I am here in Bosnia to “build capacity.” Today, I tried to accomplish that by pulling weeds out of large cement planters along the Yala River (a generous classification) in Tuzla.
The Yala River is more of a glorified drainage ditch, and it often takes on the sulfurous odor of Tuzla – a city which is sinking because of all the salt mining that has occurred under the town. The banks along the part of the river that is in town are lined with flower boxes that have long since been overrun by weeds. Friends of Bosnia (FoB), a Boston-based advocacy NGO, is implementing a World Bank-funded project to mobilize volunteers to beautify parts of Tuzla, including the banks of the river. The project seeks to synergize the resources of the profit, not for profit, and public sectors. Volunteers from NGOs donate their time to the city; the city allows businesses to advertise on city property during volunteer campaigns; and businesses donate money to purchase needed equipment for the volunteers’ NGOs.
Lacking a working cash register, laminating machine, and, because of a recent July hailstorm, a sign, Bosfam recently joined the project. Many Bosfam members are not in a position to donate their time to the FoB project, as they are physically exhausted or preparing for the upcoming anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. So, the son of Bosfam’s Director, Jimmy, organized some of his peers to work on behalf of Bosfam.
A group of gangly teenage boy showed up at the flower boxes this morning, where they worked with me, another Bosfam volunteer, and a group of students with disabilities. We dug into the soil, pulling out years of weeds and tossing them into the river. Part of the aim of the project is to strengthen the voluntary sector here in Bosnia. The notion of volunteerism is quite foreign to most people, and getting them to willingly sweat without pay is difficult. FoB staff spent much of the morning pushing people to work, telling them that their labor would benefit their organizations as well as the city, and that everyone should either work together or rest together.
The level of working intensity never reached the level FoB wanted, but given the circumstances, was pretty consistent. Approximately 15 of us worked for 4 hours, which means that we earned enough for a cash register and a bit more. The student disabilities group raised funds for computers and other equipment for their organization. The morning of work probably did not mean the difference in survival for any NGOs, but did mean that NGOs earned some much needed equipment. Perhaps some of the workers began to think that sweating for free isn’t so bad either.
Posted By Marta Schaaf
Posted Jul 7th, 2003