Croatian charity offers help as lives turn during outbreak

Full Screen
1 / 9

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Igor Loparic prepares packages of aid for people in need for help in Pula, Croatia, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. The "Our Dream Their Smile" group has helped people in the tourism-dependent area in the Adriatic survive as the outbreak closed down borders, shutting down hotels, restaurants and other businesses that normally thrive in virus-free times. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

PULA – Winding stone streets, usually packed with tourists, silent as a graveyard. Restaurants closed. Beaches deserted. Hotels bolted shut.

When Europe locked down in response to the spread of the coronavirus, northern Croatia’s picturesque Istria region shut down, as well. And the consequences were dire for the people who live there and depend on visitors’ spending.

Enter Igor Loparic, and Our Dream Their Smile -- a charity Loparic established a decade ago, and has refocused to help people living on the Adriatic Sea cope with the pandemic.

Bordering Italy and Slovenia, Istria is a favorite spot for sea lovers throughout Europe. While tourism could improve over the summer, important months already have been lost.

As local businesses suffered, even once well-off families have found themselves struggling. Many have turned to Loparic’s group for help with food, other necessities or legal advice.

Sometimes, Loparic said, a family would tumble into a crisis when one member lost a job. “We had a family of four recently, the father’s salary was cut by 50 percent, the mother had expected to work in pre-season but she didn’t.”

Apart from the locals, Loparic said, seasonal workers from other parts of Croatia who flocked to Istria as early as March to find jobs were left stranded, unable to return home during the lockdown and left with no income.

“People don’t know how to cope in the pandemic times,” said Loparic, a 35-year-old former port authority employee. “We fear that the worst is yet to come.”