Amir holds up three fingers to indicate his age. The basic and overcrowded conditions of the Roma camp at Kragujevac, Serbia, are all he has ever known.
Each room is home to an entire family, even one with eight children. Water is carried home in plastic containers. Cooking is done by bottled gas or on a wood-burning stove. The children are enrolled in school but many do not attend. Some of the parents are unable to read or write.
Older members of this community of 70 people can remember what it was like to live on the roadside and then under a bridge after their displacement from Kosovo in 1999. For nearly 20 years, Pastor Dragisa Armus, who leads the work of Blythswood Serbia, has been visiting these families, bringing them oil, pasta, flour and sugar, as well as gift-filled boxes from Blythswood’s annual Shoe Box Appeal.
Today Amir’s family survives by collecting scrap metal and plastic for recycling, and also receives the equivalent of 75 euros per month in child benefit. For people in their situation every item in a Blythswood shoebox is valued and useful – clothes, toiletries, sweets, tools and stationery.
Blythswood’s 2018 Shoe Box Appeal resulted in 107,073 shoeboxes being distributed in Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. In 2019, Blythswood plans to send some to Pakistan, too.
“The people we give your shoeboxes to are always immensely grateful,” says Blythswood’s chief executive James Campbell. “It’s amazing to see the impact that some of these boxes have had on those who receive them. I really want to encourage you to fill a shoebox this year because it does make such a difference to lives that are otherwise almost hopeless.”