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London Students Help Serbia Flood Relief

by , 10th Jun 2014

London elementary school children have organized to help Serbia Flood Relief by selling cakes.

It is a universal truth that children love nothing better than getting out of school at the start of a weekend to summer sunshine and be greeted by the sugary glory of a bake sale of cookies, candies and cakes. The lucky kids at London’s Hampstead Parochial School got their weekends off to a great start recently when, streaming out the doors at the end of a long day of lessons, there were all sorts of home-baked deliciousness awaiting them. They’d lucked out, too, because this was the second day in a row that Smiljana (Mika) Underwood—a parent of an 11 year-old student Oliver—had organized the sale, which included everything from chocolate chip cookies and glazed doughnuts to brownies and cupcakes with colorful sprinkles on top.

Community isn’t just confined to a geographical space. We are all part of a greater global village where every one of us, no matter how small, can contribute and make a difference.

A huge selection of delicious cakes donated by parents and friends. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

A huge selection of delicious cakes donated by parents and friends. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

But this sugar fest wasn’t just for the delight of Oliver’s classmates; it was a two-day fundraiser that Mika had put together to raise money for the Novak Djokovic Foundation’s special Serbian Flood Relief fund. My friend Mika, originally from Nis, Serbia, felt helpless to do anything when the horrendous and deadly floods hit her home country in May. Though her parents and family were fine in Nis (where she, Oliver, 9 year-old daughter Daisy and husband, Phil spend every summer holiday), Mika knew people in Svileuva who were personally affected. Schools destroyed, homes washed away, people killed and injured and personal effects of thousands of lifetimes sodden and ruined in the Biblical downpour.

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Parents and helpers looking relaxed before the end-of-day bell goes off. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

It was, she says, the least she could do, being too far away to be involved in any of the hands-on help. So she got on the phone, sent emails and went on Facebook to publicize the bake sale to her friends. Phil, a graphic designer, created signs and a letter to go home with each child, explaining what the fundraiser was for and asking if other parents were keen to do roll up their sleeves and get baking. Mika got me inspired too.

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Organiser, Smiljana Underwood with her year-four daughter, Daisy, looking please that it’s a sunny day. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

I have spent a lot of time over the last decade in the countries of former Yugoslavia: holidaying in Croatia, covering politics and social issues in Bosnia and writing about the fashion, film and contemporary art scenes in Serbia. I have many friends from across the region and it a part of the world that is very close to my heart. I was devastated to not only watch the destruction of these floods, but also to see that the news media (of which I am a part) were slow to take up the cause. Mika and I praised Novak Djokovic for pointing this out vocally during interviews at the Rome Open and were heartened by articles like Belgrade-born writer Tea Obreht’s piece in the New Yorker, which touched on the hypocrisy of the sad situation.

I’m not great at making patisserie but I asked my mom to send me over her recipe for lemon bars (a favorite treat from the part of the Midwest where I grew up) and I baked a chocolate cake (from a box) and made vanilla icing (from scratch) for Mika to sell. Both turned out well and sold pretty quickly. One London-based Serbian friend made a traditional apple and cinnamon cake, while an Irish friend made strawberry and marshmallow sticks. Oliver and Daisy even got in on the action and helped out in the kitchen.

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Frantic purchasing in the playground of Hampstead Parochial School. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works.

And the sale was a hit. “The first day, all these people kept bringing in cakes, I could not believe it,” Mika said. “It just really touched my heart that so many people took the time and energy to do something for a country most have never been to.” On Thursday June 5, the bake sale made £240 and on Friday, the total reached £400. While—in the big scheme of things—it’s not a lot of money, it’s enough to feed several families for a week or to buy some books for a school or pay for diapers and baby blankets for dozens of infants.

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Left to right: Aileen Elliot, parent and helper; Smiljana Underwood, Organiser; Monika Cvetojevic, parent. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works.

As kids gathered around the long table, piled high with the yummy treats, kids and teachers alike talked about the reason behind the fundraiser. ”[tweet_quote]It’s good to help people in Serbia because lots of their stuff has been ruined by the floods,” said 11 year-old pupil Anna Cvetojevic.[/tweet_quote]

Meanwhile Stephanie Close, a teacher for the Year 6, said the sale was a good learning experience for the students:

It was a great opportunity to raise awareness on climate change and to discuss the impact of the floods in the Balkans.

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So many donated cakes meant a day-two cake sale and Hampstead was again blessed with sunshine. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

The kids also liked the idea that the money would be helping other kids out, children who were a thousand miles away both in physical distance and in terms of what they have recently had to go through. As they licked the frosting off the cupcakes, giggling from their sugar highs, they maybe also learned a lesson that isn’t taught in the classroom; community isn’t just confined to a geographical space. [tweet_quote]We are all part of a greater global village where every one of us, no matter how small, can contribute and make a difference.[/tweet_quote]

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Oliver Underwood is happy with his choice of cakes. Copyright: Phil Underwood/Positive Design Works

By Ginanne Brownell

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