Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Final Christmas Play performance...

On Sunday we gave our final performances of our Christmas play for our Samaritan's Purse package distribution. (See more about our previous performances here). Our main actor was sick with a temperature, but there was no stopping him! And he did a great job despite being so sick... you can see for yourself in this video... (and I put in English subtitles so you can understand what it going on!)

We had a great time sharing the Christmas packages after each of the shows with all of the children that attended. But I also wanted to say thank-you to the child actors who helped make it all possible... so I made up special little packages out of donations that we have received (and some shop-bought sweets!) so they received something in addition to their packages!

Here they are (along with the adult actors who also got a small thank-you gift!) with their gifts...
It really was a fun group to work with! And it was so wonderful how it all came together... I also think it is hilarious that they kept thanking me for letting them be involved in the play!! Thank-you once again to all of them... and thanks also to Milan who filled in for Vanja last weekend, and to Adelisa who was part of the play until she had to leave to visit family... and to all the wonderful parents who willingly fetched and carried, or helped out in many other ways!!

Now it is over until next year! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You are SPECIAL!

Every December our church puts on a Christmas play to go with the distribution of Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child "shoebox" packages. The last 4 years my Finnish colleagues have put the play together, usually some form of the traditional Christmas story... so with them no longer here :(, I volunteered to do the play this year, and I decided it was time for a change! We used the story "You are special" from Max Lucado and added a little bit of Christmas and an appearance of Jesus...

We had our first performance last week at the Children's Home as a sort of dress rehearsal, and it went really really really well...As the packages already arrived on Tuesday (you never can be sure when they will arrive!), we decided to do some shows this weekend and some next weekend to spread them out. The 8 child actors were all available, but unfortunately Vanja, our adult actor, had to go out of town... So, our friend Milan did a wonderful job of standing in for him!  (I told my brother, Kevin, that it was a pity he can't speak the local language, as he would have been perfect as Eli! Oh well... he enjoyed coming to the performances, even if he couldn't understand anything...)

We had two performances and package distributions last night. Before we had the play, Ljilja welcomed everyone... 
We watched a video from Operation Christmas Child to show everyone where the packages come from and where they all go to - 100 MILLION so far (and to think it all it started in Bosnia over 20 years ago!). Dragana did a good job of explaining what was going on in the video as it is all in English...
Then my friend, Dijana, who has helped a LOT with the play (besides adapting the text, she is also the narrator), introduced the play...
And then it began...our Wemmicks putting stars and dots on each other...
And putting a lot of dots on Punchinello...
Who then sees Lucia and asks her how she doesn't have any dots or stars... and she tells him that it is because she goes every day to their creator Eli...and that he needs to ask him...
So, Punchinello goes to ask Eli... Eli tells him that it is more important what he thinks about himself than what other people think - and that Eli thinks he is very special... and that the stickers only stick if you let them!
Encouraged by this, he goes home, but realises that it is Christmas Eve and that he is alone... he falls asleep and Jesus appears to him in a dream and tells him once again that he is special, and that his is never alone... and that his Christmas present that year is that the stickers won't be able to stick anymore... the next morning when someone tries to put a sticker on him, it doesn't stick... and as Punchinello says "YAHOOOO"! ----THE END----
After the play I led with our actors Rami's song "Vrlo dragocjen" (Very precious) which was our camp song 2 years ago... as it really fits in with the theme... (The chorus goes: "we are all very precious, everyone of us, more precious than a diamond, very precious, unique, everyone who is created is special")...
Then it was time for the part of the evening that everyone had been waiting for - giving out the Christmas packages!! So many happy children!!
Then it was time to have a pizza with our actors between performances before doing it all again!! And that is how you give out about 200 packages in one day :)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Unexpected visitor...

So, my brother, Kevin (who lives in Vancouver, Canada), is in Zurich for business, and unexpectedly had a few days free. He asked if it was worth flying into Zagreb to come and see me... of course I would have said yes to that, but an even better option is to use the Banja Luka airport as one of the two places it has flights to happens to be Zurich! (the other is Belgrade) So he was definitely in the right place for a quick stop off to see me and what I do!

I have stolen some of his pictures to give you a taste of what we have been up to while he has been here...It is of course December, so the below sunset pics are at 4pm - but the Banja Luka Kastel is still stunning!

Yesterday, I took him on a drive - via the Krupa Falls and their (working) watermills:
Down to the next town of Jajce:
 Where we enjoyed the sights - including the waterfall
and the "Forteress" as they call it: And the stunningly beautiful sunny day!
We also had to have some cevapi (Banja Luka has its own kind of cevapi - this is the kind found everywhere else...)
 We stopped off at the Pliva mini watermills on the way back...
And enjoyed seeing the snow on the top of the mountain of Manjaca (this is not a lot of snow for this time of year - we have had quite a mild winter so far!)
It hasn't been all play and no work for Kev- he was very useful to us as we had to transport some of the Samaritan's Purse Christmas packages from the warehouse to the church for our distributions this weekend and next: Our kombi looking pretty full... thanks Kev for the help on that!!
But he has had a nice time trying out some of the local flavours... Nektar beer is from Banja Luka's brewery:
 In Jajce he got to try Sarajevsko from, of course, the Sarajevo brewery
When he wrote that he was coming, he said that he wanted to try lots of rakija (plum brandy) and Bosnian coffee: we went to visit my friend Dragana's family and he got to try both there:
And once he was done with the coffee, Dragana's Dad provided Jelen beer (from Serbia) to try... and kept the rakija coming: not that Kev was complaining :)
All in all, it has been great to hang out with my big brother, show him more of what I do and catch up with what is going on with him and his family... And I think he has had a fun time so far...
And I am really glad that he decided to unexpectedly come and visit!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Waiting for Santa Claus with the "littlies"

On Saturday we took the big kids (grade 5-9) to go bowling and last night it was the turn of the little kids (pre-school to grade 4) to go to the theatre. The production was called "Vesela šuma čeka Deda Mraz" (The happy forest waits for Santa Claus) and had a rabbit, fox and bear who were all waiting for Santa Claus to come and bring them presents... and the most exciting part was when Santa Claus actually did appear!
The City Theatre Jazavac who put on the production gave us the tickets for free, and all 16 children and 8 volunteers really enjoyed the show. Here we are afterwards on stage trying to get a good group shot...
It is a bit harder with the littlies - a bit like herding cats - but when I remember that Tanja and I took 10 of them by ourselves last year, it was much easier with 8 of us to hold hands this year!!

Besides the wonderful experience of going to the theatre, two of the volunteers also put together little presents for all of the children: which just made the event even more special:
Thanks to Ljilja for helping with driving last night - creating chaos when ALL of the kids wanted to go back with her in the jeep and not with me in the kombi (van), but I managed to sort it out...Thanks to the wonderful volunteers for the presents, for their presence and their love for the children.

(and again, sorry for the blacked out eyes, but I am not allowed to put identifiable photos of the children online! thanks for understanding...)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Sometimes I REALLY love my job...

As a reward for being a part of the book club at the Children's Home, we took the 6-9th graders to the bowling alley in town. (The 1-5th graders are getting their reward tomorrow... more on that later!)

The bowling alley very graciously gave us the lanes for free, and put up with 17 kids and 18 adults (yes we had more helpers than kids!!) for an hour... Some of the volunteers took part, others were part of the best cheer-leading squad ever!  I didn't actually bowl so I could take pictures and do crowd control, but I mostly walked around listening to the sounds of the fun being had and repeating continuously "sometimes I really love my job" ... they really had a great time!

I managed to get a few good action shots:

 Different techniques were used - one handed:
 Or two...
 Sofija giving it a go...
And David showing how it is done...
Thanks also to David for helping me with the transport (he is a brave man!) and to the volunteers for all their help making it an exciting outing for all involved!! And it is true that I love my job all the time, but sometimes I REALLY love it!

Tanja Gedan... volunteer extraordinaire!!

Tanja has been working with me for over 4 years on the book club and other volunteer projects that we have, and frankly, she is a wonderful help in all that we do! We found out about an award for the volunteer of the year, and applied for it on her behalf...
In the end, she didn't get the actual award, but she got a Diploma for "special contribution to the development of volunteering in the Republic of Srpska". I actually think that if it had been any other year, she may well have won, but this year we had the catastrophic floods, and (PTL) loads of people volunteered during that time, and they actually had a hard time choosing just one person to win the award - and so 4 people got it! And then another 11 people got the diplomas - and maybe only one or two of those were not because of the floods... usually one person gets the award and that is that, so there was hard competition this year for sure!

We were still happy that she did actually get recognised in some way, and she is as well. She and I went to the evening where she was presented the award, and unfortunately I didn't get any clear shots of her actually getting the award, but here she is on the stage, waiting for the others to get their dipomas (the above shot we took afterwards!)
There is more in the local language newspaper here

Well done Tanja, well deserved!! You really are a volunteer extraordinaire!!

Friday, December 05, 2014

End of year party for the Book Club!

After the "You are Special" Christmas play, (and getting some of the actors autographs!), it was time to have our end of year book club party. Two of our wonderful volunteers had organised a huge cake for all of us. On it says "A book is man's best friend, and you are our best pals...!" (It really was great to have something like this - so a BIG thank-you to Ivona and Ljilja!)
While we were hanging out and enjoying our cake, we had a little fun "photo-boothing" with the kids. They got to put on scarves and use sunglasses and moustaches (which I made up for the occasion) and got some cute photos...

Too cool for school:

It was also my sneaky way of getting photos of the kids I can use as they are not recognisable :) (but I will be printing them out and giving them to them... such fun memories!) Thank-you to those who did the photo taking!!

After the cake was all gone, it was time for our prizes for good behaviour and participation. Some deserved them more than others... but what can I say, I am far too lenient and full of mercy... All 31 participants who attended at least 2 of the 4 book club evenings got prizes (there were others who came along to the library or we got books out for, almost 40 children involved in total!). Three of us spent the afternoon making up the prizes from various donations: ranging from clothes and hygiene items to toys and school supplies...(Thank-you Sofija and Dragana for your help!)

We made the prizes according to their ages: here are the 1-4th graders
The 5th and 6th graders are looking a bit happier (I think that making them wait to look at the presents was probably a little bit too cruel for the younger ones!)
 And our 7-9th graders:
Some were missing at prize-giving, but as you can see, this has definitely been our biggest year ever, and this end of year party was the best ever as well!

I just realised that I didn't get a picture of all the wonderful volunteers who make this club possible... we had over 20 of them at the party, and it would have been a good time to get a photo, oh well! It really has been a great 3 months with many new (and my faithful old) volunteers, and I am so happy that God knew that I would need more volunteers as we had such a large number of children involved! A big THANK-YOU to all of you - you are wonderful and without you, it wouldn't be possible to do what we do...

It is great to be able to make an impact in these children's lives in some way - hopefully getting them to read more, but also giving them more love and attention on an individual level... and hopefully showing them the truth that they are special!

Christmas play meets Book Club

I took on the task of our Christmas play this year,  and we have been working hard to get it right for the past month or so. My friend, Dijana, who works at the children's home, has helped a LOT (adapting the script and she is the narrator), and she suggested that for our dress rehearsal, we aim to do it at the last Book Club of the year: so last night the Christmas play came to Book Club!

Based on Max Lucado's "You are Special", with a few adaptations, we have a cast of 8 children and 2 adults, all of whom are absolutely wonderful! Here are the Wemmicks putting stars and dots on each other. Stars for good things, dots for bad...
Our main little actor Punchinello asking Lucia how she manages to not get any stars or dots... She tells him to go to the carpenter who made them and ask him...
Unfortunately, I don't have any close up of the dynamic between Eli (the carpenter) and Punchinello as it is so cute! But here you can see how the play was close-up and personal (and on the right are Eli and Punchinello): Eli tells him that the stickers only stick if you let them...
 Punchinello then falls asleep on Christmas Eve:
To be visited in a dream by Jesus (this is the part of the story we changed a leetle!). He is told once again that he is special and that Jesus will give him the best Christmas present ever - that the stickers won't stick on him because he is so special... Punchinello awakes the next day and when someone tries to put a sticker on him, it just falls to the ground... Punchinello then jumps for joy and is so happy on Christmas Day!
Take a bow... The child actors are all either part of our sponsorship project, or kids of our friends who come along with us to camp. Our carpenter is part of our church and I don't think I could have found a better person for the job... In fact, all the actors are amazing, and the play turned out even better than I could have hoped for. Now we just need to do the play for all the Christmas package distributions... but that is later in the month!
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