Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Humanitarian aid

To people who have not experienced it, the term "humanitarian aid" probably brings thoughts of hope. For me, those years in war left a bad taste in my mouth when thinking of humanitarian aid.

The most common items we have received through the regular humanitarian aid were flour, beans, rice, pasta (often with no eggs), lentils or peas, "kabash" soap - huge yellow smelly brick. Even now thinking back on these, I get that sense again of being disgusted with rice and beans. They were so often in our diet, that for years after the war I couldn't think of eating them again. Mind you that we didn't have spices or sauces to go with these, so plain boiled food was very tasteless. Fortunately we found few other sources for more nutritious food.

The Caritas humanitarian aid was not regular. They mainly distributed donations to those registered in a Catholic parish, and since there were not many of those in the city, the convoys were often routed to other, less dangerous territories. But we really looked forward to those distributions. They had items that I get excited thinking about even now. Things like jams, chocolate, cookies, sauces, canned meat, vegetable shortening, vitamins, cocoa, soups, milk powder, egg powder, instant mashed potatoes... All of these were rare, and in very small quantities, but for us at that time those were so precious and something we talked about for days.
Through Caritas we received help in more than just food. One or two times they have even distributed chopped wood, a cubic meter per household!

We were called, maybe a dozen times, for clothing and shoes distribution in Caritas. Many times someone from the church would first call those registered members to pick through the available items before opening it up to everyone in the community. Those were mainly second-hand items, with or without holes, barely clean, stuffed in huge boxes. As much as we needed clothing, especially my brother who was growing fast those years, I didn't enjoy being part of the crowd who elbowed through the piles of clothes, grabbing more than they can carry. I actually still have a pair of boots and have just a few months ago given away the last clothing item I got through them.

Some ten years after the war, the church choir I was in was replacing their old choir robes. Since they didn't know where to get rid of them, I asked if we could send it back to my choir in Sarajevo. Everyone was supposed to wash and fold their two layered robes and put them in boxes we prepared. When after the rehearsal I saw those boxes just piled up with tossed fabric, some still covered with B.O., it reminded me of the boxes of cloths we went through in Caritas. I stayed and re-folded every single robe, in an effort to make the gift more presentable to those opening it.

Handful of times through Caritas, the "children", the term that was used loosely, have also gotten packages that were supposed to be from other children in other parts of the world. I think this might have been part of "Christmas boxes" operation. It was an exciting event because the boxes were all nicely wrapped, it was a present, and not just a rationed distribution. The packages were all the same size, so we would just pick one, having no idea what was in them. Most of the boxes had a message from the child that put it together, but these were the "real" children, sometimes pre-school age, so messages only had a few words. The items were also interesting. One time I got a box that had a card, couple of gloves of garlic and one slipper!

Merhamet (Muslim) and Dobrotvor (Serb) organizations were also distributing packages to those who had background eligibility to receive aid from them, which my family had both, but we only received help from these organizations a handful of times.

No comments:

Post a Comment