Finnish Soldiers help refurbishing a School

Capt. Constantin Spinu
First published in
SFOR Informer#151, November 7, 2002

In Novi Grad, Odzak municipality, the refurbishment of the Primary School is now finished, thanks to a joint effort from the Dutch and Finnish Governments, co-ordinated through the divisional Finnish CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) from Multinational Division North (MND-N). People who used to live in Novi Grad before the war now have another reason to come back. Their children have a place to learn.

Novi Grad - A small but touching ceremony was held in this town in the north of BiH, near the Croatian border on Oct. 23, when the newly refurbished Primary School was handed over to the local community. The reconstruction of the building was supervised in cooperation with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Finnish CIMIC. Finland and The Netherlands funded the project.
A strong reason to come back
Houses of Novi Grad and the whole infrastructure were destroyed during the war. By the end of summer 2002, 150 Bosnian - Serb families have returned to the area. Novi Grad, with its shops, churches and schools, is also a vital centre for many smaller villages situated nearby and is therefore very important to the returning process. Before the war the School of Novi Grad had around 600 pupils. Now that the first phase of reconstruction is completed, it is estimated that 150 to 200 students can take classes. The school also attracts children from the nearby villages of Struke, Trnjak, Prud, Donji Svilaj and Gornji Svilaj. In a few years as many as 400 young children will be students of the renovated School of Novi Grad.
These are some of the reasons why a project like this is important. "We, as CIMIC personnel, are collecting information about local communities' needs. The main criteria to decide project priorities is if the project is helping displaced persons to come back. And this school will definitely contribute to this cause," explained Captain Eero Mykkänen, project manager, Finnish CIMIC.
Money can't buy everything…
"With all the money in the world we can't buy the most precious thing: the future. And the future is now in your hands. Take good care of your children!" said Mr. Jan de Boer from the Dutch Embassy at the official opening, addressing the local people. And Col. Kari Pohala, Finnish Army, head of G5 MND-N, added "It is good to see this school ready for its children. All you have to do now is to teach them and prepare them for the future, in order to ensure your own future." Residents of Novi Grad fully agreed with these statements. "I have a 7-year daughter. Can you imagine this child going kilometers to reach the nearest school? This is the best human gesture that anybody could do for us. Thank you," said Dragica Kalabic, a Novi Grad resident.
The future is up to the local community
But the project is not yet finished. It is still unclear who will finance the interior and the heating system. Donors have asked the local municipality to participate in this common cause but there are no definitive answers. Heating is crucial for the functioning of the school during the winter. "We helped opening this school," said Mr. Henrik Kolstrup, UNDP Resident Coordinator. "There is still a part of the building which was not rehabilitated yet. It is now in the hands of the local community to go on. We really want to see life in this school." The future should be a bright one, especially for the children.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Finland

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Photos: Capt. Constantin Spinu

Col. Kari Pohala, Finnish Army, head of G5 MND (N) (l.), Mr. Henrik Kolstrup, UNDP Resident Coordinator and Mr. Jan de Boer, from the Dutch Embassy in BiH cut the ribbon. The children now have a new school.

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Giving the school back to the children. The divisional Finnish CIMIC
was deeply involved.

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The Gym is still in bad condition, but the children are happy to have a room to play in.

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Salt and bread. This is the way that the locals use to welcome their special guests.