A Gift From Scotland

Capt. Ian Hamilton
First published in
SFOR Informer#166, October, 2003

70 war orphaned school children from Babanovici are today playing football for the first time, thanks to the warm hearted generosity of the men of the 1st Battalion, The Highlanders.

Babanovici - The orphanage, run by Scots VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer, Sarah Cumming, 21, from Forfar, is in one of the most poverty stricken areas of war-torn Bosnia. In a predominantly Serb area, Sarah runs one of the few inter-ethnic facilities in the area, taking in kids from all backgrounds and religions, Bosniac, Serb and Croat, trying to encourage peace and harmony in tomorrow's generation.
"It's was a real uphill struggle" says Sarah. "We didn't even have enough paper to give every-one a jotter. The kids shared pencils, rubbers - even the very basic stuff you take for granted in the UK was impossible to find out here".
The poverty is real enough. In an area still littered with the ruins of burnt-out houses, destroyed by war, there is little no industry. In a country where the average income is £120 per month, it's barely half that in Babanovici. "Seeing the British was like a miracle," Sarah adds. "We were in the classroom, when we heard the sound of heavy trucks outside. When I looked out the window, there were our guys, coming up the hill on a patrol".
Lt. Tom Hawkins, 24, from Stirling, takes up the story: "We were on a routine route clearance through Babanovici when a very animated local lass came running up babbling in a strange tongue. Luckily, we had a few cunning linguists in the patrol who were able to identify the language as a strange Scottish dialect….and that's how we met Sarah".
A quick inventory check later and the Highlanders sprang into action. Calls to SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo resulted in the delivery of footballs, while the Ops room donated a selection of pens, pencils and notebooks. Most highly prized of all, though, were 2 computers, seized in a raid on arms smugglers. "It's great to be able to do something to help these people" says Tom. "Frankly, it makes a long tour away from home worth it when you see the faces light up at the gift of such simple items".
For Sarah, it's a chance to properly do the job she came out to do. "I can't thank the Highlanders enough," she says. "Without them, I'd be trying to teach with one hand tied behind my back. These kids will always remember the soldiers from Scotland - and, just maybe, that will help them live together in peace".

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: UK

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Photos: Capt. Ian Hamilton

A happy group of children showing off their new footballs.

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Lt. Hawkins with Sarah and a couple of the school children.