Carrying The Heart, Leaving Prejudices: MyLife4Kids Humanitarian Travel Expedition to West Africa

Total Croatia News


An interview with Saša Pjanić and Damir Filipović by Andrea Pisac.

Photographer and travel writer Saša Pjanić, last year’s winner of the Marco Polo award for the best Croatian travel story, is getting ready for a trip to Africa. He won’t be doing work only with a pen and a camera. There’s long-distance driving, digging up the car out of the sand, loading and unloading the cargo, The same goes for Damir Filipović, who, in January 2018, leads the Croatian four-member crew in the world’s largest humanitarian rally Budapest-Bamako. Damir is also the owner of the vehicle that will be home and a workstation for MyLife4Kids crew for more than a month. Time is already ticking away but we still managed to talk to Saša and Damir about Budapest-Bamako Rally and MyLife4Kids project.

First off, tell us more about MyLife4Kids project and its connection to Budapest-Bamako Rally. 

DAMIR: Budapest-Bamako is the world’s largest humanitarian rally that has been running since 2005. It starts in Hungary and goes through Europe and Sahara overland, to the finish line in Sub-Saharan Africa. In previous years the rally finished in Bamako, Mali (hence the name), but this time it extends to Banjul, Gambia. The countries en route also include Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal. Our team joins more than a hundred other teams from Europe and worldwide. There are four of us in Nissan Patrol GR Y60, specially prepared for 4×4 Touring off road. We start on 12th of January next year and plan to be in Banjul on 28th of January, after covering almost 9,000 kilometers.   


SAŠA: MyLife4Kids stands for both our humanitarian and travel project, which came from our perennial connection with the Rally. We’re in our third year now, combining charity and creativity. We help by first collecting aid, such as school supplies, toiletries, baby care accessories, medicine, and funds for antimalarial medication. Then we deliver it literally to the front door. This kind of aid is a community-to-community direct giving. In addition to humanitarian aid, we also raise awareness about Africa and charity work through the creative media like photography, video and literature, as well as travel, multiculturalism and international collaboration. Many exhibitions, presentations, public forums and media exposure are planned after we return from Africa. In that way, MyLife4Kids lives on at least until the end of 2018. My goal is to finish a photography project I started in 2016 and have it exhibited during 2018. It will tie with the activities of the World Visual Factory Association from Virovitica.

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So, this is not your first time to take part in the Budapest-Bamako Rally? Who are the members of MyLife4Kids Crew? 

DAMIR: There are four of us in the MyLife4Kids team. Me and Stanislav Modrić-Stanek are from Varaždin and Saša Pjanić and Aleš Vokurka are from Virovitica. Aleš is the only one who has never taken part in the Rally before. 

Damir Filipovic

This year you’re not the only team representing Croatia. Have you met the others?

DAMIR: It’s really great that Croatia has more than one team. We already met all other Croatian participants, Rally Dogs Team and Team Tesla, and we keep in touch with them. The news is out that Saša Cvetojević and Oleg Maštruko are doing the Rally in a Tesla car. They will drive in the touring road category. Ivan Rako, Goran Turković and Ljubo Zdjelarević, also in Nissan like us, drive in 4×4 off road.


What makes your team different from the other Croatian guys?

SAŠA: We have lots of previous experience, and we’d be happy to share it, especially with the off-road guys. This rally is not a competition. It’s more like teamwork. Racing to the finish line is only one aspect of the rally. What’s more important is to help each other out, and help the poor in West Africa. 


What motivated you to start a project like this?

SAŠA: It’s an opportunity to mix creativity, in my case photography and travel writing, with charitable work. Budapest-Bamako offers the adventure of exploring remote places. But there’s something even more important. When I first googled the Rally’s website, I was taken by their motto: “Dakar for the poor”.  More than a decade ago, the Hungarian Andrew Szabo started this story of wanderlust in the service of philanthropy. So, the race takes a back seat to helping those in need; collecting supplies, foodstuffs, equipment and the very basics the people there lack. Each crew collects different supplies, fits as much as they can into the trunk, and delivers them to the people in villages or the kids in schools of Sub-Saharan Africa. Encounters with these people are deeply touching, and the honest joy of children often brings tears to your eyes. 


What’s MyLife4Kids taking to Africa this time? 

SAŠA: We are focused mainly on children. The kind of aid we try to purchase is aimed at (pre)school children and infants. This year’s preparations were easy. Thanks to a large and fast response from people and institutions that have been following our work, Nissan was loaded up in full in less than a month. Apart from school supplies donated by the mayor of Virovitica, we are very happy that pupils and teachers from some Croatian schools got involved in the project on their own initiative. We would like to say a big THANK YOU to all of them and show them where all these donations will be delivered. We use social media a lot to communicate with our audience. This is very important for the success of the project. Donors will be able to track the whole journey to Africa and back on the Facebook pages: “Saša Pjanić, fotograf i putopisac” and “MyLife4Kids Rally Team”. In cooperation with Dejan Nemčić, a young geography professor and a humanitarian activist from Zagreb, we’ll have live reports in his classroom, as part of his educational project “Live from all continents”. 

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How safe is it to travel in these parts of the world?

DAMIR: The chance of catching a tropical disease, especially malaria, is always there. Still, I was never afraid too much even though the risk of getting malaria is pretty high. Our friend Luka Baljkas from Zagreb, who’s worked for the UN mission in Mali for some time, gave us good advice. It’s important to see a doctor during longer stays in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more than once. It’s because African doctors are good at spotting early signs of local diseases. Also, antimalarial medications are much cheaper there than in Europe. 


SAŠA: Unfortunately, when it comes to safety in Africa, the situation is not bright. At least as far as official statistics are concerned. Since 2011 security is facing great challenges. Al-Qaeda in The Islamic Maghreb is active in Algeria and North portions of Mali. Foreigners get kidnapped even in Senegal, which has a reputation of a relatively stable country. This we all know from the media coverage. On the ground, though, I’ve experienced something completely different. Once you cross this vast area and start meeting the locals, your worries and fears begin to give way to excitement and joy. Friendship with common people, villagers and kids, is like a big jacuzzi filled with good vibes.

What are your general impressions of Africa? Do you look forward to going back?

SAŠA: It’s very important to raise the awareness about what Africa actually is. My first encounter with African “globetrotters” was in Melilla, a place where they wanted to cross the border in the opposite direction. Yes, I’m talking about immigrants. This experience was very powerful and touching. Another strong impression of Africa is the one of poverty. I experienced it first hand in a dingy, muddy hut, full of flies and mosquitos. To use a metaphor, Africa is a completely healthy person hooked on life support.


More than half of its population is under 30, and these people can stir the continent either towards development or dangerous implosion. Let me conclude with Dejan Nemčić’s considerations. He’s been fundraising for a school in Tanzania through his project „We can together“. As a teacher, Dejan tries to encourage wanderlust among the children. And in the context of Africa, he promotes the idea of a responsible and committed traveller. These are the exact same values that underline our own project. 


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