For the children of the remote town of Liplje
, getting to school was an uphill battle. In this majority-Muslim village, near the town of Zvornik on Bosnia's border with Serbia, 20 elementary school students walked five kilometers each day to attend class. During the winter, the kids piled into a four-seat truck, dodging icy water leaking through the rusted roof, while others were forced to sit in an uncovered truck trailer.
But all of that changed when Willem Pronk, president of the Netherlands-based NGO Stichting Proplan
heard their story on Radio Slobodna Evropa’s “TV Liberty” program
. “I imagined those kids driving in that little truck and I said to myself, children are human beings -- not animals -- and they deserve something better,” Pronk said. And on July 17 Stichting Proplan donated a Mercedes minivan
to serve as the village’s school bus.
Liplje residents said that Zvornik authorities have not responded to the children’s transportation problem, despite 10 years of pleas from worried parents. The people of Liplje, who were expelled from the region in 1992 by the army of Republika Srpska and returned in 2000, make their living from agriculture and receive no support from the local government.
With nowhere else to turn, residents wrote the media to ask for help, and RFE/RL’s Balkan Service
was the first media outlet to respond. Earlier this year, the “TV Liberty”
crew trudged through the snow to speak with the children and record their story. After the segment was aired in February
, people turned out to help, first by donating backpacks and money for fuel, and then the gift of the minivan.
“If there were no media, this problem would not have been solved. Who knows when this information would have made it to the public and when all those kind people would have heard it?” said a resident.
The community welcomed the arrival of the minivan with smiling children who lined up to talk to “TV Liberty.” “When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” said 12-year-old Naida Sinanovic.
“The children are happy now, and I can’t even describe how good it feels to see them happy,” another resident added. “For them, this is a piece of heaven.”
-- Kate Leisner with reporting by Radio Slobodna Evropa