THE AWAKENING TIMES (TAT): Dear Helena, welcome, and thank you for this interview. I don’t know if you are aware, but The Awakening Times has decided to dedicate the month of May to the 20th anniversary of the ACT and Ammucare Foundations, and that is the reason for our conversation. To start, I would like to ask you about ACT’s actions in crises. We are familiar with ACT4Ukraine, ACT4Turkey, and ACT4SriLanka, but we would also like to hear about ACT4Croatia and the actions you led during the earthquake in Croatia. Can you share your experiences and tell us more about it?
HELENA BJELAKOVIĆ (HB): Greetings to you, Lea, and greetings to the entire team of The Awakening Times. It’s a very kind gesture to dedicate an entire month to the ACT Foundation. I had an experience when an earthquake occurred in a significant part of Croatia just before New Year’s Eve. So, it affected Glina and Petrinja, and the earthquake impacted 189 villages. I spent New Year’s Eve in that area. Besides the initial response, we continued visiting the region throughout the year. We didn’t stay in the city but visited the rural areas. It was winter, with snow, and many people were left without water and electricity. It was a challenge to reach them during those cold winter days. We had assistance from a local man who guided us through the villages. That’s the essence of it. Reflecting on everything, it gives me goosebumps.
TAT: It was a sustained effort that lasted for months. You went there for an extended period and provided assistance.
HB: Yes, after the initial campaign for New Year’s Eve, we returned to the region twice a month. We brought heaters, blankets, food, and clothes—everything we could provide because we were aware that there were people left behind. These were primarily rural areas that were severely affected. Many people were displaced. After a few days, the government provided containers, but they were empty. So, we organized a significant action to distribute heaters. Later on, we carried bunk beds, which we installed in those containers. We closely monitored the situation on the ground, and fortunately, we had a local contact person who kept us informed. It was crucial because the situation was constantly changing. At one point, I even stayed there for a few days to serve at the volunteer center. It was a large tent for volunteers who came from all over Croatia at that time. A substantial report was prepared about ACT Croatia’s actions during that period. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who organized and helped during that time. I personally experienced the war in Sarajevo, and I know what it feels like to lose everything. Moments like these, filled with unity and togetherness, left an incredibly positive impression on me. The sense of solidarity is priceless. It generates a certain vibration that transcends the cold, the mud, and the filth. Despite the challenging conditions, we would see smiles and find solace through conversations. Those moments remain in my heart, even after all this time. Unfortunately, I cannot say that everything is perfect now, and everyone has homes. That’s not the case. Many people are still living in containers.
ACT Croatia also organized a special campaign for five families with children, and then we collected funds for construction materials. We are overjoyed that those five families managed to return to their homes. When I say five families, it may sound small, but when you think about it, five families with children being able to return to their homes is a significant accomplishment.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all the people who donated money for this action. ACT Croatia is still active in that area. Although we are no longer providing food aid, we organized two summer camps for children from those areas. Last year, we took 32 children to the sea, and the year before that, we took 30 children. Many of these children have never had the opportunity to visit the sea before.
TAT: We heard about that project and saw some photos. What was the name of the project, and are you still doing similar initiatives?
HB: The project was called “Sea Wave for the Children of Glina.” Through this project, we aimed to brighten up their summer holidays and remove them from the stressful environment they were in. However, that’s not the only campaign we have done. We also conducted a large distribution of New Year’s packages for 150 children. We always strive to be there for the people of Glina and Petrinja, at least as a source of consolation in this sad story.
TAT: The ACT Foundation is comprised of volunteers, hands that serve. The foundation’s slogan is “One positive ACT a day.” What inspires you to serve every day?
HB: When I started ACT Croatia, my wish was for people to contribute in whatever way they could, whether it was through money, time, or their skills. That was the general idea. However, as our actions started throughout Croatia, what pushed me and continues to push me forward is the energy feedback we receive during the actions. I quickly realized that no matter how much we help someone, as volunteers, we receive so much more. That indescribable feeling of fulfillment comes from knowing that we brightened someone’s day, that we helped someone. It is crucial to be a light that gives hope back to people. Those human moments are the most important and beautiful.
You know, we have a choice each day. We can either cry and blame the people around us or we can wake up and decide to make a difference. For example, if we are surrounded by street cats, we can choose to give them food and experience their gratitude through that small act. Whether it’s birds, fish, or people in our environment, providing help is essential. That’s what motivates me—the indescribable feeling that I have managed to change something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
TAT: Is there any experience, perhaps a difficult one, that you would like to share?
HB: Well, that earthquake changed me. I need to go back to that. The first action was on December 31st. While the whole of Croatia was preparing and dressing up for the New Year, I spent it in Glina. I came home literally muddy and dirty.
We often take things for granted in our daily lives—all that we have. We don’t appreciate it and we lack gratitude. But when I entered those villages and saw how people’s entire lives disappeared in a moment, in just a few seconds… It changed me forever. I can’t claim to have experienced the same level of trauma as those people, but that experience certainly brought me back to a state of gratitude.
That evening when I returned home, I was grateful for every inch of my apartment. I was grateful to be able to get in the shower, take a bath, put on clean clothes, and lie down in my bed. Those people couldn’t do any of that on that day. That experience changed me, and I realized how much people take things for granted in their everyday lives. It made me grateful, and I’m grateful for that experience. Every time I return home from a trip, I remember that.
TAT: Thank you for sharing. I have been through war and many difficult things, and you are right, we should remember every day what we can be grateful for. Finally, I would like to ask you about a wonderful project of the ACT Foundation, the “Celebrating Life” festival, which takes place during the summer in Pula. Can you tell us a little more about it?
HB: A long time ago, I wanted ACT Croatia to have its own day, a day when the association, all our activities, and how we contribute to our community would be promoted. That’s how we started the poker festival, which initially took place for just one day but has now expanded to three days. Many people are doing great things, but somehow our voice is not being heard. That’s when I came up with the idea that we should all come together and speak up so that maybe they can hear us. This is how the “Celebrate Life” festival was born.
At the festival, we aim to have a representation of everything, from workshops for children and adults to yoga, aromatherapy, and promotion of the association’s activities. And of course, there is always a fundraising campaign. This year, the money will go to the pediatric clinic in Pula, which is in a bad state. We hope to collect as much money as possible to help improve the situation in pediatrics, even if it’s just a little. A month before the festival (July-August), we will open a special bank account for this purpose. I would like to take this opportunity to invite your readers to follow the announcements of the ACT Foundation Croatia and support this important humanitarian action.
TAT: What other actions have you undertaken?
HB: We have done a variety of actions, from donating blood to collecting money for an association dealing with animal protection. We have also helped an association for autism. The festival offers a diverse range of activities, including dance and music programs, as well as educational workshops for both children and adults. We strive to make the content interesting for everyone.
I must mention that the location, Zeppelin Bar by the Sea, is wonderful. It has a fantastic stage where we conduct yoga, conscious dancing, and pranayama. Here, I would like to extend an invitation to all those who share our story and have a desire to do good for others and their community to join us. I also invite all ACT volunteers to come and make this festival even bigger with their presence. And, of course, you and all your readers are welcome to attend.
TAT: Thank you for the invitation. The Awakening Times will surely respond. Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your experiences.
HB: Thank you for your interest in the ACT Foundation Croatia.