The mission brought not only 12,000 blankets for the refugees but also another 298 pairs of winter boots as gifts for the Committee Members. Having to withstand the extreme cold weather, a pair of good quality, functional and anti-slip winter boots will improve the workplace safety standards for them.
“Very grateful that Tzu Chi remained present during this challenging period and continued to care and supported the refugees. Hopefully, the pandemic will end quickly,” said Head of the Refugee Committee, Mr Valdimir Cucic, who was very excited after receiving the first pair of winter boots donated by Tzu Chi. He looked at the boots, tried them on and when he realised they fitted him perfectly, he was exhilarated. “To us, Tzu Chi is not a charity organisation but our family, and we are very happy to be part of this group.”
Upholding the spirit of caring for others like family members, local Serbian volunteers, respectfully present a pair of winter boots with both hands and a 90-degree deep bow to each Committee Member. According to the Committee Member, 「Over 9000 refugees who had escaped from Serbia to Bosnia, will be returning back here. 」With the harsh weather, challenges from the pandemic outbreak coupled with an expected increase in the number of refugees, the volunteers also hope that the winter boots donated to the Committee Members can help in their work with the refugees.
The pandemic and cold winter had ignited a strong sense of calling amongst the local volunteers. Their love for others knows no geographical differences and continues to grow.