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Pembroke Christians send aid to Croatia

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The Kalaš family: Now have a home thanks to Omri and Betty Arnold

The Kalaš family: Now have a home thanks to Omri and Betty Arnold

RETURNING from a two week visit to Croatia, which was organised to celebrate 25 years of links with Croatian churches, Pastor Rob James of Westgate Chapel in Pembroke said: “People say a week is a long time in politics but, as far as I am concerned, a quarter of a century is but a fleeting moment when it comes to Christian fellowship.

“I first got involved with Croatian Baptists when civil war broke out in 1991 and a close friend felt he ought to take humanitarian aid which could be distributed through their newly formed organisation ‘My Neighbour’.

“It has proved to be a deeply humbling and hugely inspiring experience.

“We have built long lasting and very deep friendships with our Christian brothers and sisters and we can look back with a sense of wonder when we think about the staggering amount of aid we have been able to take there over the years.”

“It was particularly moving to meet up with two members of the Kalaš family, former Bosnian refugees who now have a new home thanks, not least, to Omri and Betty Arnold of Pembroke who simply could not rest until they had done something to help them.”

The current trip was no humanitarian mission, explained Rob: “More than 70 of us travelled by coach to Rijeka. We wanted to celebrate our 25 years of partnership in the new pastoral centre currently being built by the local Baptist Church.

“We have been intimately involved in this project from the beginning. The foundation stone was laid in 2004 and we are amazed when we think of the progress that this small group of people has made. The new building (which has a roof shaped like praying hands) is in use, even if not completed, and has cost more than 1m euros to date.

“They have raised much of the cash themselves – although they have hugely encouraged by two amazing donations in particular. A German businessman gave a gift of half a million euros and even their bank gave them a further 100,000 euros to further the work. As I see it, their story is both a testimony to their commitment and to God’s goodness and can’t wait to see it completed.”

Expressing his deepest thanks on behalf of Rijeka Baptist Church, Srecko Ilionsovic said: “When the war started, there were some 80 or 90 people in our church. Things were very different then and because of this the church had a very different mindset.

“The repressive communist regime did not welcome social engagement and we could do no work in the community. That meant we were closed in on ourselves. However, things began to change in the two years before the war, and when it finally broke out we seized our opportunity and began to distribute humanitarian aid. This was our biggest form of outreach and as a result of it we developed good links and great credibility within our community.

“But now we are facing new challenges. We do not need humanitarian aid in the way we did before, although there are some 400,000 unemployed in Croatia and we do some work with refugees fleeing through Bosnia. Standards have changed too. Institutions that we once helped, such as the hospital, would not be content with secondhand equipment now. This new multi-functional centre will help us continue to engage with the community, although our main goal is still that of reaching people with the message of the Christian gospel. The centre will allow us to do much more than hold Sunday Services. If it were just used for that, we would not need it at all.”

Reflecting on the past 25 years, Skewen-based team leader John Thomas said: “I’ve been planning this trip for over a year. The original intention was to be present at the official opening of the Pastoral Centre but, when we realised they would not be able to complete it in time, we turned it into a holiday and celebration of a quarter century of mission and fellowship.

“Our Christian brothers and sisters gave us a truly wonderful welcome and we had a really blessed service on the Sunday morning. It was a very, very special occasion for every one of us. We worshipped together, we sang for them and I was privileged to preach the sermon.

“We reflected on all that had happened and I was presented with a plaque to mark the occasion. The service concluded with communion, with Pastor Rob James assisting at the table. This was followed by a fantastic lunch that had to be seen to be believed.

“As for the future, we hope to be present at their official opening but, looking back on this trip, I think I am reflecting everyone’s feelings when I say it has been a wonderful time and we thank God for his travelling mercies. I was in my mid-fifties when all this started and never ever dreamed that it would end up like this, although we all know that it hasn’t ended yet.”

To everyone’s amazement, Project Nehemiah was soon helping refugee families to purchase new homes! Pembroke-based Omri Arnold, a regular member of the teams, met the Kalas family while he and his wife, Betty, were on holiday in Croatia in the summer of 2001.

Stipo Kalaš suffered from epilepsy and he had escaped from Grgići in central Bosnia with his wife and two children, Ivana and Dragan, some 10 years before. The family had lost everything – even Stipo’s medication. Relocated in Croatia, the family found themselves the only Croats in a hostel full of Muslims (their persecutors in Bosnia) and girls who had turned to prostitution.

The family of four had been forced to live in one appalling room for eight years. Confronted with this harrowing situation, Omri said that he and Betty knew they ‘had to do something’. “That hour’s experience was unforgettable,” he explained. “It made us realise without any doubt that ‘we were their neighbours’.”

On returning to Pembroke, the Arnolds shared their concerns with their neighbours and especially with the staff and pupils of Monkton School, where Omri’s daughter was the school secretary. In fact, he told them that they would love to help the family to obtain a ‘cosy little house with a garden big enough to grow their own vegetables and even keep some chickens’.

Omri was then told that there was a suitable house for sale for £7,000 and so he immediately set about raising the necessary cash. And it didn’t prove difficult. As he explained: “People sent gifts from all over South Wales. Less than six months later we were able to give the family enough money to purchase a three bedroomed home in the peaceful village of Lic.”

Omri was overwhelmed by the generosity he encountered, especially from the pupils of Monkton School. “The school is itself in a very needy area,” Omri said. “But some of the children even went without a piece of toast in their breakfast club to support the Kalaš family.”

It gave Omri an immense sense of joy to report back to the school. “We are greatly encouraged by the gifts you have given,” he told one packed school assembly. “It means the family have been able to buy a wonderful house and pay for the 5% land tax. This is really important because it means they can get passports as citizens of Croatia.

“The house has been beautifully refurbished and will allow Mr and Mrs Kalaš, their two children and their aged mother and father, to live in their own new home and garden in peaceful surroundings. What a difference to having to live in a single room of 14ft by 10ft for the rest of their lives.”

All of this had an enormous impact on Omri; years later, he still recalls standing in the kitchen of his own home reflecting on how the Kalaš family must be feeling. He said: “When there were sufficient funds to instruct Srećko to buy the home, I felt as if a physical presence took a heavy weight off my shoulders and it was replaced by a joy in my heart. It became a quiet assurance that the waiting for the money was over.

“For me, there was nothing more to be done and all my anxieties were swept away. Calmness. Finished. Oh Hallelujah.”

It reminded him of the joy he had felt when he had bought land to build his own home some 30 years before. He remembered thinking: “It’s my very own – I belong to Pembroke,” he said. “My mind instantly went to the village of Lič and to the Kalaš family.

The vision wasn’t limited to the Kalaš family because there were soon enough funds to purchase homes for the Gavrić and the Lesic family as well as help other refugee families with their varying needs.

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Fishguard and Goodwick Mural project turns to Crowdfunder to raise money

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PLANS to put up a few bright and decorative murals around the twin towns of Fishguard & Goodwick have turned to Crowdfunder to raise the money needed for their vision.

Andrew Harries, found of the Fishguard Future Projects, wants to place 12 murals around Fishguard and Goodwick “to help brighten up the town and showcase its culture and history”.

Andrew said: “Having been born and raised in Fishguard, I have seen the town’s highs and lows.

“Fishguard and Goodwick has a lot of potential with the tourism trade growing every year and the popular events such as the Music Festivals, The New Years Eve Street Party, The Carnival, The Soapbox Derby and many more helping attract even more visitors.”

The murals, which were initially turned down for funding when a grant application was refused, will focus on the two towns “interesting but lesser known history” that Andrew feels needs to be highlighted.

Andrew told The Herald: “Each design will be 8 x 6ft and mounted professionally on buildings around the area. Having spoken to a few business owners around the town, this project has received a lot of positive feedback.”

“The murals will unfortunately need to be fully funded via Crowdfunder, after a grant application was turned down.

“I have explored the option of having them traditionally painted on, but this would be more cost effective and would need to be maintained every 5 – 8 years. With this in mind, the designs will be created digitally and then professionally mounted on aluminium composite.”

If you want to help, you can find the link to Andrew’s Crowdfunder here.

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Drive for new recruits as Army Cadets re-open

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DYFED AND GLAMORGAN ARMY CADET FORCE are now able to accept new joiners aged 12 (and in Year 8 at School) to 17 years old.

Joining the Army Cadets will give access to a wide range of exciting activities, from adventurous training (AT) such as kayaking, mountain biking and abseiling and Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to military-themed activities including shooting, fieldcraft and skill at arms, as well as training in first aid, young adults get the chance to discover lots of new experiences and make new friends.  

There is no obligation to join the Forces at all, but they can give some guidance if you are interested.  

There are no subscription charges, uniform is issued free on a loan basis; the only thing you need to supply yourselves is Boots.  

The Cadet Force are also looking for adult volunteers, both uniformed and non-uniformed to assist as well.

They have Detachments located in Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Narberth, Tenby, Milford Haven, Neyland, Pembroke Dock, Tenby, St Clears, Llanelli, Trimsarren and Burry Port.

Most Detachments parade twice a week in the evenings 1900 – 2100hrs on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday (Depending on Location) and try to get away for a weekend every month as well as organising summer camps. 

Further Information is available at :- www.armycadets.com or call them on 01656 657593 (Option 1) to find out where your local detachment is and what nights they Parade.

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Food Waste Heroes needed in Pembrokeshire

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TESCO’S Pembroke Dock Superstore has joined forces with food sharing app and social enterprise OLIO which is encouraging people across Pembrokeshire to become Food Waste Heroes.

The OLIO app allows anyone who signs up to tackle the issue of food waste at a local level.

OLIO Food Waste Heroes collect surplus food that might otherwise go to waste from supermarkets and other food businesses and share it with others locally for free via a contact-free pick-up.

Food Waste Heroes will be collecting surplus food from Tesco local stores taking part in the scheme, including the Tesco Pembroke Dock Superstore, and take it home ready to upload it to the app and share it with their community.

To reward them for taking part Food Waste Heroes are allowed to keep 10% of anything they collect to enjoy at home.

Saasha Celestial-One, co-founder of OLIO, said: “People become a Food Waste Hero for many different reasons but they each share a commitment to reducing food waste at scale. It is extremely rewarding because distributing large quantities of surplus food via the app means you get to see exactly what food you are preventing from going to waste.

“In the process of sharing our FWHs also get to meet a lot of new people in their neighbourhood, people from all walks of life. Finally, FWHs are able to keep up to 10% of their haul for themselves, so they can enjoy some of the delicious rescued food too!”

OLIO is registered with the Food Standards Agency, which ensures that all food collected is safe for human consumption.

Paul Johns, Store Manager at Tesco Pembroke Dock encouraged people to get involved.

“At Tesco we are committed to tackling food waste and we already donate our store’s surplus food to local charities and community groups through our Community Food Connection scheme with FareShare,” he said.

“But on some days local charities and community groups are unable to collect from us, and that is why we are supporting OLIO in the hunt for Food Waste Heroes across Pembrokeshire so that even more of our surplus food is eaten rather than wasted.”

To become a Food Waste Hero or find out more, visit https://olioex.com/get-involved/volunteer/

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