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A Small Gift for Great People
Monday, 29 July 2013 Written by Nada Koturić

A Small Gift for Great PeopleFor a brief time, Josaline and Tomas entertained the inhabitants of the Posavina region in northern Bosnia with the mystical, and at the same time, beautiful sounds of Africa. The Posavina plain echoed with African drums, song and dance, with percussion and other instruments, all widely applauded by the parishioners of Tolisa, who, with welcoming smiles, also helped by contributing to "A Small Gift for Great People" humanitarian action.

The concert took place in front of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Tolisa, after a Mass, which had been celebrated by the missionary to Africa, fra Ivica Perić. It also marked the end of three months of humanitarian activities organized by the Franciscan Youth of Tolisa Parish. During the concert the youth handed over a donation of around $11,000 to fra Ivica so that he can continue the construction of a school in Kivumu Parish - a school which means life to the children of Rwanda.

A young musician, Katarina Baotić, accompanied fra Ivica. During the past six months she had exchanged Posavina, Croatia for Rwanda. She had put her studies in Osijek (Croatia) on hold and chose the small African parish of Kivumu as the place where she would do some volunteer work and help the African children with their education. "After you've been to Africa, you're not the same person any more, and the only thing you're thinking about is going back to those beautiful people. When someone says 'Africa', people think of hunger and poverty, which is mostly true, but what I was impressed with most was the warmth of the people, the smiles and the love they offer. I wasn't lonely. I was surrounded by Africans, and also by volunteers who were there to help just like me. It wasn't hard to adapt. On the contrary, it is harder to adapt to Posavina now. I will finish my studies and as soon as I have enough money I am going back to Africa," Katarina told us.

Katarina introduced another guest to the parishioners, Maja Sajler Garmaz, a journalist from Osijek who is better known by the book she wrote, together with her husband, about fra Ivica's life and his twenty years of missionary work. "What we managed to bring closer to the readers of the book,” Maja said, “is the unthinkable poverty - like when children have a ball made of leaves as their only toy, because they've never seen a real football in their life. They eat only three times a week – if they're lucky. Once you see that, you have to help them."

One year of secondary schooling usually costs around 300 euros per year in Rwanda, and workers earn 0.7 euro on average per day, which means that secondary education is available only to few people. That is why the missionaries, including fra Ivica Perić, have dedicated their lives to educating Africans.

Fra Ivica thanked everyone who took part in the action, especially the Franciscans, the Franciscan Youth and all the parishioners. "The African people, although far in distance, have become very close to us through this initiative of our Franciscan Youth. With a lot of joy in giving, we show that we are willing to help, because we have always shown solidarity. The purpose of our humanitarian action is not only to gather as much help as possible, because there is never enough of that, nor will we solve all the problems of Rwanda, but it is very important that we don't forget to give, to be generous to each other, and to open up to help those in need," fra Marijan Živković, the guardian of the Tolisa Monastery, said.

"Once you take in the scents and images of Africa, you simply have to go back. I call it the 'Kivumu syndrome'. The Kivumu syndrome doesn't ache, but it simply gets under your skin. Because, while you're still there, you start thinking about when you will come back again. Here at home we all talk about the crisis, and it really is a big issue, because we're not used to living at such a low standard. But, when you go to Africa, you see that we are still living relatively well, because people there don't even have electricity; they live in dwellings made of straw and cow dung; they sleep on an earthen floor; they go to the source to fetch water... Yet, despite it all... when you go there, you are greeted with the biggest smile on their faces. That's when you realize how little you need to be happy," Maja Sajler Garmaz, the journalist from Osijek, told us that day in Tolisa.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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