20th Regional Session of European Youth Parliament Serbia

By Dusan Ilic, Alumni Coordinator for Serbia

European Youth Parliament is a youth organization that acts as a simulation of the actual European Parliament where young people discuss today’s problems and solutions. The participants are called delegates who are divided into committees (four in this case) and officials: Session President, Vice-presidents, journalists, organizers and chairpersons (heads of committees).

One of the tam exercises during the sessions

One of the team exercises during the sessions. A-SMYLE Alumni Aleksandar Nikolic and Marko Stojanovic (’12) are on the left

The Session lasted for two days during which participants were involved in team-building, committee work (topic discussion) and General Assembly where they had to present their resolutions on certain problems and vote on other committee’s resolutions.

The committee work and team-building took place at Fifth Belgrade High School, whereas General Assembly took place at First Belgrade High School. A-SMYLE alumni Aleksandar Nikolic and Marko Stojanovic acted as a chairpersons for one of the committees.

Global Youth Service Day Project – “Go Green!”

By Nemanja Miltenovic, A-SMYLE Serbia ’13

For Global Youth Service Day, my friend Maja Pejcinovic (’13 A-SMYLE alumna) and I decided to do something that was much needed in our beloved city of Belgrade – a cleanup! We noticed that there has been a lot of trash lying around in parks, playgrounds and school grounds, and we decided to do something about it.

Volunteers gather before they started the cleanup

Volunteers gather before they started the cleanup

The first thing we needed were volunteers. Luckily, many of our friends were happy to help us out, because they also thought that something had to be done. For most of them, this was their first volunteer experience, so we had a task to make this project enjoyable for them.

We all gathered at the “Usce” shopping mall to hand out duties and talk about the day. From there, we went to the residence area in New Belgrade and started our project. We cleaned up three parks, a playground, and areas around three high schools (Tourism High School, Graphics High School, and the Ninth Belgrade High School). During our cleanup, we attracted many different people who were wondering what we were doing. After they found out, they were happy that the youth is taking care of the environment and some even helped us out.

Volunteers in action

Volunteers in action

At the end of the day, we filled up around 20 trash bags, which was big success for us, but it raises a big question for the community, since we cleaned up just a small part of the city. Is there something else we could do to keep our environment cleaner?

A-SMYLE Alumni Volunteer in Djerdap Nation Park

By Teodora Milojevic, A-SMYLE Serbia ‘13

A-SMYLE alumni get to working cleaning the park.

A-SMYLE alumni get to working cleaning the park.

What makes us humans is not our physiology or the ability to think and make decisions, but the feeling of empathy and readiness to help, improve, and do good.  Led by that, on September 21, twelve A-SMYLE alumni dedicated a couple of hours to help the environment and show the importance of preserving our natural beauties.

On Saturday morning, we went to one of the Serbia’s biggest treasures: Djerdap National Park, which is full of beautiful lakes, sights, and wildlife.  However the whole picture was ruined by an immense quantity of plastic bottles, bags, and similar leftovers.  What we saw motivated us even more to do the clean-up and to make Djerdap look as it is supposed to.

Just a few of the bags full of PET packaging.

Volunteers picked up garbage and separated it into different bags for trash and recycling.  The amount of trash that was found there was surprising, but we worked without any falter.  We took care of the walking path and Boljetinska river, which was a real challenge.  From it we filled 50 bags full of PET packaging.

The clean-up was very successful and there was an obvious difference after our volunteer action.  Later in the day, we went to the visitor center where we got a chance to learn more about the park.  The group of people who worked there was wonderful, and with good company, you can barely notice the time passing by.

The whole day was hard-working, but fun and inspiring.  We hope that people will follow our lead and realize the importance of taking care of all the natural beauties that Serbia has.

GYSD Drives are Biggest Ever for MAYAA and Food Bank Montenegro

By Ivan Vuksanovic, Alumni Coordinator for Montenegro, ‘07

For Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), members of MAYAA, (Montenegrin American Youth Alumni Association), comprised of alumni from the A-SMYLE and UGRAD programs, collaborated with Food Bank of Montenegro and chain of supermarkets Delhaize MNE – Maxi to organize drive to collect food and hygienic products for those families in need in the towns of Podgorica and Herceg Novi.

The actions took place in two Maxi stores, one in Podogrica and the other in Herceg Novi, and lasted from 9am to 9pm. Alumni packed the stores and spoke to store patrons about the project.  Alumni encouraged citizens to donate recommended products necessary for everyday life, such as rice or shampoo.  The Maxi stores had discounted such products and placed them in central locations in the stores especially for this day.  We also put together packages that store patrons could buy for a family that included flour, sugar, oil, pasta, rice, and washing soap. The goal was to collect 191 packages for the municipalities of Podgorica and Golubovci and 150 packages for the municipality of Herceg Novi.

This action was initiated by MAYAA, which provided volunteers for the day-of event and who promoted the humanitarian action in the weeks leading up to GYSD.  Food Bank Montenegro negotiated sponsorship, and of course the Maxi chain of stores contributed by lowering the prices of basic necessities.  By cooperating, we achieved all that we had hoped and much, much more. In the end, we collected almost 7 tons (6 tons and 890 kilograms) of food and hygienic products!

The food was distributed two days after the action to families in need who receive social help from the government. This time, we focused specifically on families who have children, but no male member of the household able to work or contribute to the household budget, due to either age or illness.

Nina Loncarevic, A-SMYLE alumna, ’12, who participated in both the planning and execution of this project said, “This cooperation with the Food Bank of Montenegro is just one of many showing we have a great cooperation with them. Hopefully, this is just a start to a wonderful tradition. This experience was great because we collected so much food and hygiene products, and it’s what makes us happy. It was also well organized, and we had good media coverage – guest appearances, promotions etc. My goal was to explain to people the level of poverty in Montenegro and how a little to someone can mean a lot to a poor person. I’m looking forward to our future cooperation!”

A-SMYLE alumna Ksenija Popovic, ’07, also participated in the action and had this to say: “Six hours flew by as volunteers joined their enthusiasm and decided that this is going to be the day when we will do something for someone outside our friends and family circle. When I came home later that day, I realized that every day needs to start with that decision.”

Mina Radonjic, alumna of the ‘12 generation, added, “Volunteering in actions like this one is always a unique experience. There is a lot of work but knowing the cause and the goal of what you’re doing makes everything easier. Before we started volunteering at similar events, I didn’t even know there were so many people in need in Montenegro. Living in the capital city makes people oblivious of what’s going on around their community. Luckily, actions like this connect us, especially young people, for a good cause.”

Stefan Ivanovic, an alumnus of the ’12 generation and who was a coordinator of this action in Herceg Novi, said, “I’m so glad I got to participate in this year’s GYSD! The look on [people’s] faces when you are about to give them their food package is one of the biggest reasons I do this. Seeing how grateful those people are just makes my heart warm and proud. I’m looking forward to next year’s action!”

GYSD is a very important day for volunteers, and it gathers people from all around the world to do good deeds and help people in need in order to contribute to their communities. It started in the U.S. and soon became popular word wide. With this action and other activities we are doing in 2013, MAYAA joined more than 100 countries from around the globe to celebrate it.

This action was realized with the help of Montenegrin citizens and a number of socially responsible companies who also donated: Telekom, Cikom, Delta city, Montemlin, Klikovac, Hotel Maestral, Hipotekarna Bank, Hemko, and Habitat. We also devoted time to promoting this action through guest appearances on TV, social media, and local newspapers. You can find photo albums of the Food Bank Montenegro drives in Podgorica here and Herceg Novi here, and food being distributed in three different locations here, here, and here.

Alumni of A-SMYLE and YES Southeast Europe Prep for Global Youth Service Day by Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

YES and A-SMYLE alumni use pickaxes to carve out the foundation for a housing unit at Habitat for Humanity Macedonia's latest build site in Veles

YES and A-SMYLE alumni use pickaxes to carve out the foundation for a housing unit at Habitat for Humanity Macedonia’s latest site

Back in March, Habitat for Humanity Macedonia broke ground on a new build in the city of Veles – a three-floor duplex apartment building that will provide 12 low-income families with new apartments.  Alumni of A-SMYLE and YES Southeast Europe spent April 19-21, 2013 working on the site, including carving out the building’s foundation, leveling land, and mixing and spreading cement.

In the evenings, alumni shared stories about community service activities they have been working on throughout the year, discussed plans for Global Youth Service Day, and, with the help of local Peace Corps Volunteers Jamie and Bob Woodford, explored time- and stress-management techniques intended to help them balance community service with the other demands of their often busy everyday lives.

New friendships, like the one displayed here between Beste Basak Balci (YES Turkey) and Arber Dumani (YES Albania), was one of the many positive results that came out of this weekend of volunteering

New friendships, like the one displayed here between Beste Basak Balci (YES Turkey) and Arber Dumani (YES Albania), was one of the many positive results that came out of this weekend of volunteering

“What I liked most about this weekend was working with everybody together, feeling like we’re a team, and then feeling like we’re doing something really great and we’re helping people,” explained Gabriela Veleva, YES Bulgaria ’11, also noting that she loved the physical work itself, “because it’s stress-relieving!”

For alumni like Silan Simsek, YES Turkey ’12 and Olta Myslimi YES Albania ’12, the highlight of the weekend was trying something new and realizing the power of volunteerism.  “I’ve done something for the first time in my life,” reflected Silan, “I love the idea of being a volunteer and helping people without benefits!”  Olta noted that “doing stuff I’ve never done in my life,” such as carving out the foundation for one of the housing units, made her realize “how strong I am!”

The most important part of the weekend for Nino Lojpur, YES Bosnia and Herzegovina ’10, currently serving as his country’s Alumni Coordinator, was “meeting new people and new generations.  It’s really exciting to see more people getting involved in projects.”  Nino also noted that the weekend served as a great tool for getting alumni “pumped up” for even more projects and activities in the future.

Keep an eye out for A-SMYLE and YES alumni doing amazing things in their communities, this Global Youth Service Day (April 26-28) and all year long!

Group Photo

To view more photos from this event, please click here!

A-SMYLE Alumni Bring Spirit of Volunteerism to Serbian Village Museum

From April 12th to 14th, 2013, A-SMYLE alumni spent the weekend helping to prepare the historical Open-Air Museum in the village of Sirogojno, Serbia for its summer season.  The Open-Air Museum is a unique site comprised of authentic buildings from throughout the Zlatibor region of Serbia reconstructed in the village of Sirogojno in the style of a traditional 19th century homestead.

Alumni listen

Alumni listen to directions while taking in the natural beauty

For many participants, this event was a chance to return and give back to a place they enjoyed visiting as children on field trips or family vacations.  For others, it was an opportunity to experience the site’s unique history and natural beauty for the first time.

During the day, alumni volunteers cleared more than three acres on the museum grounds of pine needles and weeds, prepared a small garden for planting, and assembled and mounted informational signs at various locations throughout the museum. In the evenings, alumni brain stormed ideas for upcoming community service projects..  They also offered feedback and ideas to the museum’s curators on how to make the museum more inviting and interactive for visitors.

Aleksandar Nikolic '12 and Nina Lukic '12 have some fun while raking pine needles to make way for new grass

Aleksandar Nikolic ’12 and Nina Lukic ’12 have some fun while raking pine needles to make way for new grass

“My favorite part of this weekend was all the good things we did, like the cleaning up, but also meeting all these great people – that’s something you always do on A-SMYLE projects!” commented Gala Patenković ’11.  For Program Coordinator Milena Otašević, who works primarily with the Open World program, the weekend was inspiring. “Seeing all these young people work and volunteer and doing something for their community made me feel more energized and motivated to do more to organize events like this.”  This sentiment was echoed by the museum staff, who were so impressed by the work ethic, enthusiasm, and positive energy of this group of alumni that they are now working on plans to bring five of the alumni back for a month-long internship at the museum in August.

Inspired by a meeting between Open World program alumnus and curator of the Open-Air Museum Nikola Krstović and American Councils staff at an embassy reception, this event marks the first of five collaborative projects, which will continue through mid-May, that bring together A-SMYLE and Open World alumni in celebration of Global Youth Service Day and the power of youth involvement in community change.  ”

Alumni proudly display the signs they constructed for the museum's garden

Alumni proudly display the signs they constructed for the museum’s garden

The A-SMYLE Alumni weekend at the Open-Air Museum in Sirogojno was the best possible way for us to open the Global Youth Service Day season,” observed Tara Đelić ’08, who is the alumni coordinator for A-SMYLE alumni in Serbia. “Only in A-SMYLE can you combine community service, hard work, reaching out to the ones who need the help of the volunteers, friends, fun, smiles and joy!”

After the activity had ended, alumni were asked, “What did you enjoy most about this weekend?” This is what some of them had to say:

  • “Helping people and feeling great about it, and meeting new people!” – Jana Jačić ’08
  • “My favorite part of the whole weekend was that I got to hang out with some really great people and share a lot of stories.  It was really awesome!” – Miloš Acimović ’12
  • “The nature is so beautiful, and being part of cleaning it, it’s great!  Having the opportunity to do something for nature is amazing.” – Milica Marković ’08
  • “Everything was great!  I got to work; I never work!  It was really cool to try that.” – Sonja Mitić ’12

Summer Activites in Southeast Europe Part VII: A-SMYLE Alumni Serbia

By Tara Djelic, A-SMYLE Alumni Coordinator for Serbia 2012-2013

Just like every other summer in the world of YES and A-SMYLE alumni, the summer of 2012 was marked by the change of generations. We received the newest generation of alumni and sent the newest generation of exchange students across the ocean.  The change, however, did not end there.  We also said our goodbyes to Jelena Kaplanovic ’09, the former Alumni Coordinator, and wished her all the best in her educational pursuits in at Grinnell College in Grinnell, IA.

Volunteers and visitors learn what it means to live healthy through interactive events at the "Zdravo Zivo" project in Vranje

Vranje Volunteers and visitors learn what it means to live healthy through interactive events at the “Zdravo Zivo” project in Vranje

When it comes to activities, A-SMYLE alumni keep reminding me how proud we should be of our activism.  First of all, NGO Think Big Team (TBT), the members and founders of which are A-SMYLE alumni, launched a completely fresh idea—the “Zdravo Zivo” Project.  The goal of this project was to promote healthy lifestyles and encourage people to take care of their personal well-being. “Zdravo Zivo” was realized throughout the months of July, August and September in 9 Serbian cities, including Loznica, Raska, Leskovac, Novi Sad, and Vranje.  What made these actions so special was the fact TBT provided fitness instructors, dance teachers, dance students and nutritionists to take part in this action and pass their knowledge on to the volunteers and visitors.

Secondly, Zoran Stojanovic ’11 and Aleksandar Cakic ’10 organized an original project in Leskovac called “Culture and Me”, which ran June 29th through July 8th.  Zoran and Aleksandar received 680 photograph submissions, 101 of which were chosen to be a part of an exhibition at the Cultural Center in Leskovac.  Some of the topics covered were nature, travel, music and general culture.  Zoran and Aleksandar say that the idea was born when they realized the extent of the lack of interest in cultural events in Leskovac.  Knowing how little is invested into the city’s cultural domain, they felt something high-quality and memorable had to be organized and took on the challenge themselves to inspire the youth from Leskovac.

This poster was designed to promote the "Outcasts: Save the Animals!" project organized by A-SMYLE alumna Daniella Kurfis in Backa Topola

This poster was designed to promote the “Outcasts: Save the Animals!” project organized by A-SMYLE alumna Daniella Kurfis in Backa Topola

Last, but not least, Daniella Kurfis ’09 was the proud initiator of the “Outcasts: Save the Animals!” Project in Backa Topola.  After an unfortunate accident at the local, privately-run animal shelter, a great number of cats and dogs were left homeless without a caregiver.  By organizing a 7-day volunteer action, Daniella managed to raise awareness about the importance of adopting animals and being an affectionate caregiver.  She and her team of volunteers taught visitors how to adopt an animal, since many are not certain what responsibilities that involves. Throughout the month of August, the animal shelter from Backa Topola received a great deal of attention, with the hope that more and more people will start visiting it and adopting animals.  Such actions will hopefully motivate Daniella’s peers to apply at the shelter and volunteer, just as she does.

Summer Activites in Southeast Europe Part VI: A-SMYLE Alumni Montenegro

By Ivan Vuksanovic, A-SMYLE Alumni Coordinator for Montenegro

Alumni activities in Montenegro over the summer were very successful.  A summary of some of the activities that took place follows.

Alumni meet with the speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament,

Alumni meet with the speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament, Ranko Krivokapic (center)

In the beginning of June, alumni from Montenegro visited the Montenegrin Parliament, where they met the Speaker of the Parliament, Ranko Krivokapic.  This was a great experience for all.  Alumni had the opportunity to share impressions of the United States while on program and to inform the president about alumni programming and activities that alumni organize and take part in.  It was also a great opportunity for alumni to learn more about the legislative branch of government in Montenegro and about the role it has in our society.

Later that month, A-SMYLE generation ’12 returned from the States and we got 16 new members of our alumni association.  The alumni coordinator organized a welcome back meeting for them where they got an opportunity to learn more about the alumni association, resources available to them and shared information about the process of recognizing their certificates from the United States in Montenegro.

The generation ’12 alumni started organizing and participating in activities right away! They participated in an alumi-organized debate at the American Corner where they analyzed the upcoming U.S. elections and shared their opinion about different topics related to this process.  You can read more about this event here.

In July, alumni participated in a volunteering action, which the Montenegrin American Youth Alumni Association (MAYAA) organized with the Food Bank of Montenegro for the students going on the UGRAD program during their pre-departure orientation.  Then, on the 4th of July, alumni organized the “Sweets for Their Smiles” action where they spent time with children from a refugee camp, taught them English and played with them.  You can read more about this event here

The alumni coordinator and MAYAA president Ivan Vuksanovic and Marina Roganovic (both ’07 alumni) were invited to the 4th of July reception organized by the United States Ambassador to Montenegro Ms. Sue K. Brown.

A U.S. Marine gives alumni a tour of a U.S. Navy ship

A U.S. Marine gives alumni a tour of a U.S. Navy ship

A few days later, alumni got a great opportunity (thanks to the United States Embassy in Podgorica) to tour a United States Navy Ship that was visiting Montenegro.  Alumni spoke with members of the crew about their experiences in the U.S. Navy and their time in Montenegro.  You can read more about this visit here.

Participants in the Summer Camp "", organized by A-SMYLE alumni and MAYAA, pose for a group photo while on an excursion

Participants in the Summer Camp “Today’s Children – Leaders of Tomorrow” (organized by A-SMYLE alumni and MAYAA) pose for a group photo

Alumni also spent a great deal of time this summer working on a MAYAA project—Summer Camp “Today’s Children—Leaders of Tomorrow.”  The Summer Camp was held from August 20-26 and it proved to be a success story.  30 high school students from various parts of Montenegro were interviewed and chosen to participate in the camp 20-26 August.  The summer camp consisted of a series of workshops on important socioeconomic topics led and organized by U.S. youth alumni and guest speakers.  The camp schedule also included English language lessons, volunteer projects and opportunities for the participants to share information about their backgrounds and experiences.  Check out photos from the Summer Camp here.

Besides having an alumni meeting in August, 8 A-SMYLE alumni participated in the fourth annual Baskteball Diplomacy Camp, which was organized by the United States Embassy in Podgorica.  Over forty high school students from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro joined Georgetown University coaches for a four day regional basketball camp.  During the camp, eight A-SMYLE exchange alumni from Montenegro moderated a leadership workshop.  The goal of the Basketball Diplomacy project is to highlight the importance of sports and education for young people, including the development of their leadership skills and volunteerism and to promote regional and inter-ethnic cooperation and tolerance through sports.

In September, alumni worked on promoting A-SMYLE. This year alumni put a lot of effort into promotion, contributing to more than twice the number of applicants showing up for the first round of the competition than had participated the previous year.

Alumni also organized the “Mission: ‘Common Goal” regional conference for A-SMYLE and YES SEE alumni through MAYAA. This project was supported by the United States Embassy in Podgorica. The aim of the conference was to encourage regional alumni cooperation and support alumni in promoting multiculturalism and multi-country programming.  Check out photos of this conference here.

International Outreach Fund Gives Roma Children in Belgrade a Play-Date to Remember

A-SMYLE alumni enjoy the afternoon with children from one of Belgrade’s Roma settlements.

American Councils’ staff and alumni in Belgrade, Serbia gave local Roma children a day to remember in June, as they were transported from their settlement to downtown Belgrade – only three kilometers, but a world away – for a rare playdate. With $135 in support from American Councils’ International Outreach Fund, alumni coordinator Jelena Kaplanović, along with six A-SMYLE alumni and others, brought 30 Roma children to a local playroom/playground for a few hours of play, singing, face-painting, and snacks.

A driver from Red Cross Palilula, Zdravko Loncarevic, volunteered to drive the children, aged 8-15. Nineteen of the children were regular attendees of projects run by A-SMYLE alumni, who teach them English, and hold presentation at landfills where Roma live in Belgrade. American Councils is one of three NGOs in Belgrade that organize projects for Roma children, and encourage their education.

The group also took a short walk in the downtown pedestrian area, which many of the children were seeing for the first time. “We believe it is very important to continue to work with these children,” said Sanja Ignjatović, American Councils’ Office Director. “There are a lot of efforts in Serbia to work with Roma children, but not many projects conducted by other organizations that go beyond the life of the project. These children then feel deserted afterwards, and they need to feel that people really care about them. They have already developed special relationships with our alumni, who have been working with them for months, and will continue to do so for many months of alumni projects to come. We are really proud of that.”

Montenegro Alumni On Board the USS Winston S. Churchill

Montenegro alumni in the bridge of the USS Winston S. Churchill

Earlier this month, Montenegro alumni boarded United States Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, temporarily docked at the port of Bar. A-SMYLE alumni Dzemal Elezagic and Ivan Vuksanovic ’07, Jelena Minic and Bozidar Stankovic ’11, and Nina Loncarevic, Amar Dizdarevic, Mina Radonjic, Stefan Raicevic, Andrija Vuletic, and Vuk Vukovic ‘12, along with alumni of other United States government-funded programs, gladly accepted an invitation from the US Embassy in Podgorica to tour the ship and learn about its functions.

The alumni received a warm welcome from the Navy sailors and command, who exhibited the ship’s features, explained the different activities in which it participates, and shared their own impressions of Montenegro.

Commented Vuk Vukovic ’12, “It was amazing experience to see what goes on the inside and outside of ship, we had a great time and people high in command of the ship were really excited to see so many people interested to learn more about the job they do.” Amar Dizdarevic ’12 echoed the sentiment, saying, “My favorite part of the ship was the crew. They were so nice and I was glad that I had a chance to talk to them. I was also interested in the ship’s construction and history.”

This tour comes as Montenegro continues its path toward NATO.