Interview from the Balkans: Colin Chaperon

Springtime floods in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Luka Mijic, 69, stood in front of his flooded home in June.

Even though people affected by this rain have a place to sleep, at the end of the day, home is home.

Springtime floods in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina caused by three months’ worth of rain in three days wiped out farmland and destroyed homes. The American Red Cross has contributed $710,000 towards helping families recover.

In addition, the American Red Cross has deployed disaster specialist Colin Chaperon as the deputy Head of Operations for the global Red Cross network’s relief operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Colin, who has been traveling to flood-affected municipalities in the country, describes what is happening in an interview.

Q. These floods inundated the region in May. What kind of damage are you still seeing?

Chaperon: The floods have certainly receded, but there is still extensive damage. I see water marks everywhere: on the outside and inside of buildings, they demonstrate the intensity of the floods, which reached 3-6 feet high in some areas. Most people who lived in one-level houses lost everything. Families in two-level houses were able to salvage some of their belongings. People are still trying to dry out their homes using natural methods like opening windows and chiseling out plaster to get the moisture out of their walls.

Q. Where are people living right now?

People who can’t live in their homes are still staying with extended family members and others are sleeping in shelters. Red Cross volunteers are in the shelters 24/7—they’re feeding people, providing them with basic necessities, organizing activities for children, and providing psycho-social activities.

Q. Are families struggling in other ways besides housing?

A lot of people lost their jobs because of these floods. I met a father of three who usually works as a seasonal agricultural worker. But since so many fields and farms were destroyed by the floods, there’s no work for him this year. The next growing cycle isn’t until January or February. He’s the primary breadwinner, so he and his wife don’t know what the future holds. Right now they’re borrowing money to get by. As a parent, my heart just goes out to them.

Q. How is the Red Cross helping families who are facing financial hardship?

The Red Cross is distributing cash grants to some people affected by the flooding, so they can try to get back on their feet. Families will use the cash to buy food, repay debt, pay electric bills, purchase utensils, make improvements on their homes, or anything else they deem important.

Q. Have you met anyone in particular whose story touched you?

This flooding has really taken a toll on people. I talked with a 70 year-old woman whose one-story home was overwhelmed with 3-4 feet of water. She sleeps at her daughter’s house every night, but returns to her own home every day to clean and try to fix it. She’s anxious and distressed because she doesn’t see a clear path forward for returning home permanently. Even though people affected by this rain have a place to sleep, at the end of the day, home is home.

Q. This is your first time in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides the flooding, what has made an impression on you?

People here are extremely welcoming and hospitable. Plus, I love the coffee! The amount of work and coordination that occurs over a good cup of coffee is simply part of the culture.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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