Small Charity Ops


Within the last month in the rush to help Ukrainians, small vans and lorries organised in an ad hoc way by communities UK wide sent tons of food, clothing and other requirements for the emerging refugees in the Ukraine border countries. This appeared to eclipse the big charities that you associate with war zones, so I googled what the big charities do with their income and came across an eye-opening article. Even though eight years old, it sheds light on the amounts raised and the amounts spent in house.

This thoroughly depressed me because the charity I run, Phoenix Aid (1103938) and the charity my friend Phil runs, EETEP Aid (1114831), and hundreds of other small charities like ours, active in the UK or internationally, could manage extremely well on a fraction of the big charities’ income, and get it to where it’s supposed to go.

Both Phil and I run small charities on a voluntary basis. Phoenix Aid, working in Bosnia and Kosovo since 2003, and EETEP Aid set up in 2005. EETEP is currently working in India where they funded the building of an orphanage for girls, which they now support.

We founded our respective charities after volunteering with other charities. Phil was initially working in Bosnia. He was in the building trade and volunteered to do what he knew, building houses for war victims whose houses had been destroyed. He also sponsored children to attend school and paid for their basic needs, books, clothing etc.

I had gone to Bosnia as a therapist to provide treatments for war victims. It became apparent that a gang of ever changing therapists in Sarajevo for five months of the year wasn’t going to cut it as regards providing the much needed treatment for people with PTSD and physical trauma throughout the country, so I set up Phoenix Aid to provide training to local people, recruiting self- funding volunteer trainers and ran two week courses in massage, reiki, and other treatments that could be easily taught and were useful for individuals and staff in special needs schools and hospitals. I now focus on a disabled riding group I set up in Bosnia using RDA trainers to train and support riding school staff.

Both Phil and I do what we can to earn money to keep our charities active, as Phil said ‘ you do it yourself or it doesn’t happen.’ We don’t get a look in when applying for grant funding, we don’t have the necessary skills or insider knowledge to practice the dark arts involved in applying for grant funding with its particular phrasing and use of buzz words that act as triggers to let the judges know we know what they want to hear, irrespective of what that actually translates to in practice. So Phil and I keep plugging away, using our spare time to run fundraisers to pull in a few shekels, that eventually mount up to allow us to do our next project. Neither of us are paid for what we do, but both of us regularly put in money from our own pockets to keep going. When you see first hand how what you do as an individual can affect on an ongoing basis a large number of people, you keep going!

The big charities’ staff work in offices and drive round town in white Land Cruisers with the charity logo decal on it. You never see them out in the sticks. I was given a lift through Sarajevo in a Land Cruiser once, and it made me realise how cut off from people you are due to the physical space they take up. They also have a downside. I had been invited out for a meal that included someone who was at the sharp end of the search for Mladic and Karadjic, and someone who arrived in a small convoy of white armoured Land Cruisers with blacked out windows. This person was of interest to the various mafias active in the country because they were in charge of cleaning up the banks and closing down the ones who laundered money.  There were several CPU (Close Protection Unit) lads both inside and outside the restaurant to ensure this guest’s safety. The restaurant was tiny and could only accommodate our party. It occurred to me that the Land Cruiser convoy parked outside was an excellent way of flagging up to any passing ne’er do well that there were persons of interest in the building and if anyone happened to have an RPG they could do serious damage to IC personnel, and me, sat in it!

Phil and I travel in country by public transport or cheap car hire to get where we need to be. Every penny counts with charities like ours. I prefer public transport because you get a sense of what people’s problems are and often you get talking to someone who can give an insight into local life.

We hear the first hand experiences of war, and work with children who have seen things they shouldn’t have seen. PTSD is rife.  Shell shocked men and raped women. The people who were rounded up and machine gunned, but weren’t hit and had to lie amongst the dead until night when they could get free of the piles of bodies and escape. Land mine victims. Sniper victims, I treated one lady who had been shot through the stomach, it looked like an unbaked bread plait. The Doctor who stitched her up must have used a sack needle and string because it was an awful mess, but he probably did what he could under the circumstances. We also worked with children living in a local ‘orphanages’, some of whom had the same problems as Ceausescu’s Romanian orphans, it was difficult to devise treatment plans for them as they were too far gone and it was upsetting for them as well as us.

Phil moved on to work on projects in Africa and India. An account of one of his Africa trips, the objective being to refurbish a school, and set up sponsorship for families to pay for education, clothing and food, had me gripped and appalled when I read it. The war reporter Anthony Loyd said that the moments after action is when you get the truth, it isn’t filtered or edited, it’s just the raw emotion and the chain of events. Phil’s account had no punctuation, just a stream of consciousness about his days in a country that was fighting an unreported war that raised the hairs on the back of my neck and read like descriptions from Freddie Forsyth’s ‘Dogs of War’, peopled by gun-toting militia, ill disciplined army factions and police, and hard pressed medical staff in overcrowded hospitals overseeing multiple deaths due to lack of medication and facilities. The edited and ‘tidied up’ version can be read in full on the EETEP Aid website, but what it doesn’t document is that at one point Phil and his fixer were marched into the bush at gunpoint and Phil thought he was living his last moments. When they were let go and got back to the car they had to sit for 30 minutes because Phil’s hand was shaking so badly he couldn’t get the key into the ignition.

These experiences give, I hope, an insight into what the unpaid and unacknowledged volunteers of small charities do during the course of their work. I’m sure some volunteers are experiencing difficulties in the border regions of Ukraine, their work is as valuable right now as anything the big charities do, and the mistakes they might make won’t be worse than all the big charities’ ones.

Sarah Greenwood has farmed in Yorkshire all her life, has a general interest in fieldsports, but particularly in hunting. She runs Phoenix Aid working in Bosnia and Kosovo.