IRC Croatia's Local Volunteers Promote Civil Society in Croatia's War-Affected Areas
|Free blood pressure measuring campaign in Croatia, organized by IRC's Community Services volunteers|
Since 1997, IRC Croatia's Community Services (CS) program has greatly increased the self-care capacity of rural, war-affected communities by promoting volunteerism and local civic initiatives. Implemented in two regions of Croatia until early 2002, IRC's CS program supported a network of more than 80 active volunteers who received a small stipend to provide home and health care for extremely vulnerable individuals (EVIs); to assist returnees with obtaining citizenship documents; to refer beneficiaries to other assistance programs and to monitor the return situation. Utilizing minimal funds from UNHCR, Stichting Vluchteling, Gemeinden Gemeinsam Schweiz, the British Embassy in Zagreb, and the Forstmann Medical Project, these volunteers went to extraordinary efforts, making approximately 3,700 home visits monthly to over 1,640 beneficiaries in 175 villages. In the year 2001 alone, they performed more than 42,500 home visits to assist vulnerable persons.
The life-sustaining services that IRC's CS volunteers provided included nursing; supplying medications; distributing humanitarian hygiene and food packages; transporting beneficiaries to medical facilities, shops, or municipal offices; performing house chores such as cleaning, cooking, and preparing firewood; and giving EVIs much needed emotional support. In addition, the volunteers actively mobilized other community members to carry out actions to help their neighbors or to improve local infrastructure. The level of volunteerism and activism that IRC's CS program has inspired is exemplary, helping to establish the traditions of civil society that are greatly assisting the recovery of Croatia's post-war communities.
Throughout 2000-2001, IRC strived to increase the sustainability of its CS program by enhancing the capacity of CS volunteers, village board members, and members of local civic organizations to continue community-based social services programs independently in the future. Capacity Building has been a crucial component of the CS program, as it has supported the training, expansion, and coordination of local community groups, NGOs, and GOs, thus ensuring that service providers have the knowledge and tools needed to make them self-sufficient. IRC staff closely mentored CS volunteers and various local organizations in these two regions; held coordination meetings and organized more than 40 workshops covering such topics as Volunteerism; Project Design and Development; Group Communication and Advocacy; and How to Revive Croatian Communities.
CS Capacity Building activities concretely resulted in, among other things, the initiation of a dialogue between active community members, NGOs, and local governments; the establishment of two civic associations; the integration of CS Volunteers into Village Boards and local civic associations; an increase in the activities of women's organizations; and an increase in the number of foster families caring for the elderly. One of the most significant results was the mobilization of more than 2,470 community members by CS Volunteers to carry out more than 300 voluntary actions and fundraisers that benefited EVIs and their communities. Projects included repairing local roads, bridges, and small water systems; cleaning graveyards and other public areas; organizing bake sales and assisting elderly or newly returned families with their crops or with house repair, and many other types of projects. Not only have community needs been taken care of by these activities, but the positive effect of uniting neighbors to work together for the common good has been immeasurable. These results are particularly impressive, considering that volunteerism has, until now, not been a part of the societal ethos in Croatia.
While the CS program has ended in two regions, IRC is continuing to build the capacity of local civic groups there through its "Revitalization of War-Affected Communities" and "Agricultural Inputs" projects funded by Mercy Corps/USAID and the Government of the Netherlands until November 2003. Additionally, IRC will begin implementing a two-year CS program with a Volunteer Network in the Dalmatia region of Croatia in Spring 2002, with support from the UK Committee of the Community Fund (National Lotteries Charity Board) and the British Embassy in