Hitchin woman who grew up through Bosnia war spearheads Serbia refugee rescue mission

Selma Wanes, right, with migrants in Belgrade in September.

Selma Wanes, right, with migrants in Belgrade in September. - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin woman who grew up amid war and devastation in the Balkans is spearheading an effort to help today’s generation of refugees, with the latest load of supplies for Serbia set to leave Letchworth today.

Selma Wanes, 34, grew up in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s. Her school was burned and her father was shot. She came to Britain as an au pair in 2001 and lived in London until she moved to Hitchin last year.

Selma was moved to take action when her sister, who lives in the Serbian capital Belgrade, told her of migrants from Syria and other countries in a desperate situation in and around the city. Selma flew over in September with 64kg of clothes.

“I posted in a lot of Hitchin and Letchworth Facebook groups, asking if anyone would like to donate, or put money towards the cost of the extra bags on the plane,” Selma said.

“All the people who came on board were amazing. I brought lots of shoes because many were barefoot – after all this way their shoes just fell apart.

“But how do you make the decision of who to help when you have 20 hats to split between 200 people?”

Denise Poynter and others have teamed up with Selma to launch a donation drive called ‘community2community’, which held collections over the last month, mostly of blankets, coats, jumpers and the like.

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“We’re aiming to have at least 500kg to go out by van to Serbia,” said Denise.

Selma continued: “It was amazing just to see the hope in their eyes, and the children’s smiles. It reminded me of when I was a child and I got a package from England, with a letter inside from an English child.

“I have no idea who that child was, but it meant so much to me.”

For more information see facebook.com/refugeesbelgrade.