19 April 2016

The orphanage where our story began is to close at last

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We’ve just had some wonderful news from our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This morning they signed an agreement with the local authorities to close the Bjelave Institution, the largest orphanage in the capital, Sarajevo.

Every closure agreement is good news but today’s announcement holds a special significance. Bjelave is the place where the story of Hope and Homes for Children began, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid 1990s. Our founders, Mark and Caroline Cook, were moved by the plight of the children in Bjelave, who had been left to fend for themselves, amid the fighting, and they decided to help. At first, Mark and Caroline worked to rebuild the institution but they soon realised that what the children there really wanted was not a better orphanage but families of their own.

For the last 16 years, our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been fighting to close Bjelave, overcoming enormous resistance and many obstacles, and now their determination has paid off. As the government minister who signed the agreement this morning said, “This is an historic moment”.

News of the Bjelave agreement has been greeted with joy here at Hope and Homes for Children.

Our country teams around the world have been sending heart-felt congratulations to their colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Our Child Protection Manager, Julia Kragulj, who is based in Sarajevo, is especially delighted by the announcement. “This news means a huge amount to me personally”, she said.

“Bjelave is the place where I started my career with Hope and Homes for Children as a volunteer in 1997 and I have been told so many times and by so many people that negotiating agreement to close Bjelave is “mission impossible”. I truly do not have words to express adequately how I feel today and how proud I am of our Bosnia team.

“I look forward to the day when we will be telling you all that the last child has moved out of Bjelave and that no child will ever again have to spend their childhood there”.

We now have the green-light to find family-based care for the 98 children, from babies to teenagers, who currently live in Bjelave, as well as to develop community-based care to support vulnerable families and children in the future.