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Feature 09 Feb 18

Serbian Musician Making Highchairs for the Needy

Harmonica player by night, carpenter by day - Milorad Jurkovic helps families all over Serbia by making free highchairs and chairs for disabled youngsters.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade

Apart from making highchairs and raising money for those who need it most, Mile also makes chairs for children with disabilities. He has made nine so far. Photo: Courtesy of Milorad Jurkovic

Not many people know him by his full name, but everyone in Serbia knows this 47-year-old man from Rakovac, a tiny village in the northern province of Vojvodina, by his nickname: Stolar Mile or ‘Carpenter Mile’.

He became famous and much loved after he started his charity two and a half years ago that produces highchairs for families in need, totally free of charge.

In that time, Mile has managed to make and donate 1,200 highchairs for babies all over the country. On top of highchairs, he has also made a number of wooden beds and taken part in campaigns to raise funds both for families in need and for children with disabilities.  

But what made him start this unusual ‘job’ and finance it almost entirely from his own pocket?

“It all started on May 9, 2015, when I came back from a supermarket outraged by the prices I saw. As I had already made such chairs for some of my friends’ children, I posted on Facebook that I can make a free highchairs for a family who needs it,” Mile told BIRN.

A highchair costs between 40 and 250 euros in Serbia, which is a lot for families with unemployed parents or parents who earn the minimum wage - about 200 euros per month. It does not, therefore, come as a surprise that his generous offer provoked an avalanche of calls.

“In only two days, my Facebook literally crashed because of the number of [Facebook] messages I got,” the carpenter recalls.

Ever since then, Facebook became his main working channel. His profile Stolar Mile has around 60,000 followers, while people can also reach him via his Serbian-language website www.stolarmile.com.

“We use this large number of Facebook followers to point out children with disabilities and families that need help as many of them are silent and don’t want to ask for help,” Mile said, adding that he posts photos and calls for action.

“People respond to our calls [for action],” Mile says. Just recently a family from Zagreb, Croatia, called him after they saw a Facebook post and sent a wheelchair for the disabled child of a family in Beska, a village in Vojvodina.

“The family from Zagreb even paid for a truck to bring it here,” Mile recalls. 

Even though he mostly pays for everything, “people with good hearts” call him to offer either money or material.

“For example, I post [on Facebook] that I need glue, and then people call me and send it to me. Or I say I need wooden pallets, or gas, and they donate. There is always someone eager to help,” Mile says with a smile.

This Vojvodina carpenter earns a living by playing harmonica in a band. While in the past he played in taverns that is not the case anymore.

“Now we play at organised celebrations, as nowadays there in no money in kafanas [taverns] anymore,” he explains.

The life of a musician can be quite tough as sometimes Mile comes home very late. But that doesn’t stop him from waking up early and working on wooden chairs for children.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” the modest carpenter says.

Apart from making highchairs and raising money for those who need it most, Mile also makes chairs for children with disabilities. He has made nine so far.

The Ana I Vlade Divac Foundation, run by Vlade Divac, the former basketball player and his wife Ana, donated a special machine to him which makes the job of making such chairs much easier.

“Each and every chair is different as not all the children suffer from the same form of illness,” Mile explains.

In order to make such a chair, the carpenter first has to visit a family and take measurements. That might be the toughest part, he admits. “Not everyone can do such job as those are really sad life stories.”

Family 'business'

Mile has turned his charity into a family “business” as everyone in the house helps him as much as they can.

“My 17-year-old son is with me in my workshop during weekends and holidays. He hones and grinds, helps me put chairs together. He also goes with me to deliver chairs,” Mile says.

Meanwhile, his 14-year-old daughter decorates the chairs. “She is a girl so we spare her,” he admits.

However, the pillar of the house is Mile’s wife Aleksandra, the carpenter says. “She is always there, she often goes with me to visit families. Also, she keeps a record of what we’ve done and families that are still in need.”

A few days before the New Year, Mile involved his own godfather in his charity – making him Santa Claus and travelling with him all over Serbia to bring presents to children from poor families.

“I was his helper and an animator,” Mile says with a smile.

He would be the first one to enter a child’s room and have a small chat with him or her. Asking if they were good this year, what grades they had and would they be so kind to help him make some magic, Mile explains. Meanwhile, his godfather waits for a sign behind a closed door.

“Then we snap our fingers and Santa Claus enters the room, making kids enormously happy,” Mile says.

“We went everywhere – Beocin, Novi Sad, Srbobran, Temerin, Kragujevac, Vrsac. Even snow caught us in the town of Arandjelovac,” he recalls.

What did you learn after these two and a half years of wandering across Serbia and helping others, I ask Mile as we are about to finish our conversation.

“What did I learn? I’ve learnt there is good and there is evil. Unfortunately, evil is always worse while good only sometimes comes to surface, pushing the evil down,” Mile says.

But, it is all up to us and our goodwill, he adds. We should not wait for state institutions to react but take matters into our own hands.

“We don’t have to wait for someone else, it is enough to look around ourselves and check whether someone needs our help,” Mile concludes.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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