THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: BEOGRAD BLUES

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the USA on January 19, and is now in Belgrade, Serbia, helping with refugee assistance.)

First off, I’d like to thank the folks who responded to last month’s survey request, regarding how well we as a nation are fulfilling the goals set forth by the Founders in the Preamble to the Constitution. I could use a few more responses, though. Please stop by https://www.surveymonkey.de/r/MCKVFVM and let me know what you think. (So far, the results are not exactly encouraging…)

Now then:

Through a very useful website called www.greecevol.info, I found out about a fairly new NGO called BelgrAID, based in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade (also called Beograd, depending on your language). These folks cook nutritious daily meals for a group of refugees from various countries, about 800-1000 young men who are housed in a former Yugoslav army base in the nearby city of Obrenovac. They also provide help to other vulnerable communities here in Belgrade, and transport personal care supplies to various camps across Serbia.

They. Are. Amazing.

I find myself among an ever-changing gaggle of a couple of dozen competent, energetic, idealistic, practical, and motivated young people, from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, America, and other countries. (A group of awesome Portuguese Girl Scouts came through recently from Lisbon.) German, Spanish, English, Italian, and other tongues fill the air. There are also a handful of neighborhood dogs that we have adopted – or rather who have adopted us – and who provide amusement and comfort that more than makes up for the times they eat our socks.

Some of these folks are long-term, dedicated volunteers. Others are students or workers taking some time during their summer holidays to be of service. Others are travelers and adventurers, combining their wanderlusts with a desire to make a difference.

Why are they here?

I spent an afternoon talking to a young woman named Carolina, from the Bay Area of California.  She had been on vacation in Greece, and fell into a conversation with an older woman who had been spending time in the Greek Islands dealing with the huge influx of refugees last fall.

“Oh,” she remembered thinking: “I have to do that.”

Clear. Obvious. No-brainer.

They are here because there is work to be done, and human needs to be filled. Pure and simple.

So I have met some of these men, these Farsi and Benghalis and Pashtuns, and shared some meals and conversations with them. They are tanners and aircraft mechanics, would-be accountants and experienced managers. They tear up when they hear emotional pop songs from their homelands. They meet, talk, and play soccer and basketball these young, free, strong Western women, but they always act as impeccable gentlemen towards them, even though you can see the longing and loneliness in their eyes.

In a few days, I’ll get to go meet some refugee kids in one of the other camps, perform for them, and maybe introduce some of them to the old-fashioned tin can stilts I’ve been making in my spare time. If you’d like to know more about supporting BelgrAID, or my work here in particular, drop me a note at skip.mendler@gmail.com.  Thanks.

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