This guest post is written by Elvis Džafić, coordinator of refugee camp volunteers for the Protestant Evangelical Alliance in Croatia.
A few days ago, the camp in Slavonski Brod (a city in the Eastern Croatia, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina) was covered in the first snow, as evidenced by the photograph of the snowman – with arms wide open, the snowman is the camp’s symbol of hospitality, welcoming the refugees to Croatia.
Over half a million people have come through Croatia since the beginning of the crisis. Since the first day, there have been lot of volunteers from different Protestant Churches working inside the camp. There have been 170 volunteers from 22 different countries (USA, Sweden, UK, Germany, Spain, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, etc.) that came to work through the Protestant Evangelical Alliance.
The volunteers are working in three shifts, each shift lasts 8 hours. The work they do varies. The volunteers are participating in all the activities in the camp but the primary focus is always to help the refugees whether it is distribution of humanitarian aid, conversation with the refugees or helping the police and medical personal by translating and helping to communicate with the refugees. If the police can understand and communicate with the refugees, it decreases the tension and the registration process operates without panic.
Now during the winter weather, volunteers are working on distributing “winter packets” (they contain gloves, a scarf, socks, and high energy, high calorie food). They are also distributing winter footwear.
Recently, a truly touching story happened in Slavonski Brod. One of the refugees was traveling apart from his family, because they were waiting in Turkey for a boat to take them to Greece. He received a message through WhatsApp that part of his family, along with 80 other people were in trouble on the Aegean sea because of storms. He related this information to the Croatian police, who immediately notified the officials in Greece. Because of this, the people were rescued.
Not all the stories have a happy ending. Due to the difficult weather conditions, fatigue, and hunger, refugees have died in both Croatia and Greece. The recent tragedy of a baby’s death in Slavonski Brod forced all of us volunteers think about life and death and their meaning. The grief that was in the eyes of the mother and father was indescribable. There are no words.
A lot of volunteers who are working in the refugee camp truly want to make life better for the refugees. Recently, my friend David, who came all the way from USA, found himself in an interesting situation. During a conversation with the refugees(offering a few kind words can bring out smiles on the faces regardless of the suffering the people are going through), he met a man from Syria who showed us his necklace with a cross on it. He told us that he was a Christian and asked us to pray for him. That man left everything he had in Syria and started the journey with his wife and two sons. Tragically, his wife and one of his sons drowned in the sea before making it to Greece. While we were talking, with tears in his eyes, he took out his cross and told us: “Please pray for me and my child. Pray that God will be our strength to make it safely to Germany. I have lost everything in life but not the hope for my son. I want to help my son have a normal life.” The power of faith and commitment to God gave this man the strength to continue the journey after the tragedy in Greece. After we prayed we helped him to change his child’s clothes, and prepared him for the rest of the journey by giving him food, dry socks, and water.
With different projects inside the camp, the most important thing to us is talking to the refugees—to pray for them and show them Christ in our actions.
There are ways of contributing to this effort—through financial support and prayer. We need your help! Right now we are distributing 80 pairs of boots a day and we would like to raise it to 150. We are also distributing numerous ‘winter packets’ daily, and they are about 12 Euros each. For further information on how to help, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org