Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reflection on 2014 Balkan Floods

This time last year was the most frantic time of my life. The Balkans were struck with a natural disaster that caught every humanitarian organization, which assists the region, off guard. After spearheading the delivery of a ¼ million lbs of aid with an organization whose average member age is 24, I've garnered a unique insight which I feel is now time to share.

Firstly, under ideal circumstances, a volunteer-based youth organization shouldn't have been forced to tackle the task of collecting and transporting all the material aid from North America (and most of what was gathered in Europe). However the government and old guard of failure-prone Serbian organizations insisted on solely soliciting money. An elementary understanding of the gift in-kind industry grasps that people, and more importantly, corporations are far more likely to donate material necessities than cash. We drew upon this principle to collect over $1.45 mil in goods within a mere three weeks of the floods. They, in my humble opinion, just kind of fucked around.

Issues ensued when our Church-hosted collection centers in Toronto and Chicago were overflowing with material donations to our organization while the funds intended for the transport of the massive quantity of aid were seized by the Church. The 'misunderstanding' plummeted to a particularly messy low when the (now suspended and under investigation) Bishop of Canada banned our organization from collecting aid on Church property in Windsor, London and Kitchener. I had two options; either laugh or cry. I opted for the former and bitterly hilarious jokes circulated in which the notoriously ballin' Bishop would stop our humanitarian airlift by any means even if it meant chasing the plane down the tarmac in his Ferrari with a bazooka. 

Self-sabotaging and irrational antics from older Serbian establishments weren't new to us as they had plagued our progress from day one. Of the more memorable attacks, a hit-piece which appeared on a prominent blog was commissioned by a 'rival' 'humanitarian' organization. The laughable but slanderous fable, which wasn't picked up by a single media outlet in Serbia despite its Earth-shattering accusations, suggested we 'may' have delivered aid to Kosovo Albanians despite video, photo, document, eye-witness, and every other form of evidence showing it was delivered to Kosovo Serbs. The lone source for the smear story was a disgruntled, senile individual who personally defined Serbs who live in Kosovo as 'Albanians' and this was apparently enough to splash 'scandal' across the title instead of 'great work kids!'

Before founding the organization I was in the rap industry, which proved to be benign compared to the gangland which was the Serbian humanitarian game. In 2012, having survived the aforementioned smear nuclear attack, we carved out our place as leaders in this star-crossed niche and reached out to Jelena Ristic (now Djokovic) of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, to collaborate on a project benefiting children. When she called the Serbian branch of UNICEF to check on our reputation, an anonymous source present during the phone call informed us the UNICEF lady painted us as overly-nationalistic bad news. That moment marked a Magnum Opus of irony as I had been accused by high level assholes of being both a traitor and a nationalist within a span of 2 weeks. We continued to work hard to improve our image and help people on an unprecedented scale, and subsequently managed to repair relations and damage in both cases. But it was too late - I had exhausted all the fucks I had to give.

I didn't mention the initial Kosovo delivery was called 'the largest donation ever' to their community by the municipal government or that I had to work seven straight months night and day to get clearance from the sociopath Albanian customs. I want to keep the mood upbeat during this anniversary of Serbs coming together to help the Motherland! The fact we went on to acquire and deliver another 21 containers weighting nearly 340,000 lbs with a value of $4.4 mil in humanitarian and medical aid wasn't enough for a follow up story by the slander-for-hire author or a retraction from the UNICEF lady who was perhaps paranoid we came to drink from the same monetary watering hole.

After nearly five years as head of this masochistic fiasco I've had too many people doubt that anyone would do this for no salary and out of a genuinely philanthropic sense of obligation. At first it made me depressed, but I later realized that them finding this concept so foreign and mind-boggling said more about them than it did about myself. I've received too many emails and messages which have gotten more personalized from people in dire need, asking for something as elemental as a cow so their family could have milk to drink. The time has come for me to pass the torch and let someone else deal with this insanity while I offer guidance from the shadows. The current 'Passport to Education' project will be the last one I'll lead for the foreseeable future.

My advice to all potential humanitarians wishing to take on the Western Balkans; focus on establishing ties with the domestic relief sector in your respective countries and stay away from the quicksand which is the Srpska dijaspora. The renowned economics professor and scholar Branko Milanovic verbalized my experience when he told me, in his opinion the Serbian diaspora is "overly nationalistic, in a rather negative sense, that is willing to make lots of noise but then on the other hand mostly very careful of their own money and careers."