Anton Tobe, Vice-President, FICE-International, writes :
in South-Eastern Europe
(August 31, 2003 : sequel to report dated January, 2003)
We are getting an ever more detailed view of the state of matters in the youth care field in the countries previously included in the Yugoslav Republic. Thanks to a number of highly motivated FICE members in countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia & Montenegro and Macedonia we were able to visit remote regions and thereby gained a good understanding of the problems that may widely vary between one region and another.
In some major cities in Serbia, various projects were started up and, in a single case, already finished. In our previous report the opening of the barbers' shop at Novi Sad was announced. As of now, this shop has been operating for over six months, and with a measure of success: three girls about to leave youth care institution are apprenticing here and are being educated in the barber trade under supervision of a professional barber. This shop already makes a little profit and there are plans for an extension including a solarium part. In the autumn of 2003 a new set of girls will be starting their training. Should the profit keep rising we will invest this in another employment project. The Novi Sad Social Centre has by now taken over this project. In November, 2003 (i.e., after one year) there will be an evaluation with all concerned parties attending. De Oude Beuk Foundation has made an investment (a loan of euro 30,000).
The Novi Sad Social Centre already mentioned hopes to open a `safe house' presently (October/ November). This will be a short-term stay house for children in emergency situations who will be referred further or assigned back home or to a foster family as soon as this becomes possible. In itself, this is a significant change in a country where most children removed from their families remain inmates of institutions up to their 18th birthday.
De Oude Beuk has made a one-off contribution to the acquisition of the inventory for this small-scale safe house to the amount of euro 18,000. The regional authorities have paid for the necessary structural alterations. During the planning phase we were extensively consulted and had our say as well. After it opens, the safe house must fend for itself. The furniture it was presented with was made at a school where youngsters train to be cabinet makers; the school was presented with machinery by a machinery and tools dealer at Genemuiden six months ago.
Finally we visited a rather large primary school at Novi Sad, including 1,800 pupils. Many children attending this school suffer trouble at home. They are mainly gypsy children and refugees from Kosovo who are backward due to lack of education. We have told Aad Vroon to take action in the matter of the huge lack of educational tools and the need for co-operation with a Dutch school. Possibly this school could benefit from a European programme.
We, (i.e. the board of managers and several of our staff at De Eik) visited this home where the staff badly need training in skills in handling slightly mentally disabled children. At the end of September we expect a return visit and we shall receive a delegation at Oldenzaal where we shall make further arrangement for co-operation. FICE-nl is `remote supervisor'. At the same children's home we supported an overhaul of eight therapy and creativity classrooms made possible by funds from De Oude Beuk (to an amount of euro 9,000). These classrooms were also important for Professor Vidanovic' Big Brother Big Sister project, since some 60 of the children at the institution have student buddies who let them practise their creative skills or take them out to go downtown to improve their social integration.
To celebrate the end of the season, delegates from De Oude Beuk took all the children and their buddies for a boat trip on the Danube in June. This was a major event and even made the National Television News broadcast. (BBBS project, euro 8,800).
Moreover, we are negotiating with the Ministry at Belgrade about an adaptation of the law that will enable further development of foster care in Serbia & Montenegro. The Secretary has asked FICE-nl to implement the so-called Pride programme in Serbia. This has to do with training of staff and future foster parents. As we already mentioned in our last report, there is an Infant Home in Belgrade that cares for some 300 babies and infants who are staying there without any future prospects. The local people agree with us that these babies have to be assigned to foster families as soon as possible, in particular because the home is short of staff to attend to these very young children adequately. This means no stimulation of their activity, leading to a standstill in their education.
At the end of October we have arranged a workshop in co-operation with FICE South-Eastern Europe where all those concerned and interested will be invited. Under the supervision of Rob van Pagée, an employee of the Op Kleine Schaal (Small Scale Foundation) we will see how the programme can best be tailored to meet the situation in Serbia. OKS has already done similar programmes in Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We have applied for a grant with the Foreign Office, with a request to include it in the Matra (Transformation of Society) Programme.
We also have plans for an employment project at Belgrade, viz., an Internet Café that will be run by youths who at the same time gain some knowledge end experience of IT. In the coming months we will visit several other regions like Pancevo and Bela Crka in the east.
At Uzice, central Serbia, we held the 4th
South-Eastern Europe Dialogue. Following Balaton, Bihac (in Bosnia)
and Kotor (Montenegro) we held this fourth meeting where delegates
from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and of course
the hosting country, Serbia, attended. The theme was `social and employment
integration for youths leaving their residential institutions'. During
the conference the institutions presented their projects that were
testimony to their inventive and creative designers. Again, we met
the young people staying at the care institutions who are about to
make their own way. They stayed at a `friendship camp' nearby. We
are trying to prepare them for work and to help them fend for themselves.
The youth unemployment figures in this region are horrible.
That is saying a lot in a country where the outlook for the future seems bleak. The remnants of the war are still clearly visible. Many villages have been razed to the ground and the damage is huge. Besides, the country is still deeply divided, resulting in a deplorable economy. In some individual cases we have been able to support talented youngsters by paying for their extended education at a university or polytechnic. The Zwolle Rotary Club donated euro 1,000 to this end.
In the Tuzla region we visited a refugee
camp on several occasions. Some 1,600 refugees, most of them from
Srebrenica, have been staying here for 8 years. The conditions at
the site are appalling and the conditions are getting even worse since
the local Government has ordered part of the people living there back
home. They, however, do not even think of returning to a home where
they have lost their families and everything they had. At this moment
the local Government is shutting down electricity and water mains
and is revoking even the very meagre benefit that the people here
used to receive. Talking about Human Rights…
In Bulgaria, ever more projects are taking shape, supervised by a very active branch of FICE supported by professional staff. Recently we visited the Education and Social Care ministries, along with the local FICE Board, in order to point at the positive developments and to try to ensure funds are made available to keep our effort up in the future. Two Bulgarian institutions have entered into co-operation with Dutch institutions, viz., the De Reeve with the Russe institution and De Reggeberg with the Isperih institution.
This concludes our synopsis of matters as they stand now. As we have mentioned before, we are directed at youths of over 16 with a combination of `care and business' as the key words. Besides we take an interest in developing the care given at the institutions where large numbers of babies and very young children are staying. Finally we at FICE are trying to extend the youth care network and to stimulate bilateral contacts between institutions in south-eastern Europe and those in the Netherlands.
September 1, 2003, Anton Tobé.