Serbien: Anna Bu

I hoped we would not repeat history, that there would be no more wars or concentration camps. But like an evil spirit from Pandora’s box – hatred, war, internment camps, and prosecutions returned.

— Anna Bu

Born in 1946 in a concentration camp for ethnic Germans in the aftermath of World War II, Anna Bu grew up in the town of Zrenjanin. In 1993, amidst the sadness and helplessness felt by so many in former Yugoslavia, she joined the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization (EHO) and worked to provide humanitarian aid to victims of war, refugees, and displaced persons, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnicity. At a time, when the word “peace” could hardly be spoken in Serbia, she joined others in peace activities. EHO continues to help build a civil society devoted to peace and understanding.

The Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization was set up to provide efficient distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy in Vojvodina, via a shared commitment among local churches and international faith-based development agencies. The most visible element of the work has been the distribution of food, medicine, and clothes, but the most important impact on Vojvodina has been the encouragement of civil society. With a unique reputation as a church-based organization concerned about social problems, EHO has used material assistance to teach broader lessons about civic initiatives: It was the first NGO to initiate a project linking young volunteers with the elderly, and it was also the first in Serbia to start an HIV/AIDS helpline for confidential information and counseling on a subject otherwise considered taboo in the society. During the NATO bombing of 1999, EHO was the only organization that worked without interruption in a city without bridges, electricity, or water; providing help – as in 1995 – to refugees and displaced alike, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnicity. Today, Anna looks back at the 12 years she spent working at EHO with boundless gratitude. She has found it a privilege to work with an organization that assists and empowers people, always initiating enough hope to make it through the day despite times of overall despair and deprivation. To her, the EHO served as witness to the fact that there were still people in Serbia who disagreed with official policies: activists initiating peace prayers at a time when the very word “peace” could not be uttered, or people appealing for assistance for Muslim refugees from Bosnia at a time when Muslims were being killed elsewhere. EHO initiated a revival of volunteering as a way out of apathy, and as a means of showing solidarity.

Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization (EHO)