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Warm Winter Clothes for Refugees in Serbia

On a cold, snowy winter day in Serbia, Tzu Chi volunteers from 11 countries and regions arrived at the Obrenovac refugee centre, to distribute warm winter clothes to the refugees.

20190110 Serbia refugees 1Refugees waiting in a long queue to receive warm clothing from Tzu Chi amid the winter cold; some of them were seen wearing only short sleeves and slippers. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Europe volunteers)

Multinational volunteers distribute winter clothing to refugees

On 10th January 2019, a team of some 30 Tzu Chi volunteers from Bosnia, Serbia, Germany, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Austria, Italy, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore brought warm winter clothing for refugees staying in the Obrenovac refugee centre in Serbia. The sub-zero temperature of -3 degrees Celsius did not dampen the love and warmth that filled everyone’s heart on this day.

Among the refugees was a man from Afghanistan, who had been away from his home country for three years. He shared that he took some time to gradually overcome the problem of water shortage in the congested environment. Although he had six pieces of clothing, they were all T-shirts and could not keep him warm. He said, "Life at the refugee camp is really hard; it is overly crowded here. I have six pieces of clothes, but the winter here is really cold......"

The volunteers swiftly sorted the winter coats and undergarments as the refugees, some of whom were only wearing short sleeves and slippers, waited in a long queue outside. Lin Mei Feng, a Tzu Chi volunteer from Germany, chose to stay outdoors to give care and comfort to the refugees while they waited amid the winter cold.

Another refugee from Afghanistan had traversed across Iran from his hometown three months ago to arrive at the Obrenovac refugee centre. It was a really tough and arduous journey, and he had endured great hardship. He said that as the weather turned colder, and he only had one set of clothes, he had to exchange clothes with others in order to get his own clothes washed. So he was very grateful to Tzu Chi for the winter coat he received on this day.

20190110 Serbia refugees 2Tzu Chi volunteers gave out much needed winter clothing to the refugees, sending smiles to their faces. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Europe volunteers)

Year End Blessing Ceremony at the refugee camp

During the aid distribution event, the volunteers respectfully gave out the winter clothing sealed with Tzu Chi’s love to every refugee with a deep bow. Upon receiving the warm winter clothes from Tzu Chi, the refugees rejoiced with cheerful smiles and laughter. They no longer frowned as they walked on the snow and even invited some of the volunteers into their living quarters.

20190110 Serbia refugees 3Refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan pointing at their national flags on the wall, expressing how much they missed their home countries. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Europe volunteers)

There were 44 refugees staying in the room, and they were from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The national flags of the two countries hanging on the wall allowed them to remember and reminisce about their home countries. Although they had fled from their war-torn home towns, they still missed their homes dearly, especially their loved ones.

On this day, they were very happy to receive warm clothes and care from the Tzu Chi volunteers, and quickly put on their new garments. One of the aid recipients even started singing merrily and wishing everyone a happy new year.

A Serbian Tzu Chi volunteer said, "The refugees are provided with breakfast here every day. It saddens me to see many of them without any warm jackets or shoes in such a cold weather. This is not a normal situation that people usually encounter. Now that Tzu Chi has distributed winter clothing to the refugees, I feel really happy for them, and I’m happy myself, too."

Passing the love forward

In the afternoon, the volunteers lined up in two neat rows to welcome the refugees to the Year End Blessing Ceremony, which they had specially organised for the occasion. The event received overwhelming support from the refugees, who responded so enthusiastically that there were not enough seats for everyone.

In the opening speech delivered by a Tzu Chi volunteer from Italy, Pan Ya Qian, the theme for the Tzu Chi Year End Blessing Ceremony this year was introduced: “Nurture a love for lives, be grateful, and respect one another. Foster the spirit of harmony, prevent conflicts, and create blessings together”.

A refugee helped translate Pan’s speech so that the audience could understand its meaning. The volunteer also shared about the spirit of the “Bamboo Bank era”, where Dharma Master Cheng Yen started Tzu Chi from scratch in Taiwan, with daily savings from 30 simple housewives. Then, she encouraged everyone to pass their love forward by dropping their donations into a Bamboo Coin Bank. The “fundraising campaign” received an overwhelming response from the refugees, who contributed what little they could afford to help others in need.

20190110 Serbia refugees 4Refugees responding positively to Tzu Chi’s “fundraising campaign” by dropping their donations into a Bamboo Coin Bank. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Europe volunteers)

Hope and comfort relieve suffering

When the volunteers screened the Tzu Chi Year in Review (2018) video, everyone was captivated by the heart-moving footage and images. Tzu Chi volunteer Zhang Rong Fu highlighted to the audience that they were able to witness people suffering from disasters around the world on the video. He further asked them to ponder if they were suffering more than the disaster victims shown on the video, (so that they would be inspired to count their blessings.)

One of the refugees was hailed from India. In 2015, he flew to Turkey by plane and then made an arduous 6-day journey by foot with a group of 30 people before arriving at Greece. After staying in Greece for 3 years, he left the country, walked for 2 days and reached Serbia. His wish was to reunite with his mother and younger brother in Spain. When he arrived at the Obrenovac refugee centre, he got beaten up and robbed of his cash and mobile phone. He also had cuts on two of his fingers and required 11 stitches. The misery and suffering he endured made him feel lonely and bitter.

After attending the Year End Blessing Ceremony, the Indian refugee read some Tzu Chi’s stories on little cards shared by volunteers and discovered that the NGO has done a lot of good deeds globally. He learned how Tzu Chi volunteers went to disaster areas to provide relief in many parts of the world, and was very impressed and touched by their selfless efforts. He was very grateful for the food and warm clothes given by Tzu Chi at the Obrenovac refugee centre and gave his heartfelt blessings to the organisation.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers distributed Red Packets of Blessings and Wisdom to committee members from Serbia’s Commissariat for Refugees as well as every refugee on behalf of Dharma Master Cheng Yen. The small gifts symbolised well-wishes and blessings from the Dharma masters in Tzu Chi Taiwan.

One of the committee members shared that the Commissariat was very familiar with the humanitarian efforts of Tzu Chi, and that they were very pleased to work with the NGO to hold the Year End Blessing Ceremony, which had brought hope and blessings to everyone at the refugee centre.

20190110 Serbia refugees 5Volunteers leading refugees during a prayer session, to pray for peace and stability. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Europe volunteers)

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