Our Way: A story of Community Development in Priboj, BiH

In August 2014 I had the chance to participate Peace Camp, the main, annual project CIM  organises, involving young people from across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among the participants was Mili, a very outgoing, free-spirited person, and long-term activist. One of his greatest achievements was to build a tennis court for children in his local community, the small town of Priboj, in the North-East of BiH.

Mili shared his story of community development as part of our GlobalGiving Storytelling Project:

In 2008, I watched a tennis tournament in Australia for the first time on tv. Ana Ivanovic got a great result, and I got the idea to build a tennis court. I spoke with a lot of people from the local community and they made jokes about my idea. I spent 4 years searching for possibilities to build the tennis court, and never gave up.

After 4 years, I got information about youth bank possibilities to get 1000 E, if we have 5 young people ready to work on the project and find minumum half more from another source. We started campaining indidvidually, when I explained the backround to people they started to trust me more. The funds could be money or other type of support. We got promises from local companies to flatten the ground. Before that we needed to ask the local football club to give us land and to my surprise it was very easy, in the centre of town, close to the school and next to the main road and the football court.

When we started, the company  we were working with came with a different machine than needed, they tried to flatten the ground but it was impossible, and I organised young people, first 10, than more, and we started to fix the ground to prepare it for the next stage. At the same time, still the community, even if they gave us the money they didn’t fully believe in us, it was 40 degrees in August, they thought we were crazy. It was a 3-month project.

After we flattened the ground (6 days), we started to dig the foundation for the fence, again manually, the young people only had shovels and other basic tools. We spent 3 days on it, because the fence was long, around 100 metres. It was a hard job because the soil was rocky, but we managed it. After that, the next step was to buy stones to make cement to fill the foundation with an iron net inside. Then, we did the first foundation stage. We asked local building companies for wooden materials to hold the foundation, 25 cm above the ground. We did it ourselves, we worked for 3 days and made the boards and blocks. We filled the boxes with iron pillars. Again we did it alone with tools from friends and family, and the local community. Four of us dug again diagonally for the drainage, we collected rocks from the river with a mini tractor and filled the hole completely to make the draining system. After that my friend came with a big truck  and brought the second layer of small stones for the tennis court. It was 40 m3 and we got this 3 times cheaper than the regular market price. When we brought this, we organised 3 tractors from the community to move these stones to layer them. The guy with the skip came to the tennis court and tried to flatten everything, and again we didn’t have to pay anything. It was am in-kind donation. 6 or 7 of us made it completely flat again with basic tools.The next step was to layer the residue black clay from the local power plant, which was again around 40m3. My friend with the truck went there, and I promised I would pay him 35 E for each truck ride. He did 3 rides and 5 of us layered it, completely manually,10 cm  in thickness.

At this point there were still some people from the community saying we were crazy and we would never make it. A lot of local politicians offered us finanacial support, but only if we joined their party and promoted them. Unfortunately for them I refused it, even if they wanted to give us all the money. We had promised the local community that the local politicians would not be involved, and that’s why they donated. I refused politely and said I couldn’t make it political, and wanted the courts to be build with the support of local residents.

At the same time, I was training to become a tennis referee and I asked  for support from the national tennis association. They offered to help me. They gave us the tennis lines, and I asked them for the red clay but they were reluctant. I was grateful though because the lines were 350 E. I came from Banja Luka, and I gave the community this news. Because of the size of the black clay which was uneven, we had to ask for the roller truck again, and we actually got a tube full of concrete with a metal stick, more than 200 kg, and we did it ourselves with that improvised tool. I went to the mayor to ask for a bit of help and he said he couldn’t help but he said he had a friend who could do it. We got the machine and we rolled the black clay more evenly. We even worked during rain. It was hard but we didn’t give up. We ran out of money for the red clay.

We asked local companies for a machine to crush bricks to make red clay, but it didn’t work. When we told the tennis association we collected all money from the local community, within 15 minutes we got a call from a guy in Banja Luka and he said he would give us all the red clay for the money we had left. He was from Switzerland. He also transported it. The drivers paid for our drinks too. The local school sent all the 9th graders with 2 staff to help put down 30 tonnes of clay.

We got the Accomplishement of the Year Award from the National Tennis Association for this.  The media started to pay attention because i posted a photo album on facebook called ‘our way’ , and everyone was surprised. We built the tennis court our way with our hands, with a small amount of money. I published all the photos step by step, and the people who didn’t believe in us came to us to shake our hands. It was a massive success because we proved everyone we could do it, and because of all the hard work. All the time some people said we would steal the money and won’t do anything. The whole entity was surprised about the award we got. I was so happy especially for the young people who worked with me.

The step by step photos of this project can be found here.

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