How Your Unique Skills Can Help Others

| November 6, 2012 | 1 Comment

Starimost Bridge Mostar BosniaDo you realize that you have unique skills and talents that can be used to help others, including your favorite non-profit organization?  Do you have a charity that serves others in a location other than your own town?  If so, you may be able to find ways to support them through meaningful travel.

My first few exposures to service-oriented travel were situations where I offered my photography skills to a non-profit organization that was planning a trip overseas.  My first opportunity was a trip with my church where a small group was traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  My husband, Terry is a musician and was invited to go and play music with his friend, Bob to reach out and connect with the Bosnian people. Terry was apprehensive about going, but I was very excited (just a small indication of our different personalities). I’ve wanted to go on a short-term mission trip for years, but this was the first time that our circumstances would allow for it.

After we determined that our schedules were open and we both could go, we had to figure out how we would pay for it. As with most non-profit opportunities, we needed to either pay for it ourselves (which was a bit out of our budget) or raise the funds. Generally smaller non-profits don’t have the extra money to cover things like a traveling photographer. I’ll write in more detail about the fundraising aspect another time, but suffice it to say that through the generous help of many others, we were blessed to raise the money to cover the trip costs for both of us.

Before we went, we took time to learn about the culture in Bosnia by reading books and talking to those who knew about the history of the area. We also went to lunch with the Phoenix team to Caffe Sarajevo, a local Bosnian restaurant, to get a preview of the types of food we would encounter. The food was different and heavy on meat and breads, but quite delicious! These small steps helped us to prepare for some of the things we would experience when we were there.

2010.05 Cevapi Lunch

Cevapi Lunch – Bosnian ground meat sausage with raw onions on Somun bread

Fortunately our Missions Director was leading the team and had been there many times before. She made all the plans and handled a multitude of logistics while we were on our trip. This is a huge help when traveling to a destination that’s unfamiliar and really helps to relieve a lot of the stress that goes along with travel abroad. She also had many contacts in the area from previous trips, which made travel and accommodations much easier to arrange.

Even with our pre-trip prep and learning, it was still such a remarkable, eye-opening adventure.  There is so much that could be told, but for now, I’ll just share a few of the interesting things the we learned during our visit there. [Don’t forget that you can always click on the photo to get a larger view.]

McDonalds in Mostar Bosnia There was no fast food, except an “unofficial” McDonalds that displayed the golden arches, but served more local food.

Bosnian Chicken SaladThe produce was fresh and delicious, but even though I ordered the same salad at the same restaurant a few days in a row, the ingredients changed. My guess is that they served what was available that day, which was fine with me. This is my grilled chicken salad one of the days. It was quite scrumptious.

2010 Sarajevo Coffee Bar

There’s no such thing as coffee-to-go in Bosnia. Coffee is an experience, a social engagement, an intimate meeting with friends; not merely a beverage. They drink it all day long and it’s very strong. We saw dozens of outdoor patios like this one, filled with tables where folks would sit for hours, drinking Bosnian coffee from real cups while they caught up on life and examined the world as it passed by.

2010.05.26 Dinner at Djana home

The people in Bosnia are very welcoming and relational. We were honored to have dinner in the home of our new friend, Djana.  We were treated with such loving hospitality and served a delightful meal. (You may notice from the photo that it’s tradition to remove your shoes when you enter someone’s home.)

Narrow Street Mostar BosniaThe roads in Mostar are VERY narrow. Many times a two-way street was not much wider than one lane (by American standards). My guess is that this is mostly because the city was founded in the 1400’s, long before cars. There’s just not enough room (or money) to widen the roads.  We were fortunate that our hosts were accustomed to navigating the streets and traffic there.

2010.05 Mostar War Zone

The devastation of the Bosnian war in the 1990s is still evident all around the country. This photo is from one of the main roads on the front lines where the enemies literally exchanged gunshots across the street from each other in Mostar. You can see a building restored (on the left) and another barely standing and pocked with munitions damage. It’s a stark reminder of the war that ravaged more than a decade ago. When we asked someone in town why so many buildings were still standing empty and unrepaired, she said that there were many people that left the country and never returned. The government isn’t able to tear the buildings down because they don’t own them. I assume that at some point there will be a deadline for claiming the property, and if unclaimed then they’ll be demolished. Until then these graphic remains stand precariously throughout the country.

Dancing at Breza ConcertThe Bosnian and Roma people loved our American folk music. When Terry and Bob played a concert in Breza the women and children were literally dancing in the aisles. It was awesome and so encouraging to them.

Boy playing Harmonica in Breza

Everyone was intrigued by Terry’s harmonicas. The children imitated him by playing “air harmonica”, so he gave a few harmonicas away for them to take home.  We’re not sure how happy the moms were about that, but the kids were thrilled.  Maybe we’ll get a concert from them the next time we visit.

We had a chance to meet so many new people and learn more about the culture, as well as the reconciliation that they strive for after the Bosnian war. More than a decade later there’s still evidence of poverty, pain, devastation and heartache at every turn, yet they’re optimistic about a better future. Someday soon we hope to return to reconnect with the people and continue to develop relationships with our new friends there.

I was so blessed to experience the culture and people of Bosnia.  In response, I was honored to provide these gifts back to the church that arranged the trip:

  • Taking pictures of the concerts, people and trip activities to share when we got home with those at the church and others who supported us
  • Taking pictures of several children that are sponsored by our church (with money for clothes and school supplies and books so they can attend school).  These were passed along to the Americans that sponsor each child so they’d have updated photos of them.
  • Taking pictures of a large missionary family that had recently moved there and didn’t have much time to document their new surroundings.  I was able to send them digital pictures that they could share with their family, friends and supporters, as well as creating a nice Blurb photo book that they could keep for themselves.
Even though I was “working” on the trip, it was more of a gift to me than it was for them. I loved every minute of it and would offer my services again if the opportunity arose. My husband felt the same way and was so honored to be able to share the musical talents that God had given him.
Do you have questions about our trip?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’d love to answer them.
What are some skills that you could provide for a service-oriented non-profit? Be creative. Think outside the box. Photography, video, graphic design, social media management, language translation, marketing, writing, music, organizational skills?
Have you offered your services before?  How did it go?
Are you a service-oriented organization? What skills and talents would be helpful to you?
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Category: 10 - 21 days, About Us, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Regions, Relationship Building, Service-Oriented Travel

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  1. katie says:

    Just came across your blog through a guest post with Lemon and Raspberry– I lived in Mostar for several years and know all the people in the photos! such a small world 🙂

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