Volunteer View: Sarah D on the New Year Party

International volunteer, Sarah Dyble shares her experience of planning and delivering activities for the New Years Party with us.  


The last big Svitac event of the year and of my placement, is the New Year Party, so called because Svitac does not attach itself to any religious festival.  Instead this party is aimed at uniting everybody in a celebration of 2015 and positive hopes for the new year.  

‘Do you want to sing something with the younger group?’ Dina asks and I agree to.  I was doing music with the children the following day and prepared Visibaba Mala, a traditional children’s song about the snowdrops (visibaba) in the winter (zima) ringing to call in the Spring (proljece).  However, in the workshop we only have time to learn the first few lines of the song securely…then it is 11.45am and Asja is telling me that the children need to have their break.  I oblige and stop rehearsing.  It’s not fair to keep the children doing the same song all morning, especially as they are so young.  

But I start wondering when we will finish learning the song.  I have a music session on Thursday the following week to practice with them.  Will that be enough time?

Friday comes and it’s the planning meeting for the following week’s workshops.  Jonas asks if he can do an origami workshop.  It sounds great…but it gets scheduled for the slot I hoped to rehearse in. How can we learn a song to perform if our next rehearsal is not until a couple of days before the event?

Sam gives me sound advice…’don’t do such a long warm up’.  I realise he is right.  In the UK I taught children who’d never sung together, so a long warm up to build a community atmosphere was almost as important as learning the songs.  At Svitac, the children are already used to singing together.  Luckily, on Monday Asja lets me rehearse during part of the time normally assigned for games.  Taking Sam’s advice, I keep the warm up to about three minutes and suddenly discover I have so much more time!  I feel like an idiot for not realising where I was going wrong…

Visibaba Mala gradually improves with another mini practice during another games time and the following week I get to lead an entire workshop with the mala grupa.  We spent the first half of the session singing Visibaba Mala and Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, then in the second part we do art, making big snowdrops, daffodils and birds for the children to hold up whilst they are singing.  In the afternoon I support Sam, who is teaching the velika grupa Hakuna Matata.  I play the piano accompaniment for them.  It is harder than it appears as they are singing it in localni jezik and the words match the music in a completely different way…but it is great fun and the children seem to enjoy it.  Asja says she now sings these songs at home…and it’s our fault!  The next day I wake up singing Hakuna Matata…

Aside from music and art for the party, Georgia and I are doing a cultural presentation on English winter festival food.  We decide to make apple pies, mince pies and spiced ginger biscuits.  However, in Brčko there is no mincemeat – so I decide to make my own.  All the recipes online seem to either feature copious amounts of brandy, and/or several weeks leaving the mincemeat to mature and infuse.  But I scratch my head and think about what I can put together to make an instant non-alcoholic mincemeat using the ingredients which are affordable and available…

…and it works!  Thank you to Aida’s mum for letting me use her kitchen to bake 36 mince pies the night before the party, whilst Georgia uses our one shelf oven to make many small batches of ginger biscuits.  We meet back at the centre to do Freeletics (the only sports workshop run by Svitac, where Sam sets us off doing the bleep test.  Every time the next bleep sounds you must run the length of the plesna sala!  The interval between bleeps lessens as you get wearier and the levels of the test increase…).  Following this, our excellent coach Nemanja takes us through burpees, push ups, jumps and other strengthening exercises.  We always play music to inspire and energise us, ranging from dance to house to rock…and even a little heavy metal!  Muscles aching a little, we return home, cook dinner, and team up to bake 48 apple pies.  The house smells of baking as we head to bed.

Friday morning.  We take the mala grupa to the Kinosala to practice on the stage, but it is local staff who line up the children and decide how they should stand.  I feel like a fraud – who am I to say I lead music workshops if I can’t organise presenting our work, because I haven’t got the language skills to tell the children how to stand?  

I shake myself mentally – there are other ways to communicate besides localni jesik and I resolve to make use of them.  On the night, all the volunteers help to usher the children on stage.  A whispered ‘imo’ and lots of gestures and body language are used by everybody – even I can understand this!  We encourage them to sing and I conduct, bringing them into each verse of the songs, singing or miming along and encouraging them to wave their flowers and birds for Visibaba Mala and do the actions for Heads, Shoulders, Knees and ToesTheir parents take mnogo, mnogo photos and videos!  Congratulations to the mala grupa, the velika grupa, the guitarists and solo singers and cast of Petar i Vuk for their excellent performances throughout the evening and thank you to the hard-working Father Christmas and his wonderful wife and elf who deliver presents to so many children there.  Georgia’s New Year Hope Tree is also popular as the children write their hopes for 2016 on paper stars to hang in the branches.   Johanna made delicious German lebkuchen for her cultural presentation…and all our cakes disappear in minutes!  

It is exciting to be part of this event, attended by over 250 children and their families.  Thank you to Svitac for letting me be involved.  I still wish I spoke and understood localni jesik better, but I will try to keep learning and studying back in England.  But anyhow, the children remind me that there of other ways to communicate and the language of sharing smiles and friendship is universal.