Oxford Aid to the Balkans (OXAB) - Annual Report 2013/2014

Letter from the Trustees

This year, 2013-14, is an important one for OXAB. It is now twenty years since the very first OXAB volunteer trip to refugee camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and ten years since OXAB became a registered UK charity. It is also ten years since we visited the children’s home in Balvan, Bulgaria, for the first time, and talked through the first ideas for OXAB’s long-term projects with local volunteers.

A lot has changed in the last ten years. On our first visit to the Hristo Smirnenski Home in Balvan, we were greeted by sixty children scrambling to hold our hands and arms, desperate for attention, and living cramped together in awful conditions. Now, ten years later, not only has the building been completely renovated, but it is home to just twenty children, with staff having specific roles as ‘key workers’ for small groups of children. Specialised centres have also been developed, such as the family-style home and crisis centre, both of which are now supported by OXAB. Nevertheless, deinstitutionalisation is a slow process, and the role of OXAB Bulgaria in working alongside the local social services is still crucial. In this report, you can read more about the successes of our mentoring project, internships scheme and children’s club, all of which provide social and educational support to children growing up in care – from fun craft activities for 5-6 years olds, to support for care-leavers to attend university. On page 17, you can also learn about our plans to increase the long-term sustainability of our projects through funding for OXAB Bulgaria to hire a local member of staff to look into funding opportunities, as well as ongoing capacity building with local staff and volunteers.

At the same time, this year marks a return to our roots, as OXAB begins to work with refugee organisations in Bulgaria. Almost ten thousand refugees have entered Bulgaria in the past year, many of them Syrians crossing the land border from Turkey. Although this is a very small percentage of those displaced by the Syrian crisis worldwide, it marks a huge increase for Bulgaria, and there have been numerous difficulties in ensuring that children have access to education and other services. OXAB is still beginning to work out how we can best use our time and resources, but this promises to be a very worthwhile area to expand to. More information on this, and on our other volunteer projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, can be found in this report.

None of OXAB’s work in the Balkans would be possible without you, our supporters, and the money and time that you have given. We hope that you will enjoy reading about what we have accomplished with your help, and we look forward to your support in the coming year.

With very best wishes,

Lucy, Chloe and Joanna

OXAB’s board of trustees includes three representatives from the long-term projects committee and three from the student committee at the University of Oxford. The current trustees, Chloe Blackmore, Lucy Long, Joanna Flint, Zhi Hao Tan, Dunja Junjic and Anna Phelon, are pleased to present OXAB’s annual report and accounts for the financial year 6th April 2013 – 5th April 2014. We hope you will enjoy reading about our work, and would be happy to receive any questions or comments on balvan@oxab.org.uk.

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                   Oxford Aid to the Balkans (OXAB) - Annual Report 2011/2012

The current trustees, Laura Milchmeyer, James Evans, Sichen Wang, Vera Wriedt, Luke Bacigalupo, Joanna Flint, Chloe Blackmore and Anna Phelon were elected at the AGM in October 2011. The last year has been extremely busy with 47 volunteers travelling to 4 Balkan countries. OXAB’s long-term projects in Bulgaria have also continued to go from strength to strength, with over 40 mentoring pairs meeting on a weekly basis and more interns looking to join our new internships project.

As always there is room for improvement and we continue to work with our Balkan colleagues to improve long-term support for children growing up in institutional care. We are also continually reviewing our volunteer recruitment and preparation activities to ensure that volunteers have good experiences during OXAB volunteer trips.

On behalf of OXAB, we, the trustees, are pleased to present OXAB’s annual report and accounts for the financial year 6th April 2011 – 5th April 2012.

OXAB is a registered charity in UK (1104190) and a registered NGO in Bulgaria.

OXAB’s objectives

OXAB is a small charity working with disadvantaged children and young people across the Balkans. As well as sending student volunteers to work in orphanages, day centres and summer camps, OXAB runs a number of long-term educational projects to improve the lives of children and young people and help them to achieve their potential.  


 History of Oxford Aid to the Balkans

OXAB was set up in 1993 by a small group of students from the University of Oxford, to provide aid to refugees in the former Yugoslavia. It became a registered UK charity in 2004 (number 1104190) and operates as an unincorporated charitable association. There are two main strands to OXAB’s work:

1)      Organising volunteer trips to orphanages and children’s centres across the Balkans for students from four British universities: Oxford, London Imperial, Birmingham and Bath. The students spend 2-3 weeks during the Easter or summer vacations organising recreational and educational activities for the children, giving them some much-needed individual care and attention, as well as gaining valuable experiences in the Balkans. All trips are funded by volunteers themselves and organised by student committees at the respective universities.

2)      Running a number of projects in the Veliko Turnovo region of Bulgaria, aimed at improving the lives and future chances of institutionalised children in the long-term. These projects include a Children’s Club, Mentoring Project, and an Internships Project. These projects are run in partnership with OXAB 2006, our Bulgarian counterpart organisation and registered NGO. 


Volunteer trips

OXAB recruited and trained 47 volunteers during 2011/2012. In total, 34 volunteers travelled to Bulgaria, 7 went to Bosnia, 2 to Albania and 4 to Serbia. The fourth annual Balkan 5 meeting was also hosted by OXAB in November 2011, which enabled representatives from each of the student committees from Oxford, Imperial, Birmingham and Bath to meet one another and share experiences and ideas around coordinating volunteer trips.


During the Easter and summer vacations, 34 OXAB volunteers travelled to Bulgaria to work in six different orphanages and children’s centres. The volunteers organised some fantastic activities for the children including sports, crafts and English learning activities. 

Some of the Bulgaria volunteers also helped out with OXAB’s long-term projects. One group took part in a European day, making posters and tasting food from different countries within Europe, and another helped out at a careers event at Sveta Gora as part of our sister charity, ZOV UK’s outreach project. They did short presentations about their university degree subjects and organised a range of interactive games and creative workshops with the teenagers. Another group were part of an eco-cleaning activity at Penyo and Maria orphanage. They helped the children to clear the orphanage yard and cut the grass. A further two groups took part in an SOS children’s care project, alongside Bulgarian co-ordinators, volunteers and centre staff. They learnt how to recruit volunteers, to plan charity fundraising events, and how to involve people to take part in volunteer initiatives. The British volunteers also had the opportunity to communicate with orphanage staff and Bulgarian volunteers outside of the orphanage environment and talk about the role of volunteers, the language barrier, children’s behaviour and the importance of setting clear boundaries. 



OXAB have been or­ga­ni­sing aid to re­fu­gees in and around Bos­nia-Herz­ego­vina (BiH) ever sin­ce the war in the ear­ly 1990s, and un­like many other cha­ri­ties which have mo­ved on to more re­cent flash­points, we con­ti­nue to help tho­se af­fec­ted by the con­flict, 16 ye­ars on. The need for aid con­ti­nu­es to be felt by child­ren gro­wing up in a ra­va­ged and very poor so­cie­ty. OXAB pro­vi­des vo­lun­teers to run ses­si­ons in the com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre (Ot­vo­re­ni Cen­tar) in Hras­ni­ca, a sub­urb of Sa­ra­je­vo, which is the only place in the town for young pe­ople and child­ren to spend their free time wi­thout being on the streets.

Through a com­bi­na­ti­on of educa­ti­o­nal and re­cre­a­ti­o­nal ac­ti­vi­ties for child­ren the cen­tre is able to pro­vi­de Art, Eng­lish and IT clas­ses, as well as he­alth ad­vice for the pre­ven­ti­on of al­co­hol and drug abu­se. 

Alt­hough the cen­tre is equip­ped with ma­te­ri­als and ac­ti­vi­ty packs for the child­ren, this comes al­most en­ti­re­ly from con­tri­bu­ti­ons from pre­vious OXAB vo­lun­teers. Du­ring the mor­ning volun­teers were free to or­ga­ni­se ses­si­ons with the child­ren and had ac­cess to a class­room and the sports cen­tre. The sessions focus on teaching children English through games and activities, but can involve anything the volunteers wish to do, such as arts and craft, or sport. Du­ring the af­ter­noons vo­lun­teers were free to ex­plo­re the area and also had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to vo­lun­teer at Pop­ula­ri, a Sa­ra­je­vo-ba­sed non-pro­fit think tank.


In March 2008 a chain of ex­plo­si­ons at an Alb­ani­an mi­lita­ry de­pot si­tu­a­ted me­re­ly twel­ve kilometres from Ti­ra­na, Alb­ania's ca­pi­tal, car­ved out three deep cra­ters in the earth only me­tres away from the vil­la­ges of Ger­dec, Mar­qi­net and the small town of Vora. The Swe­dish NGO Ta­mam set up an an­nu­al sum­mer camp to en­rich the educa­ti­o­nal and re­cre­a­ti­o­nal op­por­tu­ni­ties pro­vi­ded to the child­ren of the af­fec­ted com­mu­ni­ty. The 2011 camp took place from 19 - 31 July. 80 child­ren attended, ages 5-16 ye­ars old. 10 Swe­dish Ta­mam and 2 OXAB vo­lun­teers were pai­red with Eng­lish-spe­a­king Alb­ani­an vo­lun­teers. OXAB's vo­lun­teers or­ga­ni­sed 6 hours of ac­ti­vi­ties per day: (1) ar­tis­tic ac­ti­vi­ties, (2) le­ar­ning ac­ti­vi­ties and Eng­lish cour­ses, and (3) sports ac­ti­vi­ties. Mo­reo­ver, they organised trips to the ne­arby lake, swim­ming pool and the be­ach. In the eve­ning they ar­ran­ged activi­ties for the en­ti­re com­mu­ni­ty, for in­stan­ce a bon­fi­re or a the­atre and mu­sic show. The summer camp pro­vi­ded much-nee­ded re­cre­a­ti­o­nal time for the child­ren that still suf­fer un­der harsh so­cio-eco­no­mic con­di­ti­ons and en­cou­ra­ged out­lets for creativity and post­trau­ma­tic stress. OXAB vo­lun­teers hel­ped to cul­ti­va­te and en­cou­ra­ge group work among the child­ren and mo­reo­ver to build stron­ger ties with the com­mu­ni­ty at-lar­ge.


Alt­hough Ser­bia is a re­la­tive­ly de­ve­lo­ped coun­try, it stills bears the scars of the war that tore Yugosla­via apart in the late 1990s. The ef­fects of the 1999 NATO bom­bing cam­paign can still be seen in some parts of Ser­bia's ci­ties. OXAB's pro­ject is ba­sed in Novi Sad, the se­cond lar­gest city in Ser­bia af­ter the ne­arby ca­pi­tal, Bel­gra­de. Novi Sad is the ca­pi­tal of the nort­hern pro­vin­ce of Vojvodi­na, which has a dis­tinct, mul­ti­cul­tu­ral iden­ti­ty within Ser­bia. Our pro­ject is run­ning at the Novi Sad Hu­ma­ni­ta­ri­an Cen­tre (NSHC). It is a non pro­fit or­ga­niza­ti­on that runs va­rious dif­fe­rent projects to pro­vi­de sup­port for the vul­ne­rab­le in Ser­bia and en­cou­ra­ge ci­vil ac­ti­vism, re­search and educa­ti­on. Vo­lun­teers were working with Roma child­ren, or­ga­ni­zing field trips for them, hel­ping out in work­shops and te­aching them some con­ver­sa­ti­o­nal Eng­lish clas­ses. Roma are mar­gi­na­li­zed in Ser­bia. Many of them live in po­ver­ty and do not fi­nish their educa­ti­on. The NSHC ho­pes that by teaching them life skills they can be bet­ter in­tegra­ted into Ser­bi­an so­cie­ty.

The children love having volunteer visitors and always look forward to meeting new people and trying out different activities during the otherwise monotonous school holidays. We hope that the trips have also given volunteers chance to meet new people and learn something about the Balkan cultures, as well as space to reflect on their own cultures, expectations and assumptions. 

Long-term Projects

OXAB runs a number of social and educational projects in the Veliko Turnovo region of Bulgaria. This include a Mentoring Project, Internships Project and Children’s Club, as well as an annual Christmas project. 

Mentoring Project

The Mentoring Project began in 2008, and currently pairs over 40 young people from two different orphanages and a family centre with a personal student mentor from the local university. As well as weekly individual mentoring sessions over coffee and training and support provided by qualified social workers, in 2011-12, participants enjoyed a ‘European Day’ including cultural quizzes and food tasting, two visits to the Veliko Turnovo university, trips to an ice-skating rink, bowling alley and cinema, as well as a final weekend trip to the countryside. Perhaps most important, though, is the emotional impact this has on the children and teenagers involved – with phrases such as ‘the feelings are wonderful. It’s so much fun to be with my mentor’ showing the importance these relationships have. For the mentors too, feedback shows that they feel they have learnt a lot about themselves, about the institutions and about work with disadvantaged youth – things which will be important for their own futures. 

Above: Mentoring project participants at Ksilifor May 2012 

Internship Project 

Balvan Children's Club

The Children’s Club runs on a weekly basis at the orphanage in Balvan, Bulgaria. In addition to the English classes which have been running successfully since 2006, we also offer cookery sessions, an art group and Saturday Club (which includes reading, craft and sports activities). Cookery and art sessions are led by staff members from the orphanage, English by visiting teachers, and the Saturday Club by local and international volunteers living in Veliko Turnovo. Over the past year the children have learnt to make salads, cakes and pizzas, and crafted some wonderful candle holders and table decorations which they sold at the annual Christmas bazaar in Veliko Turnovo. 

OXAB now has three interns who have recently left the children’s home in Strajica, with a fourth and fifth student looking to join the programme at the start of the new academic year in October 2012. OXAB Internships offers bright institution-leavers a basic monthly stipend to enable them to study at university, combined with the opportunity to take up an internship and gain valuable work experience. This should greatly improve their chances of finding a job after graduation. Our current interns – Gosho, Valio and Vessislava - are volunteering at the Balvan Children’s Club organising Saturday sports, crafts and games for the children, as well as helping with the mentoring project by talking to other institutionalised teenagers about their experiences at university. Our interns are great role models and are really helping to raise aspirations among the younger children.

Christmas Project and Parties

Like last year, OXAB sold wonderful Christmas cards designed and painted by the children at the orphanage in Balvan during our weekly art sessions. Thank you to everyone who supported the project by buying and selling cards. With the £300 raised, we were able to hold a lovely Christmas party with individual presents for the children at the H. Smirnenski Home and the girls at the Crisis Centre in Balvan. The children organised their own show of singing and dancing for Father Christmas – the youngest sang songs and recited a selection of Christmassy rhymes and poems, one 16-year old girl sang a beautiful unaccompanied solo, and two groups performed dance routines to their favourite pop and hip-hop records. Father Christmas gave out presents and bananas and the party atmosphere continued with food, including traditional Bulgarian fortune banitsa (cheese pastry), and dancing. As the afternoon went on, the older teenagers enjoyed chatting to their mentors from the mentoring project who had come to join the celebrations and the younger ones had a great time playing with their presents – nursing dolls and having races with pull-back cars!


                Above and left: Christmas card designs by the children 

OXAB also held a cake sale to raise money for Christmas presents for the children at the day centre in Gorna Oryahovitza. This centre supports disabled children and their families and the children put on a short performance of poems and songs for Father Christmas. Everyone had a great time and the centre’s director and parents expressed their thanks for OXAB’s support.

Summer camp donation

OXAB donated £630 towards transport costs so the children at Penyo and Maria orphanage could go on summer camp during 2011. The children went on a trip to the Bulgarian seaside and had a great time playing on the beach and swimming in the sea!

SARA Project

OXAB also donated £396.50 towards SARA Bosnia for car re-registration costs and donation.

Financial Statement 2011-2012

OXAB’s income this year is below the Charity Commission threshold which would require independent examination. We have therefore decided not to ask for independent examination of the accounts.

Table 1: Incomings


Unrestricted funds

Restricted funds


Grants and donations




Fundraising events




Volunteer fees




T-shirt sales












We are very grateful to all the organisations, colleges and individuals who have made OXAB’s work possible. Special thanks to the European Union’s Youth in Action programme, Friends of Bulgaria, Corpus Christi College, St Hugh’s College, New College School, Ramsey Grammar School, as well as individual supporters and to those who have supported our fundraising events and Christmas card sales.

Table 2: Outgoings


Unrestricted funds

Restricted funds


Mentoring Project




Internships Project




Volunteer coordination




Children’s Club




Summer camp donation




SARA donation




Christmas projects












Fundraising expenses




Bank fees












Our main expenditures involve financing our long-term projects in Bulgaria and paying for volunteer co-ordination for our student volunteers once they are in country. All co-ordination on the UK side is done voluntarily and volunteers pay for all of their own transport, accommodation and costs. Administration accounted for just over 3% of all costs, meaning that over 96% of donations went directly to help our beneficiaries in the Balkans.


OXAB seeks to maintain sufficient funds to provide for ongoing projects and volunteer coordination. We currently have approximately £7,000 in the bank, around £5,000 of which is already allocated to specific projects and the remainder contributing to our reserve funds in case of unforeseen costs or expenses.

Looking to the future

Fundraising is already well underway to support the mentoring, internships and children’s club projects into 2012 and we plan to continue to develop these projects in order to best support the children and young people we work with. OXAB also plan to improve upon the training and placement of UK volunteers to enable both the children and students to get the most out of these trips.

The trustees are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported OXAB over the past year to make our work possible. Special thanks are due to our partner organisation - OXAB 2006 - in Bulgaria, our partners in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, and our sister charity ZOV UK; our major funders including the European Union Youth in Action programme and Friends of Bulgaria; our supporters both in the UK and in the Balkans; our student committee in Oxford and sister committees at Imperial College, Birmingham and Bath; our volunteers from the universities of Oxford, Imperial College, Birmingham and Bath, as well as from New College in Swindon.

If you would like to get involved in the future, we have a variety of options available:

·         Join our mailing list to receive the OXAB newsletter and keep up-to-date with our work

·         Volunteer on an OXAB trip (for students at University of Oxford)

·         Organise an event or take part in a sponsored walk/swim/parachute jump to raise money for one of our long-term projects

·         Volunteer your skills to help us with grant and proposal writing

·         Make a one-off donation to one of the projects

·         Consider sponsoring an intern for part of their university course

For more information, please email oxabinfo@gmail.com (to contact trustees running the committee at Oxford University) or balvan@oxab.org.uk (to contact the trustees responsible for long-term projects in Bulgaria).