The State of Business in South Eastern Europe, 4th quarter, 2002


A Progress Report by Anton Tobé,
Vice President of FICE-International

Developments in Former Yugoslavia

The developments in the youth care field in the previous Yugoslav republic we described in our last report have continued in the same direction. There is ever more co-operation between various organisations and official borders are becoming less of a hindrance.
This can, to a large extent, be attributed to the three successful Balkan conferences where directors and managers of youth care institutions from all states that once were part of Yugoslavia met one another, shared training events and workshops, and agreed upon co-operation.

Friendship Camp

Alongside this conference, a so-called "Freundschaftscamp" (Friendship Camp) was arranged to enable youngsters living in children's homes to share their experiences and to talk to the grown-ups about their expectations. De Oude Beuk ("The Old Beech", a charitable foundation in the Netherlands), financially backed this youth meeting in 2002 by a grant of € 5,000. Following several unsuccessful trials in past years we shall try again to get the financial support of the EC in order to safeguard the continuity of these activities.

In 2001, four countries established FICE South-eastern Europe, which has in the meantime become accepted as a full member of FICE International. At this moment our main concern is to extend our network. Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland (Dutch Children's Benefit Stamps Fund) have contributed a grant toward this end (€ 13,500 for 2002 and 2003). The main problem is the vast distances and, therefore, substantial travel expenses. The Board of FICE South-eastern Europe are very enthusiastic and are trying to be as active as possible, showing considerable creative effort in doing as much as possible with limited means.

Hairdressing in Novi Sad

At the end of November, the hairdressers at Novi Sad (Serbia) mentioned in our last report has been opened. The opening ceremony was a marvellous and well-organised event. Even regional news television was present. The chairman of FICE South-eastern Europe had to make a ten-hour bus trip in order to witness this event!

The barbershop offers 4 female hairdresser's apprentices the opportunity to work under professional supervision. They are aged 18 and therefore have to leave the children's home. Since they have no family left, they must fend for themselves, which is very hard in this country with an excessive number of unemployed. Thanks to this hairdressing project these young ladies may possibly be able to open their own businesses in the future. In order to purchase the premises, De Oude Beuk have provided a loan without interest, amounting to € 30,000. Everything has been drawn up in a legally sound contract. The first evaluation will take place in six months' time, when it will be seen whether the project can be extended or must be adjusted.

Services for Children in Belgrade

Meanwhile there are other projects about to start in the region. In Belgrade I have been kept fully informed about youth care in this city. Over the last three years, I have found a number of reliable contacts. They are usually Board members of FICE. They have given me a good picture of the situation.

In Belgrade there is one large institution for childcare, which houses some 700 children at six children's homes. At one of these, the state of the construction in several of the children's quarters is unsafe. Although intervention in this field might seem out of our way, I feel that in view of the progress to be made in the content support we give to this home, some necessary repairs/ reconstructions are warranted. Presently a contact, initiated by myself, between this children's home and an institution for slightly mentally disabled youths at Oldenzaal will be set up.

Belgrade Buddies

At Belgrade I also met the enthusiastic professor Ivan Vidanovic, who has been working for the underprivileged children of Yugoslavia. He is a champion of the so-called Big Brother Big Sister programme, which in the Netherlands has been called a buddy or fellows project. He has gained some fine results with this work. The method boils down to assigning an older companion/ buddy to a child, in order to help him or her to get acquainted with society, build a social network, pay attention, and trust in people. For more details please go to www.bbbsi.org

This is a volunteer project, carried out by students under professional supervision. The target group at Belgrade consists of 60 so-called Roma children who are staying in children's homes, and are discriminated against or not assimilated because of their ethnic background. Like the professor, who is a kingpin of youth care, in particular in Serbia, I am very enthusiastic about this proposal, and I feel it is sound to support this project with financial aid, alongside with other partners. This will be thoroughly evaluated in December, 2003.

Babies Need Stimulation

Another difficult issue is the situation of babies that have been given up, rejected or must be cared for due to other circumstances. I have visited a centre where 300(!) babies and toddlers are being cared for. Although they are in general well looked after, the children spend their days basically doing nothing and the outlook is not good. There is insufficient knowledge of how to enlist and guide foster families.

I will contact an NGO named IFCO, a sister organisation of FICE active in the field of care for foster children, to determine the possibilities for a joint training project. At Novi Sad there is an initiative to set up a temporary care system for babies and toddlers. In the longer term it can be a pool from which the babies can be allocated to families. The premises have already been secured, but support to fit them out properly is still needed.

Employment Possibilities for Young People

We have already observed that unemployment is a major problem among youths in South-eastern Europe. Many talented youngsters leave the region to try their luck in the west. The manager of a youth care institution in Belgrade would like to start up an internet café for young people which can be run by some computer wizards now in his institution. Following some training and guidance this could provide excellent working experience with opportunities for jobs in the ICT field.

Appliances could be lent out by De Oude Beuk. I have already discussed these matters with Wim Wijting and he asked me some technical questions that I put to the people taking the initiative. In the spring of 2003 we would like to visit the spot to work out these matters.

We are co-operating with a Swiss organisation to set up an employment scheme for young people living at an institution in Bihac (Bosnia). They want to found a sort of education and conference centre which (the same applies here) is run by the youths themselves. It is located at an old large manor which first has to be overhauled (by the youngsters themselves) and where about 15 young people could live and work to prepare themselves for jobs in the region. Several employers in the region participate in this project. The plan will be discussed in more detail in March.

Technical Education

We have worked together with FERM, a company from Genemuiden who are electrical power tool dealers, to provide some institutions in Yugoslavia with the tools necessary for the technical education of youngsters. FERM has taken care of shippings of materials to a Polytechnic school at Novi Sad, and to a technical education centre linked to an institution for physically and mentally disabled young people at Podgorica in Montenegro. It is important to FERM that staff employed by De Oude Beuk are seeing to it in person that the tools reach their destination in good order.

Exchanges and Twinning between the Netherlands and Bulgaria

Over recent months, important progress has been made in exchange projects. This concerns Dutch institutions which have entered into twinning arrangements with institutions in South-eastern Europe. In June, 2002, managers of youth care institutions visited Bulgaria. FICE Bulgaria conducted a tour of Bulgarian children's homes including those of Russe and Isperih, in the northeast.

The Bulgarians paid us a return visit in November, when they were shown round in Zwolle, Kampen and Hellendoorn. New appointments were made, and in the future more exchanges with a content emphasis will take place. FICE NL and FICE BUL will keep an eye on it from a distance. Experience has taught us that this type of contact must be built step by step in order to prevent disillusionment. We are trying to attract financial backing from external sources, e.g. the Foreign Office (Matra).

Other Links

In Yugoslavia there is much interest in co-operation as well. In March an institution from Oldenzaal will visit a children's home at Belgrade with a view to entering into a long-term partnership. The preparatory work done for this sort of project is important. We must have support and enthusiasm from the Dutch institution and be assured of the match between the partners to be (target group, personality, etc.). In Amsterdam one primary school has announced they would like to set up a friendly relationship with a primary school in South-eastern Europe. The school selected for this, through mediation by liaison persons, is a school at Tuzla, in Bosnia. This school is attended by many refugee children from Srebrenica. Before starting up the twinning, we shall first visit this school.

As we have observed already, it is important to have liaison persons/ reliable contacts on the spot. For me the FICE network is instrumental in this. One of the factors enabling us to set up a FICE support point in Bulgaria was the financial backing by De Oude Beuk. At this moment the youth care network is developing well.

Support for New FICE Members

In other candidate countries the opportunity given to Bulgaria is at times viewed with some jealousy. It may be possible for FICE-Inter to set up a fund to offer financial backing for new members/ support points on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, India has applied with a scheme to set up a youth care network in the surrounding countries in Asia, and I feel that this should be taken seriously. At the same time we have started a process, in the Bulgarian case, to share our views with the Government about continuing support from the Foreign Office.

Hungary

Finally, a word on Hungary. In this country people are busy setting up small businesses where children from institutions take a major part. Following a German and, I think, also Dutch example, a shop is being founded where girls will repair clothes and where boys can mend furniture. We will presently report in more detail.

In Conclusion

This is a somewhat lengthy report about the 4th quarter, but at the same time it is a start-up report as well. The short term emphasis, in my opinion - and I feel the same applies to De Oude Beuk - is on :

- stimulating the employment of underprivileged children,
- handling the baby and toddler issue,
- promoting a youth care network and
- stimulating bilateral exchange projects between the Netherlands and South-eastern Europe.

In a nutshell, we have much work to do.

It is therefore a good development that the Board of the Vereniging Kinderzorg, my employer, has made it possible for me to invest more time in foreign activities, effective from January 1, 2003. So to speak, I am being lent to FICE, De Oude Beuk, etc. for 50% of my working hours under the heading of 'further development of a foreign policy' supported by Vereniging Kinderzorg of Zwolle, on a joint basis with a sister Christian organisation, Vereniging Jeugdzorg PCK of Maarsbergen. In this way I can organise the work and use the opportunities and means of all organisations mentioned, for the benefit of underprivileged children in South-eastern Europe. "Let's do it!"

Zuidwolde, January 10, 2003