“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
History: how and why Global Children’s Organization was founded
In 1993, during the early days of the Balkan wars, Judith Jenya, founder of GCO, traveled to the region with hope of learning more about the humanitarian disaster unfolding, particularly for the children who were caught as innocent victims in the crossfire of war. With breathtaking optimism and determination to galvanize others, Judith took on the challenge of organizing volunteers, marshalling necessary supplies, and finding a safe and secure place to bring children who were suffering in, on, and at the edges of the war (in actual war zones, in refugee camps, in orphanages) so that they might experience a few weeks of reprieve, a calm eye in the center of the storm, a time to just be children. Those first summer camp programs offered healing relief to hurting children, a chance to simply “be children” instead of witnesses or victims of war, and a few weeks of time to take in the message “there are people in the world who care about me and wish to help me”.
Under the inspired leadership of Judith Jenya, Global Children’s Organization (GCO) attained 501 (c) (3) status in 1993 and has been a registered non-profit organization since then
Every summer since 1993, GCO has recruited and organized groups of international volunteers who have joined hands with regional partners in the Balkans to provide children’s summer programs. GCO camps have been running through the years of the war, during the years that led up to the Dayton Peace agreements and in the years since then, as the region has struggled with the challenges of recovering and rebuilding in the long and challenging period of post conflict reconstruction.
GCO Programs evolve to match and meet changing needs
It is a huge family of GCO participants and supporters who have over the past two decades worked together to continue, without interruption, bringing needed programs to children and youth in the region, recognizing and responding to the shifting and changing needs that define the long journey of post-war recovery.
The war in the Balkans has long since left the front pages of the newspaper, but the hard work of healing and rebuilding is daunting. Among the most significant current challenges:
-efforts to create social services and reliable legal systems move forward slowly in the midst of complex political and governance dilemmas
-in many cities and towns in BIH, children attend segregated schools (students of differing backgrounds—Bosniak, Serb, Croatian–do not attend the same schools nor use the same textbooks)
-there is little opportunity for children of differing backgrounds to interact with one another, and as this continues, communities are at risk of becoming more polarized, individuals of differing backgrounds at risk of become more isolated, estranged or unfamiliar with one another
The enduring mission of GCO is to help children envision and build a better future for themselves and their communities.
What is at stake in the Balkans is clear: the war is over, but is peace possible? How can a robust and vibrant civil society be envisioned and nurtured? Will the children who suffered so in the past decades be able to look forward to a future that is not built on a foundation of past grievances? After fracture and loss, how is hope and well being restored for individuals, families and entire communities.
Our earliest Balkan programs aimed at providing safe and secure respite to children suffering as innocent victims in or near war zones. Now what is needed in this region are efforts that support recovery, efforts that bring people from all backgrounds together to find common ground, and efforts that offer real opportunity to join with others to actively shape a better future for all. Responding to the challenges of postwar recovery, GCO’s programs for children and youth increasingly emphasize
- -active and responsible participation in community
- - pleasure and empowerment of learning new skills
- - rewards of cooperative effort
- -value of relationship
- -awareness and appreciation of the contributions of self and others
- -development of leadership skills
- - joy of personal expression
- -acknowledgment and respect for differences
- - capacity for constructive and meaningful initiative
What is at stake in the Balkans is clear: the war is over, but is peace possible? How can a robust and vibrant civil society be envisioned and nurtured? Will the children who suffered so in the past decades be able to look forward to a future that is not built on a foundation of past grievances? After fracture and loss, how is hope and well being restored for individuals, families and entire communities?
The enduring mission of GCO is to help children envision and build a better future for themselves and their communities. Our current programs are helping children, and those who work with them, to regain hope for the future and to become citizens of a more peaceful world.