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Study Trip 2007 Itinerary
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Study Trip 2007 Diary

Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina — Sept. 5 - 13

SEPTEMBER 13, 2006

Study Tour participants wrapped up their trip to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on September 13, traveling from Belgrade to Frankfurt, Germany and on to Dulles, where participants said their final goodbyes as they boarded planes bound for Chicago, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. Among the three Study Tours that IOCC has undertaken to the former Yugoslavia, this one was unique because of the special trip that was made to the province of Kosovo. Participants agreed that it was truly a privilege to visit the historic Visoki Decani Monastery, currently under United Nations protection. Overall, the tour gave them a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the former Yugoslavia, while meetings with Orthodox hierarchs and clergy brought special insight into the state of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Above all, it was especially rewarding to have the opportunity to meet IOCC beneficiaries, many of whom had been made refugees during the war in Bosnia, and who have returned to their homes and are now working and thriving as farmers and small business owners.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006

Participants ended their seven-day tour of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with visits to IOCC partner agencies and a special visit to the IOCC field office in Banja Luka. IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou recognized Banja Luka staff who had completed ten years of service with IOCC. Deacon Vlado from the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Banja Luka made a presentation on the work of the St. Sava Orthodox Youth Association throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, and thanked IOCC for helping them to establish their youth center in the heart of downtown Banja Luka.

After loading buses, participants made their way back to Belgrade, Serbia where they visited the Cathedral of St. Sava, whose interior is still under construction. When it is completed, St. Sava will be one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as repositories of mosaic icons.

The final dinner was spent with the newly-consecrated Bishop Irinej, who will be enthroned soon in the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. Before his ordination to the priesthood, His Grace was one of IOCC’s first employees in the former Yugoslavia, and also served IOCC in Chicago.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2006

The success of IOCC’s micro loan program in BiH was a major theme for the last full day of activities for Study Tour participants. After visiting Pounje, an IOCC partner NGO that works with special needs children in the village of Kostajnica, the group traveled on to the bustling city of Novi Grad, located near the border with Croatia. Participants interacted with IOCC micro loan clients running small businesses as diverse as a funeral parlor, a lingerie shop, an electrical supplies shop and a t-shirt stand. Over 120 businesses have benefited from the micro loan program, 25% of which are in agriculture.

The mountainous Una River valley in the Novi Grad area was the next stop featuring greenhouse farmers. The Culic family hosted participants with a tour of their greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. After IOCC had provided the family with the initial two greenhouses, the family was able to expand into a third for growing flowers. The day ended with an outdoor lunch at the Oljaca family farm in Rujiska, also located in the Novi Grad municipality. The Oljaca family is one of several beneficiaries who received tractor equipment from IOCC. Most farm machinery in targeted areas was destroyed during the conflict in Bosnia. Each beneficiary repays the total value of the equipment by providing free services with that equipment such as land preparation, planting and harvesting.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2006

Participants had a relaxing Sunday in Banja Luka that began with the Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Trinity, located just walking distance from their hotel in the central part of the city. After the Liturgy, His Eminence Bishop Jefrem of the Diocese of Banja Luka greeted study tour participants in his office. A deacon answered questions on the state of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia Herzegovina, which is in the process of renovating its historic cathedral in Banja Luka. The area has a strong Orthodox presence with 10 monasteries, 5 of which are fully functioning communities.


The IOCC Study Tour had a full first day in northwestern Bosnia Herzegovina, where the majority of IOCC's operations in BiH are located. Participants had the privilege of meeting the Latinovic family, IOCC's first returnee family. Djuro, his wife Danka and their son Dusan, welcomed study tour participants to their home with a lamb lunch. The family raises cattle, pigs and cultivates 15 acres of land. The Latinovic family, which lost a son in the conflict in Bosnia, fled their home to Derventa in Sept. 1995. They returned to their home in Bosanski Petrovac in 1998 with the help of IOCC, which renovated their home and helped them to purchase farm equipment.

The group moved on in the afternoon to an agricultural cooperative in Bosanski Petrovac which has 60 multi ethnic members. IOCC distributed one tractor and attachments for the cooperative, which produces 280 metric tons of chicken feed per cycle and processes 1,500 chickens daily. The day ended with a visit to the NGO Forum and Resource Center in Drvar Municipality. The center, initiated and funded by IOCC, provides a common area for local NGOs to use as office space for sharing best practices and providing access to equipment and technology. The center is home to several groups which provide important services to refugees and displaced people of all ethnicities. The center also hosts computer and art classes for children. Participants were able to interact with children during a special theatrical presentation.


IOCC Study Tour participants enjoyed alpine-like scenery and lush farmlands as they made their way from Serbia to Bosnia Herzegovina. His Eminence Bishop Lavrentije of Sabac, a special friend of IOCC, welcomed participants to Monastery Soko, located in the village of Ljubovija in western Serbia. During lunch, a presentation was made by Tomo Milovanovic, Coordinator of IOCC's micro loan program in Sabac. During the war in Bosnia, Sabac had been a staging ground for thousands of refugees from Bosnia seeking shelter in Serbia. For those who stayed, IOCC's micro loan program provided critical financing for agricultural and small businesses. The Study Tour proceeded to the border crossing with Bosnia Herzegovina where they ended the day in Banja Luka.


Visits to the Visoki Decani Monastery and Winery were the key highlights for Day 2 of the IOCC Study Trip. Participants drove more than 8 hours from Belgrade, Serbia to reach the province of Kosovo. A visit was made to a winery in the village of Velika Hoca run by brothers of the Visoki Decani Monastery. Currently, IOCC is seeking funding for a project that will enable the winery to increase its production capacity, which in turn will provide employment to villagers who are often cut off from the outside world due to the tense political situation in Kosovo.

Later, participants visited the medieval monastery of Visoki Decani which is guarded by United Nations peace-keeping forces. The monastery grounds are picturesque with a stream running in front of the monastery's Church of the Holy Ascension, which contains the relics of the martyred King Stephan of Serbia. The church is known to have the best preserved frescoes in the Balkans. The day closed with dinner in the monastery with the brothers serving participants their famous strong, dry red wine.

Tomorrow, the group will finish its stay in Serbia and travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Fr. Marko at the winery at Velika Hoca

The Holy Ascension Church at Visoki Decani monastery.

One of the monks calling the brothers to prayer at the Visoki Decani monastery.


The nine travelers from the third IOCC Study Trip arrived safely in Belgrade today at 1:00 pm Belgrade time. We were met at the airport by Nenad Prelevic, IOCC Program Manager for Serbia, as well as Despina Katsivelaki, IOCC Head of Office for Greece, who was in the area to check on projects that are being funded by the Greek government. Also joining the tour were IOCC Regional Director Mark Ohanian and Head of office in Ethiopia, Ken Baker. Immediately after checking into the hotel, the group traveled to the Zvecanska orphanage to meet the staff and see some of the children that IOCC has been helping since 1993. This orphanage, the oldest in the Balkans, is comprised of seven different sites. The facility we toured today houses about 300 children. Some have lost both parents, but many, especially those with special needs, have been relinquished by their parents). Recently IOCC provided school and hygiene kits, as well as quilts to all seven facilities.

The group toured the historic Skadarlija area of old Belgrade to learn a little bit more about the history and culture of the area. We received an unexpected blessing when His Grace Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan joined us for dinner. His Grace is the Vice Chairman of the Kosovo and Metohija Committee Office and briefed the group on what to expect on their journey to the historic Visoki Decani monastery in Kosovo on Thursday. His Grace made a special effort to see us, since he will be traveling and unable to accompany us to the monastery.

Although on the ground only a short time, the Study group is already fully engaged and starting to see the critical work that IOCC is accomplishing in Serbia. The trip to Kosovo promises to be an historic one as we see firsthand how IOCC is working with the area's minority community.

Dean Triantafilou with Frs. Louis Christopulos and Paul Wesche speaking with Ljubisa Jovanovic at the Zvecanska orphanage in Belgrade.

Dean Triantafilou and Nenad Prelevic with Bishop Teodosije abbot of Visoki Decani monastery


For the third consecutive year a group of IOCC supporters gathered at IOCC Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland to prepare for their trip to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Hailing from as far north as Minneapolis, Minnesota, as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, and as far west as Denver, Colorado, the group met IOCC headquarters staff and received an orientation session on IOCC, the history of the Balkans, and the nature of IOCC country programs in the areas to be visited. The group will begin their journey tonight arriving in Belgrade on Wednesday. The schedule is full of visits to IOCC-sponsored projects throughout Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina that will include visits to orphanages, monasteries, farms and other field projects. A highlight of this year's trip will be a visit to the Decani monastery in Kosovo. Members will meet IOCC Serbia and IOCC Bosnia staff as well as Orthodox Church hierarchs and local beneficiaries. The group of eleven will be headed by IOCC Executive Director and CEO, Constantine M. Triantafilou, and also includes two priests from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America. Also present are staff from Greek Orthodox Telecommunications (GOtelecom) and IOCC headquarters

Group members participate in the orientation at IOCC HQ

Group members participate in the orientation at IOCC HQ

Members of the trip l-r: Andreas Hoeft, (Minneapolis); Isidoros Zanikos (Media, PA); Fr. Paul Wesche (Minneapolis); Fr. Louis Christopulos (Denver); Patrick Herbert (Jacksonville, FL); Amal Morcos (Baltimore); Nick Furris (Jacksonville, FL); and Dan Christopulos (Baltimore)

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