"It's better to die as a honorable person than live like a selfish one, my grandfather used to say," Sasa Beljic explained.
Beljic and two other members of his farmers cooperative, the First Agrarian Association of Medvedja, Serbia, recently gave $500 to help Mercy Corps' Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. These men, beneficiaries of a Mercy Corps grant for agriculture, felt very strongly about giving to help other people in need - even as their own families face ongoing hardships.
"We received a very generous donation from Mercy Corps. Some of that money maybe came from the people of New Orleans," Beljic said.
Beljic and his colleagues have put the grant they received to good use.
They formed the First Agrarian Association in 2002 to help the people of their community, which is still recovering from the wounds of the brutal Balkan conflict. The main goal for founding the group was to develop modern agricultural production across the region through good information flow, constant learning and application of that knowledge in the field.
The Association currently has twelve members working on the production of high-quality vegetables for sale across their area of Serbia and Montenegro. Sales of these vegetables have not only benefited the families of association members, but also the communities where they live.
Some of the projects the Association has completed for the area include:
- Building a house in Medvedja village for a poor Roma family with nine members;
- Purchasing and installing a heating system for a kindergarten in Medvedja; and
- Buying a computer for a local primary school.
The Association's next project will be constructing twelve greenhouses across the area to help teach fellow citizens about improved agriculture. Members of the group want to give their neighbors the opportunity to learn, and then to grow and sell high-quality vegetables that will help them earn more income to support their families.
For now, Beljic and his colleagues have given from their hearts to support families in New Orleans - neighbors half a world away.
"We decided to give this donation in good faith and from the heart to the New Orleans citizens with the support of our families, apart of all difficulties that we live with," he said. "This is our way of saying thank you."
Click here to read the text of the Association's letter to Mercy Corps.