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Letter from Rosemary Menzies in Bosnia - re Kosovo

15 Jun 1999 - Rosemary Menzies

I am back again in Bosnia and have been based in Sarajevo throughout the current crisis in Kosovo. During this time, my family has sent me almost every news report on Kosovo from New Zealand newspapers. The coverage has certainly been full, in terms of both report and opinion.

To be here is to live with the human reality inside those reports. My words on this page will simply be more words to you who read them, unless somehow we can each of us bring them to life within our hearts, so that even in a small way and from a distance, we help to alleviate the suffering that we now all know is being inflicted on innocent fellow human beings.

The 'war' in Bosnia is not really over, despite the fact that fighting has stopped. Countless thousands can still not return to their towns or homes; only a small percentage of Bosnians have jobs; so many people have no money nor pensions. And there continue to be a devastating number of deaths from war-related illnesses. But what is probably the cause of the increasing depression in so many lives is the loss of hope both for the present and for the future. With the signing of the Dayton Accord at the end of 1995, people had real hope for the future, and this hope was observable as an energy despite the exhaustion of the war years. Now, that hope has gone, as people here see Bosnia effectively divided, and as they watch a picture emerging of those in high places, both within and outside their country, without the will or the intention of making the human dimension a priority. The work of humanitarian organisations and of individuals everywhere is essential.

Into this unresolved and depressed situation, new refugees from Kosovo are flooding in their tens of thousands. Some find distant relatives in the suburbs of Sarajevo or in small towns, but the strain of taking in extra people, on families already unable to cope with their own lack of resources, is overwhelming. I have visited places where 25 people were living crowded together in one small shed. In and around Sarajervo there are several transit centres and camps for those with nowhere to go. The conditions are generally appalling, and neither I, nor you who are reading this, can know how we would cope - physically, psychologically or emotionally - if circumstances over which we had no control had put us in a similar position.

I have collected clothes, toilet articles and some money from friends here in Sarajevo who have jobs and were able to give, and also from staff members at the World Bank. I have taken these items to one particular camp where hundreds of men, women and children live crowded together in an old building that had been a kindergarten before it was damaged in the 'war'. One woman in this camp had just given birth to a baby, and both were unwell. The baby was wrapped in a blanket lying in a little box. On the bunk above, an old couple were sitting, just waiting. They have been sitting there for weeks, waiting. They will go on waiting. There were over 50 bunks in this room, all stacked close together, and because of my presence there, children crowded in to see what was happening. There is nothing for them to do. They are all just waiting. They own nothing. They have no money, no freedom - just terrible recent memories and experiences, a vast stretch of time ahead and nowhere to go.

My contribution was so welcome and so inadequate. The money bought coffee for a proportion of those in the camp. What is of concern is that the diet is so poor, completely lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables. For children, this means an almost certain future of illnesses, as we are now seeing in children in Sarajevo who lived through the siege on poor diets. I returned to this camp the following day with 80 kgs of fruit that a friend and I had bought in bulk at the market as a personal donation. But once is no more than a gesture.

I would like to continue to help at this one camp, especially the children, by taking regular supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables To do this I need help - I need donations of money. I am aware that there have been projects set up in NZ for this Kosovo crisis. But from here in Bosnia, I offer this chance for you to help directly at this particular refugee camp, in the way that I have described.

Your donation will be sent directly to me here in Sarajevo, and I shall use it immediately, and in full, to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for these children. It would be a wonderful gift.

Donations can be sent to: The Trust Fund For Bosnia, C/- The Peace Foundation, PO Box 4110, (29 Princes St) Auckland NZ. tel 09-373-2379.

Rosemary Menzies
Sarajevo, Bosnia
25th May, 1999

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