Craft for crisis
Organization sells prints to help children affected by war

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 28/00) - Over 100 art prints by well-known Ontario artists can now be purchased at a local gallery. But this is no ordinary art show.

To help raise money for Children in Crisis Canada Society, an organization that helps children in war-torn Bosnia, the Birchwood Gallery has agreed to sell the art.

"I work for the military on a part time basis but I'm up here in Yellowknife on a contract for a couple of years," says Children in Crisis founder Mike Rarog.

"What I normally do in my civilian life is I work as an international aid worker. I worked over in Bosnia between May 1994 to March '98. At that time I was working for a British agency. When I came back home in '98 I decided that I had still had a lot of contacts there and I still wanted to continue to do some work."

So Rarog, originally from Edmonton, decided to start his "own little agency" -- Children in Crisis.

"We're looking now at getting things going," he says, adding his work in Yellowknife has been keeping him too busy over the last year.

The 125 prints were donated to Children in Crisis by Jim Green, an art collector from Ponoka, Alta.

The funds raised are earmarked for a project Rarog hopes to get off the ground soon. Within his Eyes Wide Open program -- one of the organization's programs that seeks to introduce Canadian teens to the complexities of humanitarian aid work -- Rarog hopes to send local teens overseas.

"Get a select few of them trained and then take them over to Bosnia," says Rarog, who in Bosnia, helped with emergency supplies of food, water and shelter, medevacs, refugee movement, rehabilitation of water and sanitation systems, mine awareness training for kids, reforestation and post-war construction.

Now he wants Canadian youth to get involved.

Rarog admits there's a "whole whack of issues" that need to be addressed, such as safety, but he has the broad lines of the project laid out.

"I'd like to get a number of schools here twinned with schools over in Bosnia. Set them up with connections on the Internet and have them talking to each other back and forth."

Rarog hopes to find some mature local teens interested in aid work.

"Put them in place with the people I've got working in Bosnia now. They'll show them the ropes and kind of show them around. Keep them safe and out of trouble. But introduce them to a number of schools over the course of about a month. Then actually do a local purchase of computers there, because they are available. Pay for a year worth of Internet connection, come back here, and put those two schools back in touch."

Rarog wants his teens to do more than just dig ditches.

"I want to train them in a very simple type of program. How to write the proposal and plan, and then have them actually implement the plan. Doing all the things over there. Dealing with the Customs people, the bureaucracy. Because they really have to see that and experience it to appreciate how hard the job is. Also putting in control mechanisms. Making sure you're not putting the computer into someplace where it's just going to disappear into somebody's private home."

Though this may sound like an ambitious project to the average person, Rarog says that it is simplistic compared to some of the things that have been done in Bosnia.

"It'll be a really good start."

Rarog, who hopes to eventually involve youth from outlying NWT communities -- as well as Yellowknife -- says the project may even be helpful to teens.

"One, you're life's really not as miserable as you might think it is. I think it can put a lot of things into perspective. Secondly, I think that kids who might feel powerless in their own lives, when they get involved with helping others, are going to feel very empowered and, quite frankly, grateful for what they've got. Third, I can tell you that Canadians are very much in demand for international aid work because the world has a perception that Canadians are good people, honest and neutral. And they're very trusting with us. And I think it's a good opportunity for a kid to be looking at this as a career choice."

As for the safety of those who go -- at the cost of about $10,000 each -- Rarog says he knows Bosnia, and the area he has targeted for his project, Banja Luka, was never directly in the war zone.

"It's in the middle/central area of Bosnia. It's the second largest city in Bosnia. It's got ready access to the Croatian side, the Muslim side and the Serbian side. That particular area, and this is very important for the program, was never directly fought over. So there's no worry about kids stepping on a land mine or picking something up that's going to blow up in their hand."

"There's no real level of street violence," says Rarog. "They'd be much safer there than in any city in the United States, for example."

Rarog adds there are many areas in Bosnia that are now stable. "They're just very, very economically depressed."

The prints, along with a Children in Crisis pamphlet, will remain at the gallery until all have been sold.