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There is a kingdom in the world and in it friendship reigns
Friday, 21 June 2013 Written by Dejan Anić

There is a kingdom in the world and in it friendship reigns''There is a kingdom in the world and in it friendship reigns...''

In Belgrade, where I come from, we learn this song before we learn how to read and write. Of course, very soon we learn that such places exist only in our imagination...

However, I was lucky! Thirty-or-so years later I have found the place from my imagination! Well, the houses aren’t exactly “made of chocolate,” the windows aren’t “made of marmalade,” but in this place friendship really reigns! This place is, to make it more interesting, thousands of kilometres far from my house, in a simple place called Kivumu, a village in the distant, exotic Rwanda.

Where does exactly “friendship reign”? – In the Padri Vjeko Center, in Rwanda, in the very heart of Africa. Why there of all places? – Nice and easy. People have gathered there. People with a capital P. Those who are willing to sacrifice themselves, their time, their money, even their wellbeing in order to help others. Help those who have less. Or have nothing. Who are those People? There are quite a few… Their common trait is that they are all modest and dedicated to others. Once again, who are they?

They are, in order, or without order:

Maja. Here I’m left wordless. After having spent ten days in her company, I truly regret that I haven’t known this woman longer. Even if I used all the best adjectives, it wouldn’t be enough to describe her. Clever, pretty, industrious, capable, dedicated to others, especially to African children. Furthermore, unselfish, loyal, full of understanding… A true friend! She made my stay in Africa easier and nicer, she made me feel like at home… Well, even better than at home!

Emica. What energy! The girl is a professional photographer, a superb photographer. She recorded our every step in Africa. And every emotion… Our every smile, all our fooling around, but also our every expression of sadness, our faces on the brink of tears seeing the hardships of life in Rwanda, was all hers. A bit capricious, proud, sometimes defiant, but, deep down, warm and caring.

Domagoj. My Dodo! And I say this after just two weeks of hanging out. And when you find a soul mate in the middle of Africa. Underneath a somewhat cumbersome outer appearance he is a warm and gentle, fragile soul. An emotional soul who will give everything he has, knows and can for others. We shared the volunteer house space for fifteen days, but we also shared ideas, worldviews, and the desire to do some good. We knew how to have a good time in bars, but also how to seriously work together in the Center, in the school… I’m sure I’ve gained “a companion to the grave,” and that alone is enough said to describe the nature of our relationship.

Katarina. The child among us. A girl at the edge of maturity. But also a girl who knows what she wants! She came to Africa determined, full of energy, ready to get involved and help. A professional musician, she teaches the children how to sing, play instruments, she tries to stimulate their talent and creativity. Apart from that, during the long nights she often cheered us up with the guitar, and succeeded in making us feel like we were in our Balkans even in the heart of Africa. Our common child.

Petra. Painter. Artist. In every sense. A bit “crazy,” eccentric, unusual. But also incredibly nice. Honest. A big, grownup child. Her task is enormous – discovering talents in the kids who until now have been ignored. And she has painted so many things in the schools; she gave a soul to monotonous fences and gates.

Željko. We spent too little time together in Africa. Just a couple of days. But even that was enough for me to realize that I’m dealing with a genuine intellectual. A journalist, an adventurer, a lover of good wine, good movies, and good music. Both a hedonist and an altruist. How many of those are there? Few, too few. He did for African children more than many countries and humanitarian organizations… Maja’s husband. Lucky Maja. And lucky he. I envy them.

Žana, Višnja, Nikolina... The ones who are there for you. Quiet, inconspicuous. But doing great things. They help. Each of them in her own way. They do their best to make living far away from home a bit easier.

Ivica. In the end, or in the beginning. I don’t know how to define him. The good spirit, the stubborn Bosnian, our conscience… I’ve never met a man like him! A man who gave up his own wellbeing and dedicated his life to those who need help the most. He’s been here more for more than two decades. And he did for African children more than you can possibly imagine! Forget UNDP, forget UNICEF. Take a look at this guy. He built schools in Rwanda, made it possible for hundreds, thousands of children to have a future, to live a life worthy of man. And to us in the Center? He is like a father to us. Warm, but at the same time strict. He didn’t hesitate to criticize us all when we did something wrong. But, in those long nights of ours, he also sang with us. Fantastic! Making us feel like at home. There aren’t a lot of people like him, too few. You should meet him. You must! Then you will understand what I’m talking about.

Those are the people! The ones who make you a better person. The ones who transfer so much of good energy on to you, who make you feel better even in the most painful moments...

Two weeks that I spent in Padri Vjeko Center are short. Too short. But also enough for me to realize that people are still people... good people... and that they are still out there. Very much so!

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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