Resident assists in rebuilding effort |

Resident assists in rebuilding effort

International studies student gets first-hand lessons in former Yugoslavia

Gary E. Salazar

— Last summer, Craig Wilderman worked in Steamboat Springs painting houses but for the majority of this summer, the 23-year-old man helped in efforts to rebuild a country.

Wilderman spent the last seven months working for the United Nations in former Yugoslavia.

Over the past 15 years, the former country, which hosted the Olympics in 1984, went through a transformation because of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing.

The conflict became so intense the United Nations and eventually the United States were forced to intervene.

By the time Wilderman arrived in Belgrade, which is the capitol of Serbia, in early December, fighting was still an everyday occurrence.

When Wilderman left the country in July, peace had swept through and efforts continue to help the country to move forward.

“When I got there, things started to change rapidly,” Wilderman said. “It was interesting to be in the middle of those changes and help with programs to bring people together.”

Wilderman got the opportunity to work with the United Nations because of his friendship with former Steamboat Springs resident Paul Hebert, who works for the U.N. Coordination of Humanity Affairs.

Last year, Wilderman graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in international studies.

With plans to attend graduate school, Wilderman came home to work for the summer.

“I was looking for something to fill up my time and also help me with my graduate studies,” he said. “I was painting houses last summer when I ran into Paul and we started talking about the United Nations.”

With plans not to attend graduate school until this fall, Wilderman decided to take Hebert’s suggestion of trying to work for the United Nations.

“I had to do so much work,” he said of gaining employment at the agency. “There was a lot of paper work and I had to do a lot of convincing.”

After almost four weeks of talking with U.N. officials, Wilderman got a two-month assignment to work as a humanitarian officer in Belgrade.

The Humanitarian Division in the country is responsible for providing food, supplies, clothing and building materials during emergencies, he said.

On his way over to the country, Wilderman said he was a little nervous because American forces had bombed Belgrade during the spring of 1999.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he said. “I did not know how people would react to me because I’m an American. I expected to meet people who were bitter.

“That was not the case at all. The people I met did not want to talk about the past 15 years. They want to move on. They want to make something of their lives rather than destroying it.”

Once the two-month stint ended in Belgrade, Wilderman was transferred to a small town in the southern part of the country. Wilderman worked in Vranje, which is close to the country’s borders with Kosovo and Macedonia.

In Vranje, Wilderman worked for the U.N. Development Program, which is in the process of helping the country rebuild through numerous training programs.

With this division, Wilderman got the opportunity to help draft an English language-training program for ethnic Albanians and Serbs, who had been at odds with one another.

“The two groups don’t talk to one another,” he said. “We designed courses where the two groups could interact.

“The classes are an opportunity for the people to get to know each other. There is still some tension but all the hostility ended in May.”

During that month Wilderman also renewed acquaintances with his former classmate Alex Hebert, who is the son of Paul Hebert.

“We had not seen each other for about 12 years,” Wilderman said. “He got a job in the same town I was in. Talking to him brought back some memories.”

Wilderman’s stint with the agency came to an end July 7 because of funding.

Prior to leaving Europe, Wilderman went on a two-week tour of the continent before departing from London.

Wilderman spent about a week in Steamboat visiting with his parents, Paul and Lisa, but is leaving today for Washington D.C.

In the nation’s capitol, Wilderman will attend George Washington University.

He will be working on a master’s degree in international affairs.

Learning about different cultures and countries became Wilderman’s passion when he started to study Spanish and South America in high school.

About four years ago, Wilderman spent some time in Venezuela helping to rebuild a village that had been damaged by a flood.

“That experience got me interested in traveling overseas and helping people out,” he said.

As an undergraduate, Wilderman studied in Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

With all the experiences he has had, Wilderman said his work in Serbia is what he has enjoyed most.

“I’m keeping up with the program I helped start,” he said. “I want to make sure it continues, and I hope it has good results.”

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