By the time of our second convoy, word was starting to spread about what we were doing, helping with very real humanitarian aid, but enabling people to contribute all that they could at a very “grass-roots” level. Some of the big charities that had initially asked us to send them money, had started giving out our telephone number to people enquiring about doing more! We even developed a “branch” in Tewkesbury, 170 miles away! That branch went on to be a fully-fledged charity in its own right, Tewkesbury Independent Aid. We very greatly valued the many convoys to Kosova and Ukraine which were run together with them, and take this opportunity to pay tribute to Roger Laycock, the founder, who very sadly passed away in 2009.
Our second convoy – from Brighton, London, and Tewkesbury! – was run in partnership with a large charity, British Humanitarian Aid. They had experience of delivering to orphanages in Bosnia and Croatia during the 1990s. Its destination was a United Nations compound which supplied various refugee camps in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, bordering Kosova to the south.
In an early example of our ability to be flexible when directed so by the people we’re trying to help, we decided not to deliver to that compound. Macedonian civilians we met along the way explained to us that there was a great problem for villages in the vicinity of refugee camps. Many of the camps were grossly over capacity, and life was quite rough in them. The village we eventually chose to go to was Pirok, with a normal population of about 1500. With a nearby refugee camp swelling with 20,000 people (double its design limit), the village found itself hosting around 4000 overspill refugees! But because it wasn’t officially a camp, it was receiving no United Nations help. We delivered our aid in what seemed like seconds, with every villager including the mayor helping to unload into an empty shop unit!
The food, clothing, and toiletries were used to support the many households who had taken in complete strangers. We also had “one of those moments” where a young man from Bosnia, somehow still caught up in the ongoing troubles of Yugoslavia, approached us to ask if his “Uncle Bob” was with us — it turned out he was referring to an aid convoy driver he had met in the mid-90s in Bosnia. And incredibly, that man was with the main part of our convoy!
Just two months would pass before our next convoy, which was to prove the biggest and most successful yet — in July / August 1999.