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Gypsies and Refugees in Serbia

In Venice, we had a decision to make, we could either stay there for three days and then hop on a ferry to Greece or we could go our original route through Eastern Europe (the more expensive of the two.) Rob wanted to stay in Venice and David wanted to head through Eastern Europe. I was the tie-breaker. We had only one connection on that entire route through Eastern Europe and it was Veda, a friend of friend in Serbia. I said a little prayer that God would provide a worthwhile opportunity to justify the extra money and the Eastern European route, and then we set off.

Veda is our age.  She is an architecture grad student, and someone who I quickly learned had thoughts of helping the world but was afraid to. She said she had the fear that she would get so attached to whatever cause she took up that she would never be able to give up, and would get completely burned out in the process.  I understood her hesitations completely.

In Serbia, when you think of the poor, you think of the gypsies that are always begging on the streets in Eastern Europe. When we told her about our documentary and how we wanted to film stuff having to do with poverty, the first people who came to her mind were the gypsies. The second thing that came to her mind was how she didn't trust them and thought most of them were criminals and thieves. She pretty much refused to take us to one of their villages.

Over the next two days, Veda saw how persistent we were to go to one of these villages. She started making calls to friends who had done some work with the gypsies. She got word of a village near the market that we had already planned on visiting, but she assured us, "If I feel the least bit uncomfortable, we are leaving!" So that next day we went to the town market and saw Gypsy people selling all kinds of stuff they had found in the trash. I bought a little stuffed monkey for 15 cents because David insisted I needed a mascot for my backpack. The market was filled with dirty little puppies being sold by dirty looking people, but all of us knew we needed something a little more intense.

After leaving the market, Veda couldn't get a hold of her friend who knew about the village and was forced to go ask some police officers if they knew where it was. When she went to talk to the police officers, they basically ignored her.  Another man randomly walking by overheard her and said that he knew the President/Chief of that Village and he suggested we just walk in and ask for him.

When we approached the village in Veda's car, it was clear that this was not a village, but a full out slum. Both Rob and Veda were very nervous, I was a little nervous, and David not really at all. (That's usually how it breaks down in every situation.) We creeped into the slum and people were definitely staring us down. We approached the center of the village, asked for the President, and were taken to his makeshift house. He was ecstatic that we had come and gave us an interview for about 45 minutes. Then he escorted us all around the village: took us into dusty homes, had little kids breakdance for us.  He also showed us the school he was building, his little dinky radio station, and TV studio. We got unlimited access into this village.  The whole time Veda was surprised at how well she was translating and got more and more comfortable as the day went on. It became not about just being a good host to her poverty craving, American filmmakers, but it was becoming her own cause.

Towards the end of our time, the people made us coffee and we chatted about poverty and America.  Then we watched footage from their village beauty pagaent. One man from the village came by and was so excited that we had come because we cared about the poor. It was so backwards, we felt like we should have been the thankful ones for them letting us into their lives, but it was the other way around. They just wanted to know that they were not "forgotten."

As we left the slum that day, I asked Veda what was going on in her head because I saw her mind racing.  It was the same look that I had after visiting Africa for the first. She hadn't even know these people existed in her small city. (Quick note: The people we met were actually not gypsies. For the most part, they were a different people group called the Ashkali.  They had fled Albania after having their homes burned, suffering from genocidal attacks by the Serbian government under Milosevic.) So many of her predjudices disappeared during those last few hours, and she was asking herself how she could get involved in that slum. She started recalling the dreams she had been too afraid pursue just days earlier. Her passion was to build sustainable homes for the poor using her skills as an architect.

As she described these new developments in her heart and mind on our drive back to her house, David and I looked at each other and we both had the same looks on our face.  "This is what Give A Damn? and Speak Up International are all about...connecting those who need something to live for with those who just need something to live!"   "Give A Damn?" is a humorous, adventurous, and compelling documentarythat will inspire and lead young people to get involved in themovements to end extreme poverty and fight injustice.

Quick update:  We just arrived in Nairobi, Kenya and all is well.

Thanks guys for all your support!



Another amazing story, Dan. You guys are on such a unique and fascinating journey, and it just keeps getting better and better. What I like is that your story is truly global.

Your movie is going to rock the world.

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"Give A Damn? is a feature length documentary about an idealist activist who convinces one of his best friends, who doesn't give a damn about the poor, to go to Africa and live on $1.25 a day."