Little Miracles, Big Moments

Some firsthand accounts on how the projects of Farmers Helping Farmers are changing the lives of those receiving our support.

House-building in Srebrenica

A project carried out by a small group, facilitated by BhB with your support – thank you!

Last year, by a happy chance, Anselm Becker and I came across a fantastic project: house-building in Srebrenica, an initiative of the Salzburg organisation "Bauern helfen Bauern". This
was to be the conclusion of six years of work with our small group; we were all keenly interested, and immediately started to organise various fund-raising campaigns. We soon realised that the existing structures – particularly in Ober St. Veit – were a great advantage. Support came,
on the one hand, from the parish of  Ober St. Veit with the Caritas committee, and on the other,
for the Lenten meal, from clubs and societies as well as private individuals.

At last, on 20 August, we were ready to start, having collected enough money and loaded up
our two 9-seater buses, which were filled to capacity. We had not counted on such immense encouragement and confidence placed in us by parents – so of course, all the greater were
our expectations and our anticipation as we set off for Srebrenica.

By evening, via Budapest and Novi Sad we reached the border between Serbia and Bosnia – a bridge over the river Drina. The atmosphere in my "men's bus" – exuberant so far – quietened down. Shortly afterwards, as we drove through Potocari and saw the Memorial Centre, the bombed and shot-out houses still in ruins, we were deeply moved. (Later, it was very important
for us to return to this incredibly tragic place for a guided tour, which revealed what is not shown
in the history books.) Soon, however, Arthur's warm welcome at our living-quarters and encouraging words from our host Namir revived our spirits. The following morning, we set off for the building site; after more than an hour's journey over hill and dale, through quarries and over dirt roads, Anselm and I were relieved when Namir told us to park the vehicles and walk the
rest of the way. We are very glad to have got through the week without tyre-changes or
serious damage; we hadn't realised until now just how much a motor vehicle can stand!

On the building site, I had never seen such incredible motivation at work, especially from the
kids. We got to know the families, chatting over coffee, then everyone was impatient to get going on the building work. Fantastic!
A schedule was drawn up, duties allotted and work assigned. The relatively uncomplicated construction and the many helping hands enabled us – almost to Namir's astonishment – to complete both houses within a week. Of course, we had time for the occasional short break –
and since there were so many of us, and the hard work caught up on the initial enthusiasm
of the younger generation, towards the end these breaks were ever more welcome.

It was important to use local resources, so we all joined forces with the future residents; this resulted in a true inter-cultural exchange. The wood came from the region; the kids wielded tools particularly for the interior work and for roofing, where Anselm and I also occasionally worked up
a sweat. Through working and taking breaks together, cultural and interpersonal exchange took place automatically – it was just wonderful! We experienced warm-heartedness, selflessness
and openness – in conversation (translated by 17-year-old Hermina, the daughter of the first family we were building for), in playing football with the two sons of the second family, and especially at the symbolic handing-over of keys, where if you only looked into someone's eyes
you could feel the warmth of their gratitude. It was an incredible week, a fantastic conclusion –
and I hope this feeling of brotherly love will be lasting; it's a good feeling – thank you so much!

House building is the best team building

a personal story by Vera Millauer

Instead of investing immense amounts of money for team building activities in various seminar hotels, house building sounds like a far better option and comes along with an additional benefit. The bus travel to Srebrenica was already an exciting experience giving us the possibility to enjoy the beautiful wild and intact countryside which many of us did not expect to see.

The visit to the Srebrenica – Potočari Memorial Center, and watching the documentary showing mothers talking about their murdered children, are experiences which I will never forget. Although many years have passed, the feeling was that time stays still in Srebrenica. As if the tanks have withdrawn only a few weeks ago. Signs of atrocities are still everywhere: destroyed houses, bullet holes on the walls, trenches…The breathtaking nature offers a bit of consolation and invites for hiking, but only until you learn that conditions in most of the fields and forests are life-threatening as mines have been removed mere from the main roads. There is no money for demining, education, anything.

Bauern helfen Bauern (Farmers help Farmers) is an initiative that gives hope to the people of Srebrenica. Without its support many inhabitants of Srebrenica would have lost their courage to move on, lacking the basic preconditions for a normal life like accommodation and food. This is not an overstatement, it is sad reality.

The Association was established in 1992 as a private and independent NGO bringing humanitarian aid including in-kind donations and various aid transports to support self-help in deprived regions of former Yugoslavia and its neighboring countries. Among many initiatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BhB is also building wooden houses for war returnees in Srebrenica. Since 2001 more than 400 houses were built.   

The process of house building was – due to professional help of the new house owner and three competent craftsmen – more pleasure than real work. It was phantastic to be able to build
a house in three days in which an entire family can live normally, with one floor, an oven and terrace. I should also mention that we had the privilege to build “our” house on one of the most amazing spots in the area, with a breathtaking 360 degrees panorama view during great weather conditions.

As soon as our team left, after successfully completing the house building mission, heavy rain showers hit the region and turned out to be THE flood of the century, impairing the already deeply wounded country with full force.

My conclusion from this extraordinary mission:
Helping is not just a good deed but it can really be fun. Experiencing immediate and tremendous impact and seeing the two bright faces of future house residents is priceless. After having seen our photos and hearing our stories, the rest of the ERSTE Foundation team cannot wait to travel to Srebrenica. I perfectly understand them.

Vera Millauer is not only a dedicated employee of ERSTE Foundation but is also privately supporting various social projects in Austria and the CEE region. She has personally donated
the entire amount for this particular house in Srebrenica while the rest of the ERSTE Foundation team helped building it.

A Hilti team builds 2 houses

After a long and rainy journey we arrived at the "Misirlije" inn in Srebrenica at 7:30 p.m. At about
8:00 p.m. we met Namir – a Farmers Helping Farmers member in Bosnia – and enjoyed a very nice dinner with him.

Coming into contact with history

Sunday, May 4, 2014 – after breakfast we drove to the Potočari Memorial Center. Just a few minutes
outside Srebrenica the quiet cemetery and memorial are reminders of the atrocities of 1995. "What will
this be like? What’s waiting for us there? How will we be able to deal with what we see?" Thankfully we
were accompanied by Edith, Landolf, Heinz and Namir. The hall where so many people vainly sought refuge, where mothers gave birth to children, where old and infirm died, where desperate people took their own lives and where everyone sought help. This is where the events of Srebrenica in 1995 were driven home for us. We were deeply moved and shocked. The final resting place of victims gives the survivors certainty regarding the whereabouts of their men, sons and fathers. After visiting the memorial in Potočari we quietly moved on to the two construction sites. Visiting the site should simplify getting started with the work tomorrow.

The "Potocnica" cooperative society - solidarity and woman power

The "forget-me-not" is the emblem of the society. Perhaps it also refers to the destiny of the women of Srebrenica. Women of various ethnicities have joined forces to work towards a common future. They want to provide food for travelers, visitors and workers to generate an income for society members. They are already in negotiations with a nearby factory to provide food to the factory workers. We will keep our fingers crossed and hope that this effort is a success. We are happy that we could make a contribution to
the society by providing kitchen furnishings and offered hearty thanks for the wonderful lunch and the homemade grape marmalade (Pek-Mez) that we each received.

A side trip to see horses

We arrived at the inn wet and cold. Most people wanted to warm up. So it was only the persons accompanying the Srebrenica crew that went to see the horses along with the Farmers Helping Farmers members.

Emin, a man who loves horses, and his wife, Sabrina, live with their four children in the splendor of nature at an altitude of 850 meters. The institution of the “horse man" means a welcome change for the children of Srebrenica, allowing them to get out into nature. Whenever possible he saddles up his horses for the children to ride. The saddle brought by Edith will certainly be used in the future. After visiting the animals, and again soaking wet and surprised by a snow flurry, we enjoyed the warmth of the wood oven in the family’s impressive home. We all hope that our paths will cross again one day!

Working and the return trip home

Monday morning: the rain had stopped and we could hardly believe it. So we got down to work on our construction sites. The daily schedules were always the same: breakfast at the inn; working on the construction site from about 07:45 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.; dinner at the inn or at "Biba", a wonderful smallish restaurant located directly on the Drina River. At the various construction sites we were treated to tasty food, prepared by Hajira and Hasiba, during coffee breaks and at lunch. One construction project was so close to the Drina that it made for a perfect pavilion for lunching directly on the river. To ensure that the Drina was also reachable by foot, and that we didn’t have to eat lunch while standing, Daniel and Martin quickly built the "Graf Landolf Stairs" as well as a table and benches.

Our goal was to hand over the keys to the new homeowners on Thursday evening so that we could begin
the long journey back home early Friday morning.Plans were studied, wood was sorted and scaffolding
was built; the carpenters had to be convinced to use the Hilti tools. There was much to be done.

Polako, hvala, molin, pivo, ivjeli and voda were terms that we quickly learned. But not all of them were suitable for use on the construction site. Otherwise, we made ourselves understood by using gestures and mimicry. When there was a fairly tricky question we simply had to wait for Namir’s help.

Susi and David were clearly the most talented linguists in our group. I’m not certain, but without Susi’s constant cries of "hejde, hejde", which means something akin to "go, go" (or faster, faster) I believe that
the work at construction site 2 would have been finished first! The carpenters, masters of their trade and
artists in handling the chainsaw, either showed us what to do or gave us the necessary space to find our own solutions. Truly Hilti-like. In addition to chainsaws the only things they had were a pocket rule, hammer
and nails, spirit level and a hand saw. This showed us that houses can also be built with few tools and much ingenuity, something that continues to impress us.

We completed the work according to our schedule and handed over the keys on Thursday evening. It was
a very emotional moment. The happiness at having built a home for someone remains strong and gives
all of us a sense of pride and satisfaction. The work was hard but also fun. None of us would have missed the
time we spent together in Srebrenica and we were all happy to have met new people, made new
experiences and to have laughed, cried, ate and celebrated together.

The return trip on Friday took us as far as Wörthersee, where some of the group jumped into the lake
before we went to dinner. Selina, Rebecca and the boys spent the evening in a cocktail bar while the accompanying crew took stock of the trip over a relaxing evening. After a lengthy trip that was full of experiences in what was an unknown and exciting region, we arrived back home in Vorarlberg shortly before 3:00 p.m. Saturday.
The memories, encounters and experiences we all made during the week will never be forgotten!

Looking to the future

It is over a week now since I returned from Srebrenica – but not a day passes without my
remembering this journey, all the people I met and what they had been through, and my
companions during the four days, who showed me just how simple, natural and direct help
can be. And not a day passes without my telling someone about what "Bauern helfen
Bauern" has achieved here, and continues to achieve day by day. 

Whatever I knew in theory about Srebrenica, about the war and the dreadful events of
July 1995 – all this seemed almost nothing in the face of the reality. The encounter with the
people, with their grief – but also with the incredible courage they show in trying to find their
feet again in their native land; their hope and their gratitude for every word, every gesture
of friendship and affection, for every expression of respect and admiration.

Friday, 12 April. In the school playground in Srebrenica, a memorial service for the victims of
the grenade attack of 12 April 1993 has just finished. Many schoolchildren died on that day;
they had been playing football. The families have placed flowers on the fence. The whole
scene is one of mourning. Inside the school, the children of the Superar Choir are rehear-
sing for a concert, serious and concentrated, with great enthusiasm – truly professional.
"Life goes on", says Namir – and he's right, even if for many of these people, looking back
at memories of the past is more meaningful than looking to the future. 

"Bauern helfen Bauern" helps the people in Srebrenica to venture a look into the future
once again. I am proud to have been able to contribute something, and to be part of this
fantastic initiative. My thanks for everything to Doraja, Sophie, Landolf, Susi, Namir and all
the others. This was certainly not my last trip to Srebrenica.

Christine Rhomberg
April 2013


"baptism of fire"

Not staring, but comprehending. Not shaking hands, but embracing. Tears – not of mourning, but of gratitude.
It was part of our lives as we grew up; we had a vague idea, we may have read a bit about it, but not really learned anything. The greatest genocide in the world since World War II – forgotten, dismissed in the history books as a footnote. Now we had the chance to go there ourselves, as helpers, as givers.
BhB – a trip we'd long been waiting for.
BhB – 20 years long.

It all started when we were still very small, but BhB was one of the constant factors in our lives. Constant in the sense that it was always there – no more and no less. We knew where the team travelled to and where they were helping, but just how this help worked, what risks and resources were involved, we had no idea – not in our wildest dreams. Not until we met the people in Srebrenica did the names acquire faces, the people personalities, the stories reality.

Our "baptism of fire" was like a leap – or rather, a push – into cold water. Catering for exhausted walkers in the Peace March, the mourning widows when the coffins arrived, and a huge crowd of sympathisers at the ensuing burials. Emotional days – days of grief, anger, anguish, helplessness.
But most of all, admiration: admiration for all that BhB has achieved, for the loving care and commitment that went into the team's tireless efforts to bring help – not just on one occasion, but over years and with lasting effect. Person-to-person help – as Doraja says: "Kneel when you give – stand erect when you receive." A moving experience, when we visited some of the families there. Although they did not know us at all, our BhB T-shirts earned us an immediate warm welcome. Just imagine – a white T-shirt, a small logo, radiant smiles.
It's amazing that these people can smile at all, when you think what they've been through – it's just inconceivable.
We are deeply grateful for having been allowed the opportunity to experience Srebrenica for ourselves – and to be able to tell the story to others. We now have a better understanding of the work done by BhB, and our admiration for what we once knew only at second hand has increased all the more. Many thanks –
Consti and Sili

Farewell to Sasina

Sasina, for six years we were privileged to visit your people, to accompany
them. Now we know something about their lives; we wept and laughed with
them, and made friends with them.

We learned to stop complaining loudly about things that you, Sasina, would
welcome for your people. We learned to listen, and to imagine what it must be
like to live in very different conditions from those at home. We saw and understood
how our surplus can be the fulfilment of others' small dreams. Through the
gratitude your people showed us, we became more contented within ourselves.
Many happy moments not only remained there, but also came away with us,
stored in our hearts – so we will never forget you and your people. It is hard to
say goodbye. We are not leaving for ever, though; we will return sometime to
visit you, to see how you are faring, to hear you laugh and to talk about old
times over a glass of kava.

We hope that your people will multiply, and that more life will return to you.
We are so grateful to have known you!

Farewell Sasina

A special sense of community

Dear Doraja Eberle,

From Saturday 28 to Tuesday 31 January, I was able to experience the really
special sense of community in the BhB team. Lela and Sakib from our team were
also very impressed.

After the very opaque methods of the society we formerly supported, it is refre-
shing to meet projects that really bring help directly to the people I wanted to
draw attention to. Namir is exactly the right person for the organisation to have
on the spot; he is highly sensitive to the many individual situations and has a
pragmatic approach to seeking the immediate solution.
There were also three kind people who showed clearly their support for the aims
of the organisation  and are always prepared to give of their best.
I would like to thank Landolf, Emo, Hans and Namir for their attentiveness and
their generosity towards the people who feel they are forgotten by the rest of
the world. Over recent days I have often thought of all those whom we visited.
Even more cold and snow!
I will not go into more detail about the various stops we made over that weekend,
since no-one knows these better than you do. For me, it was very important to
return to Srebrenica and to know that our society, "Run for their lives e.V.",
supports the right organisation and genuine projects. In future, I will keep you
informed in detail about all our activities. I have already issued an invitation in
Srebrenica for 26 August, because "Havixbeck geht frühstücken" (see the DVD
in the book) will be shown again on that day, and we are hoping for many
donations. A racing event and a charity race will also be held. I would be delighted
to welcome someone from BhB to contribute information.

The Miracle of Srebrenica

Around 350 Serbian and Bosnian kids of all confessional backgrounds, both healthy and with special needs, were invited to explore and evoke a magical world of circus artistes, clowns and wonder. The FHF project “Zircus of Peace” gave these deprived children an opportunity to be an acrobat, clown or carny for five days. 

During the final show there were heartrending scenes of laughter and tears of joy. The charivari
of 150 kids that so rarely enjoy the sunny side of life was unforgettable for us all - just like the
multi-ethnic pyramid that the Bosnian president and mayors of Bratunac and Srebrenica formed
in the midst of children of all backgrounds.

We cannot undo the past, but maybe we can contribute a little bit to a peaceful future in one of
the most deprived areas in Europe. I am convinced we have brought a couple of blissful hours to these children, their parents and communities.

Valentin Inzko

Courage in the Face of Odds.

Donja and Gornja Velesnia /Croatia. These villages are inhabited by Bosnian/Croatian refugees. Although the cottages seem okay from the outside, the poverty of the people is devastating. The everyday struggle for food, electricity and furniture as well as the raging unemployment leaves many hopeless.

Our companion and new “mayor” of this settlement gives us hope, though. He tries to help everybody no matter which background or confession. He himself was interned in a Serbian concentration camp during the war. The villagers are especially in need of groceries but as well livestock to ensure their long-term survival.

Ferdinand Oetker, Isabell Leibenfrost, Ernst Grössinger and Maria Ötzlinger.

Deliver Joy - Experience Joy.

Petrinja/Kroatien. Glorious summer sunshine accompanied our visit to “our” families. They were overjoyed about all the clothes, shoes, school books and tools that we brought in addition to the food boxes. And we were overjoyed for them. Those families whom we provided with seeds had by then tended beautiful vegetable gardens.

We as well visited twenty new families and handed over our aid parcels, listened to their stories and worries. Soon we are going to return to help, with a focus on encouraging self-help. We will
be able to finance professional education for two teenagers which often means a future and new hope for the whole family. We are so grateful for this weekend and will definitely keep our
promise to further ease the pain and suffering of these families.

Andrea and Uwe Bethge, Adolf Ribbentrop and Sophie Brandis.

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