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Balkan Sunflowers brings volunteers from around the world to work as neighbours and friends in social reconstruction and renewal. By organising social and cultural activities, we exchange ideas and energy in order to promote understanding, further non-violent conflict transformation, and celebrate the diversity of the lives and cultures of the Balkan region. Working for a few weeks or many months, volunteers bring skills, experience and enthusiasm to societies that have been depleted by conflict, and the volunteers are themselves enriched by their involvement in community building. Balkan Sunflowers activities are intended both to achieve concrete results and to enliven and empower the participants and their communities. Through play, art, sport, work and celebration, and in compassionate response to traumatic experiences, we serve the communities with whom we live."
Balkan Sunflowers is an international volunteer grassroots organization that was formed in response to the Kosovo/Kosova Crisis to assist in relieving the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees in Albania and Macedonia. Balkan Sunflowers organizes volunteer efforts throughout the world, providing the opportunity for non-medical and non-technical people as well as medical and technical professionals to participate "hands-on" in the humanitarian relief effort. We now have volunteers from over 20 countries, of many nationalities, races, religions and ideologies. The intentionally varied backgrounds of our volunteers is intended to show that people who are different from one another can come together in peace and work for a better tomorrow. BSF USA, the US wing of BSF International is currently working with the Volunteers for Peace. We are now in the process of incorporating as a legal entity in the US.
Since the end of the war, the Sunflowers have expanded their projects into Kosovo/Kosova itself (click for proper pronunciation and spelling).. However, the end of the war made apparent that there was also great need among the Albanians themselves. Albania, technically, is still at war. The Albanian Civil War was never formally declared over. A shaky cease fire agreement has been in place since late 1997. Poverty, guns, heavy weapons and rampant crime are so prevalent in Albania that in many ways, Albania is more dangerous and in more desperate need than Kosovo, although the two situations are difficult to compair. During the height of the crisis, there were a multitude of reports of Albanian nationals tearing up their personal documents and claiming to be Kosovar, so that they would be allowed to live in the refugee camps where life was sometimes better and safer for them.
The end of the war also brought about other problems. First is the new exodus of Serbian and Roma (Gypsey) refugees who have fled Kosovo for Macedonia because of the serious danger posed by continued reprisals made against them by the returning Ethnic Albanians.
The second problem is that after the refugees returned to Kosovo, 99% of some 300 relief aid organizations picked up and followed them, leaving virtually no continued support for impoverished and war torn Albania and very limited support for the Roma and Serb refugees now in Macedonia.
The great need and trauma suffered by the Kosovar Albanians of course can not be forgotten or discounted. There are still thousands of refugees in the region and most who have returned, have found their homes, their possessions and their lives utterly destroyed. Both the refugees who are still in camps as well as those who have returned face the intolerable Balkan winter without proper shelter or clothing.
For these reasons, the Balkan Sunflowers have opted to continue operations in Albania and Macedonia, while beginning several new projects within Kosovo/Kosova.
The BSF is involved in a variety of projects aimed at education, raised standards of living, the promotion of peace, role models and conflict resolution. Balkan Sunflowers relies on its volunteers, who do all of their own fundraising, to achieve its goals. Volunteers must pay for their own travel to the region as well as their living expenses. All volunteers are challenged to design and manage their own projects based on their individual talents and provide their own materials. Others are encouraged to jump right in and contribute to existing projects in a way in which they believe they can contribute most effectively.
Worldwide 'core' fundraising is conducted at our International Coordination office in Germany and via the BSF USA. These funds are used to build up and support our projects and infrastructure, e.g. offices in Tirana, Skopje and Pristina and to secure necessities such as food and housing for volunteers. Cooperation with other humanitarian agencies, both governmental and private is also greatly encouraged.
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