Mila. Rijeka. Leukaemia. Croatia.
Four words that end in the exclamatory sound “a”.
Four words that bring attention to the human acts of love, kindness and heroism.
This is the story of uncommon solidarity displayed by common people in southeastern Europe, the region once, and still, described as the Balkan Peninsula. It is the story of kindness, fellow feeling and absolute love which is worth the value of a film script. It is the story of how a people chose to help the helpless and make a new meaning of patriotism in the Balkan.
In history, the Balkans are famed for chivalry, a people of warring souls; the Balkan region was a theatre of intrigues and blood, of war and its attendant violent actions, of treachery and failed truces. The word itself became a metaphor for division and strife, and disintegration; thus, when the stiff-necked colonial masters of Africa met in Berlin in 1884 to determine the formula for the sharing of the spoil that Africa was to them, they spoke of the “balkanisation”, the partitioning of the African continent. Till this day, the word “balkan” is more connected to acts of divisions rather than acts of solidarity.
The little Croatian girl had been hospitalised for some months. Only about two years old, Mila Rončević had been diagnosed with leukaemia. The doctors in the Children’s Hospital Kantrida in Rijeka called it “acute myelogenous megakaryocytic leukaemia AML M7.” Leukaemia is a bone marrow disease which affects the production of normal blood cells and causes anaemia. (Rijeka is Croatia’s third largest city, a port town in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, close to Italy. It gains more prominence now as a European Capital of Culture for 2020).
Then in the last days of March, 2019, Mila’s predicament came to national and international social media, and the orgy of response that followed it was unprecedented.
By estimation, Mila needed about 2.3million dollars for her treatment in the US. The Balkan people, ordinary people in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia came together and contributed a total of 5.2m dollars in 4 days for Mila Rončević’s treatment! That was a record contribution of 1.3 million dollars per day. More than a material for the Guinness Book of World Records, I see the aid as the achievement of intimate generosity, the ultimate kindly heroisms of ordinary people. It is proof of how people value their own lives, any life at all.
On April 3, 2019, Mila arrived in the US to receive treatment. What a great relief! Should she survive, the narrative of this young life is yet unfolding…
Kindness is a generator of unquenchable joy.
It is stories like this that turn the head, that reset our mind to the soft power of shared kindness; it is stories like this that strengthen or restore our belief in humanity. What lesson do we come out with from this? In just about 100 hours, a country of 3.5 million people came together and contributed over five million dollars for the treatment of a 2-year old girl. Generosity can’t be sweeter than that. It is a joyful baton; generosity is power: when you give, you help yourself confirm your own humanity.
Selfless giving goes beyond blood relations. Mila’s father sold his house and gave it to a trust fund for the treatment of other children. He announced that he would get a loan and buy a new house after Mila gets full treatment. Acts of hospitality like this are not strange in Nigeria. But I wanted to know if contributions came mainly or only from public people, celebrities, millionaires and politicians as we always witness in my country.
Kindness comes in a little epical way.
In Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia (countries known for their mutual hostilities), contributions to the Mila Fund came from school kids and university students, farmers and artisans, professors and footballers…everybody: Luka Modrić, current World Footballer of the Year (2018) contributed. A Nigerian footballer, Iyayi Believe Atiemwen Atiemwen, who is based in Zagreb, capital of Croatia, donated the sum of 5,000 dollars. Taxi drivers gave out of their till; hairdressers gave up the money for cutting hair in Mila’s name; I too gave some money by proxy. In a country where coffee is goddess, metaphor and legal tender, many Croatians stood with the Rijeka girl and responded to the new coffee-shop slogan: “Give the 10kn to Mila instead of a coffee”.
Our civilisation must not be only measured in the sophistication of machinery, the heights of buildings, or the size of nuclear weapons. Our civilisation should be measured in those ‘little acts of kindness’ which become the hallmark of peoples and nations, which can travel faster than light. Humanity is so called because it is about humaneness and the kindness of humanoid, the race of animals who are made in the image, and with the breadth of God.
Kindness is a cane in the field.
In salute to the milk of human kindness, I implore you, reader: stab somebody with kindness today; surprise someone with a cane of kindness today or tomorrow, and you will be the happier for it.
April 6, 2019