Transcript of the podcast:
In Široki Brijeg, I met Nives, Vice-President of the Humanitarian Association “Fra Mladen Hrkać”. It is an organisation established to assist people with health problems from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia coming to Zagreb for treatment.
What the Association “Fra Mladen Hrkać” offers to families of patients and patients themselves is some sort of substitute for what they have at home in their families. It offers home, accommodation, transportation, nutrition, support, psychological or any other support. They really do fantastic stuff for which they are rewarded with some very important awards, globally. I was literally lost for word after Nives had told me about how they work, how they get donations, how many small donors are actually involved in the whole story and how many people have gone through their accommodation capacities and used the services of their Association, how thankful they are and that they return to them and the Association continues to help them. So, I won’t say anything else. I recommend you listen to Nives. Maybe a bit longer story but I really couldn’t leave out a single sentence because everything seems very important to me, not only when it comes to the work of the Association “Fra Mladen Hrkać”, but also as an inspiration to all those who do similar jobs and a kind of lesson how things can work and how it’s possible to make great results.
I’m sure that after listening to this story, if nothing else, you’ll want to help them by joining that donor network, so that they will continue to help and do such great things.
It was long time ago in 2012, I’m joking; it was much before that. Sometime in the second half of 2011, a team gathered, people I knew and friends from different parts of my life. In an informal discussion, we talked about huge problems faced by those e coming from BiH, when it comes to treatment and medical problems when they are referred from these areas to Zagreb and all the problems they face – organisational, financial, and also a part concerning psychological support.
My colleague Ivan had a child with developmental difficulties, today he is one very healthy child who has pushed all limits. He’s been through a lot with his personal experience and he has encountered these problems and met a lot of people like this. And all of us others there, in some way through our lives did exactly that – helped through some segments, volunteered and got engaged. I spent some time volunteering in the African orphanage in Kenya, so we all had that segment in us.
After several informal talks, the Humanitarian Association “Fra Mladen Hrkać” was established on 16 June 2012, aimed to help people with medical problems coming from BiH for treatment in Zagreb. In fact, we have somehow started with the idea of going first to help those from Široki Brijeg because all of us founders were either native or had roots and our families in Široki Brijeg.
Just to note, the founders are my colleague Ivan Soldo, president of the Association, my colleague General Zlatan Mijo Jelić, the chair of the Supervisory Board and myself as the vice-president of the Association.
We started first with Široki Brijeg just to see how it will work, to make some sample, to see how it will develop from the first step onwards. But in a very short period of time, it spread throughout the whole of Herzegovina and soon all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and of course throughout the years we went to cover the whole of Croatia.
The initial scepticism and distrust was overcome very quickly.
When we started we were really one of many and there was a lot of scepticism, because here in the Republic of Croatia alone you have about 50,000 civic associations. There was a lot of mistrust and negativism in the sense of “here’s yet another one, money laundering”, as it goes usually when it comes to an association. But we really managed in a very short period of time to show who we are, and what we are…
We’ve started with one accommodation given by our friend Mario Tokić. The whole concept was that we and our people had cleaned and prepared it, brought things that were missing from home, made lunches, etc. so that these people would really experience this homey atmosphere.
Our goal from the beginning was for people when they walk through the door of this apartment to feel like home. So it doesn’t feel like orphanage, shelter, roadhouse, and that it is not like “here’s the key”, but to really get an apartment and us and our support to really get a family up there which they can count on in their hard times, and in a very short time it became truly recognised.
Four accommodation units today and a step away from the construction of their own home “Fra Mladen Hrkać”.
I have to admit here because we’re now celebrating the fifth anniversary, that for us, everything happened at a lightning speed since from our first accommodation in June 2012 to this day, we’re having this talk on 24 June, only five years after, where we are practically closing the stage for a phase in the project “Fra Mladen Hrkać” where we’re building our own accommodation facility.
In these five years we have come to four accommodation units, located near the most important medical institutions in Zagreb.
We provide for absolutely every segment, from food, transportation, hygiene supplies, home appliances, psychological, spiritual assistance. Each Tuesday, young ones in formation for priesthood come to pray, every night the Rosary is prayed. At any time, if someone needs to talk – we’ll find someone to talk.
Special assistance to people who are staying at the association unaccompanied, especially if they are children
We had many where none of the family members could come. So you sit on a bus, take a ticket and come for brain tumour surgery or to chemotherapy, for example a child of 14 years of age.We had a girl from Ljubuški who was up there alone for two months because her parents couldn’t be with her. We were the ones who went with her every day to draw, write, play, take her clothes to be washed, buy her whatever she needs. I think that some things in this world have no price that can make up for it and that you put a smile every day to that child’s face and she known every day someone will comes to ask “how are you”.
Now in these accommodation capacities we can accommodate up to 40 people at the same time and these accommodation capacities are fully equipped. However, as I said, they are close to the most important medical institutions, but they are dislocated. So you have residential areas that are close – one is near the Rebro Hospital, the other is near the Children’s Hospital in the Klaićeva Street, the third is near the Holy Spirit Hospital. But this has already become a problem for us in terms of quality of assistance. Because by the time you visit all these apartments, especially in some parts of the day when it’s terrible traffic in Zagreb, somehow this quality of assistance is affected, so the only logical solution for us is to build our own accommodation facility.
At the end of last year, we got an approval for construction from the Mayor Milan Bandić, on a city land plot in Dubrava neighbourhood, right next to the Franciscan monastery. This location was the only one that was interesting to us and the only one we really wanted. First, it’s because of the fact that’s close to the Franciscan monastery in Dubrava that we are associated with. Just to note, we are with the Herzegovina Franciscan Province and we’re very closely related from the very beginning. They are located in all of our representative bodies of the association. And secondly, in our statute, from the day one, we noted that all the assets acquired by the Association will remain as property of the Herzegovina Franciscan Province.
Secondly, it is close to all of these major medical centres – the Merkur and the Rebro and the Dubrava hospitals, with excellent transportation links, by tram, 2 minutes by car wherever you need to be. In this accommodation facility we can accommodate up to 220 at once.
Comprehensive and free care regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity
What we are doing is unique for several reasons and two are the main reasons. One is that we provide comprehensive care, we absolutely cover every segment and the other thing is that this assistance is completely free of charge. And for me, the more important thing is that we help absolutely every individual regardless of gender, age, nationality, religion, and type of illness.
We had a lot of Muslim beneficiaries, or of Orthodox religion, not a single unpleasant situation. And what I always like to point out is, more or less every one of them who was there also attended every night the Rosary prayer, out of respect for the Association and the assistance they provide. And I think honestly, and at least so they said, in a way, this is socialising for them, it is meditation in their case and that part when they are humble, in prayers, of course, when they turn to whoever they believe in and what they want, it helped them too, and that was wonderful for me to see, to see different ethnicities and religions praying.
They either pray or don’t, it doesn’t matter, maybe they are not praying at that moment but are there together, and you know that Alija will tomorrow help Ljilja and Marica and that Alen Kurić will help one and the other and the third one and that there are no differences.
Small donors and their association are the main advantage of the Association
Our greatest strength is this model to help with a permanent payment order. We have somewhere around 4,000 people who help by providing some symbolic amounts from their monthly income. But that’s only one of the ways. There you have people who have been in the Association and who will send every month, two, three pots of potatoes, a bag of cabbage, a cherry dessert and that’s invaluable, so that you know that in some distant Zagreb all these people are eating the best possible products, top products, to have a better life than at home, and to each other, because this whole story is made of a series of thousands of tiny acts.
We are here in some ways the ones who run it and push it and hold it, but without … our network is already over 150,000 donors from all over the world.
So someone is going to write something about us, someone will recommend us, this one will give a penny, the other one will put a charity box in their store … these are things that aren’t a burden to anyone. We’ll have a hairdresser in Zagreb who’ll say to bring a mother who didn’t leave the side of her child for six months – “Bring her to me, I’ll dye her hair and give her a haircut”. We brought a famous hairdresser who does hair for Nina, Severina, for a girl who had a very long hair, had a brain tumour surgery, so when he came to the hospital to give her haircut, for her it was as if was I don’t know who.
We had a girl by the name of Nina, suffering from leukaemia. She was six and adored Hola. So we called Jola to see if he’d surprise her in our living space. Of course Jole came, and she was delirious.
Major and significant awards the association has already received
We’ve done a lot. In these five years, we’ve received perhaps the most valuable acknowledgments that we could get. We have won the European Parliament’s European Citizen Award for 2016 as the best association in Croatia; we have been awarded the Didak award from the Franciscan Province of Herzegovina for outstanding contributions in humanitarian actions, the Večernjak’s seal in the category of humanity, really some acknowledgment which…
And these are certainly some of the things that have pushed us in making this dream come true, especially in this part of the project “Home of Fra Mladen Hrkać”.
Great support from diaspora
We’ve great deal of support from the diaspora; we’re setting up a foundation in Germany, that’s soon over. We have signed a contract with an American association. In all the other cities in Europe, Australia, America, we have already had different events and donor evenings.
In general, we are the only association in this area that provides comprehensive care for people with disabilities and poor mobility since we have a fully customised living space and we have a fully customised van for their transport so that in essence their entire stay in Zagreb is facilitated and adapted to their needs to the maximum. And thanks to the Croat community in Pittsburgh we have provided an additional living space for people who need isolation or sterile living conditions at a certain stage of treatment. So we covered that segment as well.
Over 64,000 cooked meals and 22,000 overnight stays
Over 2,200 free bus tickets, 183,000 km of tolls, over 64,000 cooked meals, over 22,000 overnight stays – the numbers that seem so small to someone, but just put it on paper to sleep somewhere for a year and a half, to eat for free, eat absolutely everything you want, transport is free, your baby needs pyjamas – you get pyjamas. Your child has a birthday – we buy and make a cake, buy a gift, buy balloons, make a party, we really do things as you would to your husband, child, friend, anyone.
So that socialising and treatment, as bad and difficult as it is, people really bring some of the most beautiful memories. You go where you have and meet people who have experienced it and where you have everything you want. Where you feel this warmth, love and support that we could only dream about, and someone had no chance of experiencing it.
We really do care that we cover every segment and that these people indeed have absolutely everything they can in those moments.
You can follow the Association at https://www.facebook.com/FraMladenHrkac/