I came to volunteer with Suncokret because I believe it is important to take an active role in your community, both locally and globally. The first time I volunteered was when I was 17 years old and worked at a program for kids who couldn’t go home after school because their parents work long hours. We did homework and played games together, but also became friends who made each other laugh and supported each other. There were some great kids that I was lucky to get to know. I continue to volunteer because of the valuable opportunity to learn something new and the chance to meet different and amazing people. Another reason I came to Gvozd was to learn more about the region for my anthropology dissertation research. Anthropology is a broad subject which includes the study of all people, in all places, and at all times. It is the study of human universals and cultural differences. My focus is on political and legal aspects of society, I want to understand how people form opinions about what is fair and what is not fair. My research examines fairness for extreme crimes, justice for violations of human rights in Croatia. Living in Gvozd helps me to understand life after conflict and is also a chance to learn the Croatian language. Over the past two summers I’ve taken Croatian language classes in Zagreb and Zadar. I speak a little, but need lots of practice!
Why I Don’t Want to Leave?
I knew that coming to Gvozd would be a special time for me, but the place and people have exceeded all my expectations! The flowers, vegetable gardens and rolling hills create a beautiful landscape. You can ride your bike in any direction and see fields, streams, and the tiled roofs of houses. It is refreshing after being on the coast where the land is dry, not lush and green. Everyone here is very friendly and helpful – thank you. I see people working together on projects like house-building, cleaning parks, and by donating food. Jelica started off my stay with an incredible meal and helped me feel at home. At Jo-lame my attempts at speaking in Croatian are met with smiles and charades until we both understand each other. The kids here are smart and have great imaginations so it has been a pleasure to spend time with them. We made bracelets with embroidery string like I used to when I was about 12 years old and Kristina taught me how to make a different kind out of plastic rope. Nikolina, Kristina, and Petra became pros! I hear shouts of “igra” and “brzi” when sitting in the computer room with the boys who are dedicated video game players (usually Mateo, Adi, Robo, and Nemanja). Some of the adults coming into Suncokret have shared stories about their life travels and philosophies and I appreciate their conversation. It was also fun to watch the football camp in Topusko where everyone was playing hard even though it was so hot! Now school has started and the mornings at Suncokret are quieter, but that changes soon after when people start dropping by. I have watched the space transform – the whole downstairs has changed into a really comfortable place to hang out, read a magazine, watch a movie, or look something up on the internet. Many people have contributed their help by painting, cleaning, and setting up the new desks. It is great to have a space like this that everyone shares and its success must continue. It’s sad to think that I will miss seeing the new artwork going up on the walls, making holiday cards, beading classes, and all the new ideas that will become interesting projects.
Where I Am Going?
My last day in Gvozd is approaching quickly. Next I go to Tuzla for a conference assessing the effectiveness of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, exactly the topic of my research. The legal, historical, and political consequences of the tribunal will be debated by experts in the field so I am fortunate to be included in the discussion and there will surely be a heated debate. Then I will live in Zagreb and volunteer with an organization called Documenta which collects personal narratives of war experiences in an effort to document the truth about what occurred. Life in Zagreb will be much different and require some adjusting for me. It will feel good to know that Gvozd is only a short trip away so it will be easy to visit before I return to the United States in December. Back in Connecticut I will teach anthropology classes to undergraduates at my university and prepare for a return trip to Croatia!