Stories From Women

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Razijas's Story | Safia's Story | Alija's Story | Ibrima's Story | Adisa's Story | Hajrija's Story | Munira's Story | Joyce Ellen's Story | Tahira's Story | Igbala's Story | Milka's Story | Elvedina's Story | Suhra's Story | Zejneba's Story | Mujesira's Story | Begzada's Story | Sefika's Story | Rabija's Story | Aisa's Story | Fata's Story | Hava's Story | Huma's Story | Almasa's Story | Medina's Story| Ahida's Story

 

Razija's StoryHarija

Razija is 46 years old. She is married and mother of four children: Vernes, Aldijana, Nermina and Harun. She lives with her husband Mevludin and her children in a small village called Dumanac, 5 km far from the town of Kakanj. Razija and her family haven't had regular and steady income for years since her husband is demobilized veteran who is unemployed and she is a housewife who takes care of her children and household. Razija graduated from high school but she never had the opportunity to work and make income. Namely, she married early and she has devoted her whole life to her children.

However, after the war ended in Bosnia her family was left without income and life became extremely difficult. Razija and her husband were trying hard to provide basic life necessities for their children. Her husband did some daily wage jobs and she planted vegetables and fruit in order to provide basics for life. As time passed and their children got older, the expenses increased too and this family got into a serious financial crisis. Our Organization started the program in the village of Dumanac in November 2010 and Razija joined it hoping to learn something useful which would help her to get out of the crisis.

Razija attended our sessions, business trainings and vocational skills training in greenhouse production regularly. She says: “I was interested in everything and I wanted to learn everything hoping to find solution to my problem somehow!” Razija’s business instructor shared information in April 2011 on the incentive that Employment Bureau gave to unemployed women who want to start their own business. Razija decided to apply since she had all the necessary conditions to start a greenhouse Treeproduction (land, water, knowledge she acquired in business trainings and vocational skills trainings) but she had no money. Razija gathered all the necessary documents and with help of her instructor and Association of Farmer’s president made a small business plan and handed in her application for incentive.

Two months after she found out that she got incentive and she received 5000 KM to start her greenhouse production and to register her own business.
She bought a greenhouse (100 m2) in September 2011, she registered and prepared greenhouse for planting.

Razija says: “I have no words at this moment to thank to WWI but I believe that the photos above say everything. WWI has showed me and my family road to a better and happier future and therefore I would like to thank this Organization!”
Tree
Photo on right: Razija receives her WWI certificate from Kakanj Municipality mayor who congratulated her and all women from her village on their hard work.

Razija says: “Nothing can make a woman happier than to know that she can provide better and safer future to her children with her own work and effort. Now I am more than ever convinced this is true. Therefore I would like to recommend to all women to join this program and help their dreams to come true!”

 

 

 

 

Almasa's Story

1 child, Konjic

Almasa has been a refugee for 16 years and lives alone in a refugee center. Her husband divorced her before the war and received custody of their only daughter because Almasa did not have any income. Her husband was killed at the beginning of the war and her daughter was sent to live with her grandfather. Almasa is still separated from her daughter. She has been participating in the kate spade new york project sings the partnership began in 2004. Almasa has some problems with pain in her arm, but still continues to knit for the project.

Huma's Story

1 child, Konjic

Huma's husband was killed during the war, but his body was never found. Her daughter was three years old at the time. Now, Huma and her daughter live in a refugee center. Huma's mother is sick with cancer and Huma spends nearly all of her monthly income on medicine for her mother. She would like to earn more money so that she can continue to support her daughter's education. Huma joined the kate spade new york project last year and continually looks forward to working on the products.

Hava's Story

2 children, Konjic

Hava escaped during the beginning of the war with her husband and two children. She and her family returned in 1994, but only 15 days after returning her husband was killed in a grenade explosion. At the time of her husband's death, Hava was pregnant. After 10 months she discovered that the baby she was carrying had died and the baby had to be removed by C-section. After the death of both her husband and unborn child, Hava suffered from insomnia, shock, and severe depression. Her recovery was a result of her desire to live for her sons. She has been participating in the kate spade new york project since it began five years ago in 2004.

Fata's Story

Konjic

Fata lived with her family and another family in one room during the war. Her home was destroyed during the war, but she received a donation to reconstruct it. She lives with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. The only income for her family is from the milk produced by her cow and the money she earns working with the kate spade new york project. Fata walks nearly five miles up and down a mountainside to get yarn and to deliver kate spade new york products.

Aisa's Story

Konjic

Aisa left her hillside home during the war because of the area bombings. For a year she lived with her family in an abandoned factory that was used as a refugee center in the center of Konjic. Her husband worked in a factory that was destroyed during the war and is now unemployed as a result of his diabetes. Aisa supports her family with the money she makes knitting for the kate spade new york project and with earnings from other small income generating projects.

Rabija's Story

2 children, Konjic

Rabija lost her husband before the war in 1992 and was left alone with her two children. She escaped to Austria during the war with her brother and returned to Konjic in 1995 to rebuild her home that was destroyed by a grenade during the war. Rabija knits part time in her home for the kate spade new york project and earns nearly as much as her son who works full time in a factory.

Sefika's Story

3 children, Sarajevo

Sefika is a refugee from Visegrad, an area in eastern Bosnia.  She fled her home during the war taking with her only one blanket and her three children and escaped to Switzerland. Her husband, who was domestically abusive, died after the war.  After the war she built her home by herself and now weaves traditional Bosnian carpets to earn income.

Begzada's Story

2 children, Sarajevo

Begzada is originally from Srebenica. Her husband was killed in the war, but his body was not found until 14 years after the war when his remains were found in two mass graves. She buried him on July 11, 2009 in a special Srebenica memorial. After the war she built her home with her own hands. Begzada has two daughters and currently works as a cleaner for the Zene za Zene Microfinance Office. She is skilled in knitting and made the first samples for the kate spade new york products.

Mujesira's Story

2 children, Sarajevo

Mujesira lost her husband in 1992, when he was killed on the way back home from work. She found his body a couple days later in the river Drina and buried him in the front yard. Her two children (boy, age 12 and daughter, age 15) were also killed by gunfire when fleeing from their home and sadly, their remains were never found. Mujesira escaped to Gorazde, which was a free territory and after the war she was able to come back to Sarajevo. She lived there with her parents and father in law until they both sadly, passed away. She has been a member of Women for Women International for 2 years and has recently finished a tailoring training program. She currently lives in a refugee center, in the Ilijaš municipality. She is currently part of the Kate Spade program and sews and sell bags.

Alija's Story

Harija

44 Years old, 2 children, Srebenica

I came back to Srebrenica after the genocide 3 years ago. I have two children left. I lost my husband and two of my children during the war. I lost my twins who were 7 months old during the war. I lost 27 members of my family. I was in the old battery factory at Potocari (where the Dutch peace keeping force was stationed). I saw how they slaughtered a man and how they forced his mother to drink his blood. I had 3 children when the war happened. I was separated from them.

My son was 17 when he drowned in the river after the war. When he drowned I could not speak for 45 days and since then I have a bad allergy in spring where I lose my voice. I live here now and I attended the Women for Women International programme. I knit and sow to make a living. I was 12 when I lost my father and my mother is on her own now. She has lost a leg and I have to look after her.

I meet often with my 3 friends that I met thanks to Women for Women International. We understand each other and we can comfort each other. We have a real bond which helps us live.

For me things don’t need to get better, it doesn’t matter, but for my children. I don’t care if they kill me, but my children...

The biggest problem here is unemployment, if only a new factory could open. The only reason why I stay here is because I have buried my dead family members here and I want to visit their graves.
Thank you so much to Women for Women International for visiting us and asking how we are. When someone comes to visit it really makes a difference.

Safia's Story

Harija

When I returned to Srebrenica, I applied for a grant to reconstruct my house because all the water pipes were broken and the house, which had been built by my husband and in which I had lived with my husband and my children, was the only thing I had left. But for three years I was refused a grant.

I stayed in my house during the entire war. My husband and my older son asked me to leave with my younger son and go to Sarajevo, but I did not want to leave them. The last time I saw my sons, who were born in 1973 and 1979, was right here in my front yard under this tree.

Why did they kill them, my sons were only 22 and 16 years old. How come that those people who did this still live here in Srebrenica? How can they look us in the eyes knowing what they have done?

My younger son was so bright and did so well in maths. When his teacher saw me he used to say: ’Here comes the mother of the Mathematician’. They have not found the bones of my sons yet. They have not found the bones of my husband or of my son-in-law. I go to the funerals that take place on the 11th July at the Potocari Genocide Memorial every year (every year the remains that have been found and identified during the past year are buried in an official ceremony at the memorial). I hope that one day soon I will be able to bury my sons.

I came back here to walk where my sons have walked.

When I came back after 5 years in 2000, I was accompanied by police for my protection – that was the rule then - but just before we got to my house they told me that they were not going to go with me and that I was doing this at my own risk. A Serb family lived in my house and when I knocked they did not open, but I knew they were in. I was not scared, I they would kill me that was just fine by me. I just wanted to go inside and see if there were any photos left of my family, that was all I wanted – photos. When someone finally opened the door they told me to go away and should I come back they would kill me. But I was not scared, in my mind I saw my son standing there next to the tree where I had seen him last and I was not scared.

Tree

Other people helped me and that is how I got my house back.

When I was fleeing from Potocari to Tuzla, no one asked me where my children were. I had nothing left, I had to drink water from an old tin of fish. But one day a woman gave me a cup (Safia still has the cup and showed it to us). Such kindness I will always remember.

My older son was married when all happened and his wife was 7 months pregnant. When the Serbs came, I asked my husband and my sons to run away. They ran across the street and into the woods up the mountains, my daughter-in-law and me, we ran in the other direction. My mother-in-law did not want to come with me. She stayed. When we arrived in Potocari (where the Dutch UN peace keeping force was stationed), we stayed in the factory for two nights. Then the Dutch forced us to leave the factory where we had sought shelter after the second night and we had to sleep outside. I could not sleep all night as I was waiting to leave on the UN truck.

I went with my daughter-in-law on the truck the next morning and we came to a place called Trieste and that is where they told us to get off and walk and they forced us to give them all we had and threatened us if we would not they would ‘cut off our breast’. I was very scared and worried for my daughter-in-law and covered her in a scarf, trying to hide her. The soldiers took young girls from the truck. I felt someone breathing down my neck and the next thing I knew was that soldiers were taking my daughter-in-law away. I started to scream and shout so loud that another soldier came an asked me what the matter was. I said that they had taken my 7 month pregnant daughter-in-law. Whilst I was waiting for her to return, I saw two small children crying for their mother. Soldiers had taken her up into the woods to rape her. That is where they took all the women to rape. In the end my daughter-in-law was returned to me but we did not speak until we got to Sarajevo. We survived, but I ask myself everyday: Why? Why has this happened?

I hope this will never happen again to anyone.

When I got back and after I was refused a grant for so many times, I found out about Women for Women International. I cannot express what this programme has meant to me. I cannot thank Women for Women enough. Thanks to the microcredit programme I was able to rebuild my house. Thanks to the skills training I was able to learn about chicken rearing. I learned about where to keep chicken and I was able to build a proper enclosure for them. Thanks to the programme I met my friends. We still meet every week even though the programme is over.  Their support is so important to me. We understand each other.

Ibrima's Story

Harija

45 Years old, 5 children, Srebenica

My children survived because they were young when the genocide took place. My husband was killed during the war and I was left on my own to fend for myself and look after my 5 children. The remains of my husband were finally found 2 years ago and I have now been able to bury him. My twin sons were 3 months old when the Srebrenica massacre happened. When I got back to my home and began to live in the Republica Serbska, at the beginning there was a lot of hositility and some provocations, but now it is ok. There are more Serbs here, but also Muslim children and returnees. I came back in 2001 and I was one of the very first to come back. I lost so many of my extended family members that I cannot even say.

I was in the old battery factory in Potocari (the UN base where the Dutch peace keeping force was stationed) for two nights (it was after those two nights that the Dutch peace keeping force told everyone to leave who had come to seek refuge and that is when the mass murders took place in Srebrenica) and that is where I was separated from my husband. It is very difficult for me to look at that place because I always remember that this is where I saw my husband for the last time. We did not have anything to eat for days then, but the hunger did not matter, it was the fear – I will never forget the cries and the fear during those two nights at the battery factory.

No one comes. No one ask how the women are. No one cares.

I want to thank Women for Women International because you bring people together to talk about the pain and what we have been through and get support that really helps. The fact that you provide microcredit makes such a difference. It is wonderful because it means that we can pay for important things that we would otherwise not be able to buy. Women for Women International in Srebrencia provided women who were returning with advice. In particular with health care and emotional support, thanks to Women for Women we got help with counselling, one of our most pressing need.

Ibrima is friends with Alija, Safia and Sefika. They met thanks to Women for Women International. The support she gets from this friendship is a lifeline for her.

Women for Women International in Bosnia - The New Project the Gives Hope to Women Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence

Women who survived sexual violence in war or were exposed to domestic violence are much more likely to experience economic problems that other women. They are mostly pushed into the role of only bread winner for themselves and their families, even though many of them have no formal education or any kind of education for some skills or work, nor even their own homes.

The economic independence is the foundation of the programme of Organization Women for Women International. When women have the possibility to earn reasonable income, they become more self-confident, they get more important role in their families and communities. This also opens doors towards their bigger social participation.

Through the new project Women for Women International has, with the financial assistance of UNHCR, helped to 60 women victims of the violence in war and domestic violence in the post-war period by, besides the training, providing them certain means and equipment in order for them to start some small businesses and in that way supplement their incomes.

The special significance of this programme is that in the cases of some women it contributed to building and strengthening of the disturbed family relations. It gathered all the members of household around one common goal and encouraged them and gave them hope for better life. Today, almost all these women work hard and they are happy for have been given a chance to improve their lives. In many cases, the earnings of these women are the only income families have.

Women for Women International in Bosnia - The New Project the Gives Hope to Women Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence

Women who survived sexual violence in war or were exposed to domestic violence are much more likely to experience economic problems that other women. They are mostly pushed into the role of only bread winner for themselves and their families, even though many of them have no formal education or any kind of education for some skills or work, nor even their own homes.

The economic independence is the foundation of the programme of Organization Women for Women International. When women have the possibility to earn reasonable income, they become more self-confident, they get more important role in their families and communities. This also opens doors towards their bigger social participation.

Through the new project Women for Women International has, with the financial assistance of UNHCR, helped to 60 women victims of the violence in war and domestic violence in the post-war period by, besides the training, providing them certain means and equipment in order for them to start some small businesses and in that way supplement their incomes.

The special significance of this programme is that in the cases of some women it contributed to building and strengthening of the disturbed family relations. It gathered all the members of household around one common goal and encouraged them and gave them hope for better life. Today, almost all these women work hard and they are happy for have been given a chance to improve their lives. In many cases, the earnings of these women are the only income families have.

 

Adisa's Story

Adisa, who was raped during the war when she was only 16 years old girl, received greenhouse and a machine for soil tillage through the Women for Women International program upon graduation. She planned, with the training she attended within the basic program of Women for Women International, to start producing organic food. She sees an opportunity in that the demand for organic food is increasing as well the fact that she now owns her own piece of land. Now she also has the opportunity to use the land in the best possible way. Adisa says: “While we were still attending the Women for Women International programme we learnt how to fight alone and develop business, we learnt about marketing and cooperation with others. That will be of great use for me now. Now, I only think about future”.

Hajrija's Story

Harija

Hajrija from Bihac, who still feels the heavy traumas due to violence she survived in her marriage, got a cow and some hay. She has already found buyers for her products in the neighbourhood where she lives. She will get a calf soon. Hajrija says: “I can not believe this is happening and that my life has started to move in a totally new course. I am very happy since not only that I have my own income but because my son who suffers from Coeliac disease can now have the proper nutrition that is essential for him. This cow is my first personal property in life”.

Munira's Story

Munira from Olovo, whose husband ended up in jail due to violence he committed against her, received a cow and some hay. She says: “Just when I thought that it was the end once again, since I was left alone and without any income since my father died and we lived out of his pension, thank to Organization Women for Women International I got a cow and they also connected me with a buying station which buys out my milk. Everything is different now, better. Now, I am not afraid that I will die due to famine since as long as I am able to work my cow will bring me good income”.

Joyce Ellen's Story

Harija

Joyce Ellen, originally from America, now lives in Sanski Most. Her marriage with a Bosnian man ended up in violence and divorce. She was also forced to spend some time in the safe house. She got greenhouse and machine for soil tillage thorough the WfWI project. Even though she lives in other people’s house and on other people’s land, Ellen has decided to stay in Bosnia where she wants, as she says “to try and build her life again”. Ellen is now a real master in vegetable preservation. She expects her first earnings in spring and she has no doubts in success. And as she often jokes: “Now, I am not afraid anymore that I will have to be a refugee in USA”.

Tahira's Story

Harija

Tahira lives with her family in a small hovel with clay floor which was built half of bricks and half of wood. Her agony has lasted for a long time, ever since she was forced to leave her home due to war. Due to inability to find a job and take care of his family, as due to war traumas as well, her husband was very aggressive and Tahira was forced to spend some time in a safe house with her three daughters. Tahira got a cow in this WfWI project. The earnings from selling a calf and milk products is at the same time their only income. But the thing that has special value for Tahira is the fact that relations between her and her husband improved much. She says about that: “Now, we are getting along much better. We spend more time together and communicate more, since he helps in all works related to the cow. He takes care of the cow; he even takes milk to the market. That gave him the feeling of being useful, the feeling that he missed since he was not able to find a job. We still live in the hovel, but now there is much more joy in it”.

 

Igbala's Story

Igbala Gabela is 40 years old and lives with her husband and two children in Gorazde. During the war, she and her family lived in eight different places and lost many of their belongings. Her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis and Igbala was forced to support her family by sewing. Igbala was immediately interested when her friend told her about Women for Women International's program. She enrolled in the Bosnian Crochet course, which is a very complicated form of crochet and only the most talented are able to do well. Igbala used the skills she learned in the crochet course to add intricate and traditional designs to her sewing projects, which helped her attract more clients. She used the confidence she gained to apply for a microcredit loan and to expand her business to support her family. Igbala loves the friendships she made through Women for Women International and still helps other women improve their sewing and embroidery skills.

Milka's Story

Milka Kusmuk is 47 years old and has been a microcredit client for three years. She lives with her husband, her three children and her parents outside of Sarajevo on a small farm. When Milka received her first microcredit loan, she began growing raspberries on her farm to supplement the income her family was earning from selling dairy products and vegetables. Now her family's main source of income is from her raspberry business. Over the past three years, Milka's business has grown rapidly and now she wants to expand her business to grow blackberries as well. In addition to earning enough income to support her family of 7, she also employs local citizens during the busy season. Milka has a contract with the largest bakery in Bosnia, and has become Chief of her microcredit center and advises other women who want to start a business.

 

Zejneba's Story

“In one night entire families from my village – fathers, sons, husbands, brothers –disappeared. Women were dying of sadness and helplessness,” recalls Zejneba, a 42 year-old mother of two from Bratunac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her husband’s mother was murdered in front of her eyes. She and her husband took their children and ran. When the children could no longer walk, they carried them. Zejneba has been a microcredit client since 1997, when the program was introduced in Bosnia. With a loan from Women for Women International, Zejneba bought a cow, then land and ultimately established a dairy products business that supports the whole family. “When I finish my work late at night, I thank God for giving me an opportunity to survive the horror and for helping me find women who give me self-confidence,” she says. Today she is continuing her dairy business and is growing and selling potatoes.

Razija's Story

Renata

Women from the village Vranduk became leaders in their community

Participants of the Women for Women International program from the village Vranduk, Bosnia, completed their program in January of this year.  They have become proud and strong women who are actively involved in social, economical and political events in their village and local community.

Women for Women International opened a center in Vranduk with the intention to bring hope together with the financial help to the “forgotten women” who had many worries on how to feed and educate their children, rebuild their homes, pay the bills, earn money for life’s expenses.  They lived in a place where nothing was being done to improve the situation and it seems like there were no chances of things ever getting better. But still these women had to be strong, confident and become the backbone of the family.  She needed to provide a sanctuary of love and belonging.

This is the reason why the program Women for Women International has been openly accepted by the women in Vranduk. They felt that it was a place where they will, at least for a moment, get away from the harsh day to day life.  It was also a place where they would rebuild their strength, where someone would listen to what they had to say, where they could share their sorrow and their fears and where they would gather their strength and optimism.

It started at the graduation ceremony when Merhunisa said, “When you are a housewife, living in a remote place, without all the things that are available to women in the cities, it is like a reward when you get finally get them, a reward for all the hard work that we do for the ones we love, the ones that need us, but often don’t appreciate us. For us it was a place where every day a new window to the world was opened, a window that brought light to our lives. Each one of us has changed something for the better in her life. To some of us vocational skills training has helped start our own business, like tailoring, handcrafts, setting up a greenhouse, buying a cow. We also were eligible to take a micro credit loan and to engage or expand our businesses that enabled us to involve our family members. For most of us the donation money was the first regular and steady money we received. I myself have become stronger and more decisive and self confident. Many other women have also rebuilt their self-confidence and self-respect, many of them felt self-confidence and self-respect for the first time in their lives. We have become stronger and more decisive and ready to actively participate where we have never participated before. The program has enlightened me.”

Renata

When the program ended, the women from Vranduk continued to meet regularly and talked to women whose place was traditionally in the house.  They invited them to meetings, talked about their problems and invited them to participate in the program. At first, there was a lot of resistance and mistrust, especially from men. But this did not discourage the women.  They were persistent and didn’t want to give up. Guided by this drive and passion, they were able to encourage 100 more women from their village to participate in the Women for Women International program. The local government gave them a public social building that has been reconstructed and rebuilt for their use as well a regular bus line from the city.

“Step by step, we have become a force that has been recognized. It wasn’t easy, once we were taken seriously, other times we were rejected directly, but we never gave up. It was hard because all of them looked at us with a great distrust. They persistently wondered what we women want, and we explained that we don’t want to be locked away in our houses; we want to work and live of our work. We tried to explain how to use our beautiful nature, our village and our 600 years old fort for the development of tourism. We explained that with a small amount of money the public social building can be renovated and welcome guests and tourists, prepare food, make exhibitions of our handcrafts and organize different events there. Finally we established our association. Today everyone in our local community knows of the Association that we named “Vranduk’s Cherry” because cherry is grown very successfully in Vranduk.” said Hedija.

Renata

The Association was entrusted with organizing of the annual traditional event “Vranduk’s Cherry 2008”. Their influence on the community and their knowledge from our program was becoming apparent by everyone.  During the festival, their stands with traditional food and handcrafts were distinctive and surrounded with people all the time, even though they had no leaflets or promotional materials to give out.  Their approach and dedication to every visitor was enough. The event gathered 3,000 visitors!  It was the most organized and most attended festival thus far. The representatives of the highest authorities from Zenica-Doboj Canton attended the event as well as other numerous guests and the media.

Up to now, this event has always been organized by men. Through the program Women for Women International we have realized that women could organize it much better and that was what we did, with the support of the local government and the tourist office. They asked to make a schedule for the event and that’s what we did. Then we had to find the money. We got some of the money from the Municipality Zenica, some from the local companies that we turned to.” said Hedija.

Five buses full of participants from our program in other municipalities have come to support women from Vranduk. It was evident how they were looking forward to seeing each other even though they have never met before. It was really impressive to see them embrace one another.

I embraced Hedija in the name of all of us women from Budoželje and I hope you know how important it is to meet women who are thanks to the program Women for Women International, trying to improve their life and the lives of their families, just as we do. Women for Women International is responsible for establishing a great number of local women associations like this one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because our association was established as a result of their work and constant support even in our current activities” said Fatima.

This is a day to remember, a day when our women showed the whole community how capable they are if only given a chance. I trusted your organization because I saw for myself how much the program helped my wife to make changes on her and on our family. I respect and appreciate her more now. Today I am very proud of her.” said Merhunisa’s husband.

Vranduk also looked very different that day. You could feel the positive atmosphere everywhere. Everyone congratulated these brave and hardworking women, inquired about their future plans, showed will and intention to help them.

Our plans for this summer are to open a traditional Bosnian restaurant in the public social building where Bosnian specialties will be served, to set up a “Bosnian room” where we will offer tourists our handcrafts, souvenirs and other artifacts. We are preparing for the tourist to come and are hoping to earn some money.” said Hedija - the leader of the Vranduk’s Cherry Association.

Elvedina's Story

Elvedina Plasto is a 40 year old resident of a small town in Central Bosnia called Kakanj. She is married, mother of two sons who are 19 and 11 years old and she also has a daughter who is 9 years old. Her occupation is a teacher of religion.

Even though she is very proud of her title of a mother, if you ask Elvedina to tell you something about herself, she will tell you that she is a mother, and a wife, a busy woman, and a housewife, an active citizen and a leader in her community, a good friend… and many more things.

But how is all of that weaved in only one person? How does awoman manage to carry that entire burden on her back?

Elvedina says that she can thank for all this to only one person - her mother. Even though illiterate, her mother was full of wisdom, patience and endless love for her children. Elvedina learned from her that success will not come on its own in life, but one must fight for it. Guided through life by her mother’s heritage, Elvedina started building a heritage that she will leave for her and all other children with hope that she will contribute for the world to become a better place for life.

Since, not so long ago, Elvedina felt that this place for life can turn out to be the worst nightmare over night. The war that began at the beginning of 1992 caught Elvedina and her family, as many other people, unprepared. As young mother of a three year-old boy, she faced the hardest challenge for a woman, being a mother for the first time. How to protect her family, how to provide for those small mouths to not be hungry?

Elvedina remembers those days and when she talks about them her thoughts go to all those women and children who even today live inside hell. But, she says that this experience made her even stronger and an even better person. She remembered how a soil can be ductile when mother’s hands cultivate it between two shootings. How tasteful a meal is which is comprised of the most creativity, courage and love a woman can give, and all the rest are just passing ingredients.

And just when she thought that she survived the worst she faced another terrifying thing. Elvedina, her husband and her three-year-old son, together with another 25 neighbour,s were captured by Croatian Army soldiers and taken to a prison.

Today, when she talks about that event, Elvedina says that that is one of the most terrifying but also one of the brightest events in her life, which will mark her forever. Back then, while the Croatian soldiers demonstrated their force sharpening their knives and causing fear at people who were already scared Elvedina noticed her neighbours close to her, Croats, who came with tears in their eyes to help their captured neighbours, Bosniaks.
 
While she was holding her three-year-old, Harun, in her arms, ready to fight for life as a lioness, she realized the entire beauty of humanity and love… love for the neighbours. And that, as long as there is humanity in at least one man, there is hope for this world.

Until the end of the war Elvedina prayed for no one and never again experience similar experience.

After the war Elvedina gave birth to another two children, a boy named Ahmed and a girl named Lejla. All the war temptations made her even stronger and motivated her to engage in activities outside her household. Grateful to God that her family survived she felt the need to help families that suffered different losses during the war and she especially wanted to give hand to mothers and children.

Elvedina realized that, besides being a mother of three children, a wife, employed in a school, she has much more energy and time for other social activities.

Guided with that idea she started to organize different lectures from medicine, psychology, pedagogy, law, religions, etc… It was difficult in the beginning. The priorities were to find a job, to reconstruct houses, to provide education for children, etc. people were hardly thinking of some lectures. But Elvedina was persistent. She realized the importance of gathering of women, exchange of experiences, talk and education. She could talk to her friends for hours on the phone, animate women, female neighbours, and female friends to come to lectures. She was bringing professors from the Universities in Sarajevo and Tuzla.

Elvedina believed that conversation and socializing contribute to better physical and mental health of a woman. That is where she collected her strength and ideas from. Every smile of any woman was the best reward for Elvedina, every next lecture that more women attended was confirmation for her that she is on the right path.

In March 2005, Elvedina, with few other women that joined her in the meantime, started the project called “Days Dedicated to a Woman." That was her respond to March 8th when people, giving one flower or making a party for women, want to pay attention on women. Elvedina thinks that a woman as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend deserves this all days in a year. She wanted her daughter tomorrow, as all other daughters to have all days in a year when she will feel that they are respected, loved and honoured. That is why she had to move on.

Looking around her Elvedina realized that there are many successful women around her, but not many people know about them. They remain hidden behind their kitchens, their husbands or some other successful men who easily find their places in a society.

Therefore Elvedina organizes tribunes where she presents successful women of Kakanj. The goal of these assemblies is for women to provide support to each other and to jointly engage in all activities on the level of their local communities. Since, she knows that only united women can succeed.

Besides numerous obligations Elvedina finds some time for humanitarian work that has the goal to raise money, to collect some food and clothes for the most endangered women and their families on the area of Kakanj.

Her work has already become the integral part of the day in her family. Her husband and children became part of her work themselves. They write invitations together, they pack gifts, visit poor people, and organize parties and picnics for children and many other things.

Elvedina considers that these experiences will make better people out of her children; That they will make them to be useful members of the society. As a matter of fact, they are already useful members of the society. While many other children spend their time in cafes or playing computer games, Elvedina’s children help her in her tasks or projects. They even sometimes give some ideas. They feel sad when they see other people’s suffering around them. That is when they realize how important the work of their mum is.

This wife, mother, and, fist of all, a woman, finds time for hobbies as well. She likes old things and that is why she made the ethno-house "Sultanov konak" ("Sultan’s Residence") and a local association of women in Kraljeva Sutjeska. By doing this, Elvedina is trying to preserve tradition of Bosniaks in that region together with some more women, as well as to establish inter-religion dialogue with Croatian associations in Kraljeva Sutjeska. She somehow feels she has to do that because of all those tears of her Croatian neighbours who saved her, her family, and her neighbours during the war.

And once again the question from the beginning of the story: How can one person do all this, how come she can find time for all obligations in her family, at work and in the community?

Elvedina replies on this with a smile of a happy and satisfied woman. The support that her family provides is the first thing that enables her to do all that. They have taken over the big part of responsibilities in a house, as well as in her activities. And what is the most important thing – they enjoy in this.

She said, "I am not tired, I wish to do so many things more, since I am aware that the true happiness is to know how to make other people happy. I want a healthy surrounding in which my children will grow up and work, as well as other children. May God help me."

Suhra's Story

Suhra Sinanovic s 44 years old and she is a single mother of two children Her a son, Munir, is 22 years old and is a student at the third year of the Faculty of Criminal Justice Sciences. Her daughter, Emina, is 18 and is a student at the first year of Medical Faculty.

Her husband went missing in 1995 after the fall of Srebrenica. His body was found in 2000, and his identity was confirmed in 2003 when he was buried at the cemetery of the Memorial Centre in Potocari with another 610 people who were identified.

Suhra used to live in Bratunac, a small town in Eastern Bosnia, before the war. She graduated from high school and is a construction technician, but she also graduated from trade high school and worked as a saleswoman. She lived with her husband, who was employed, and her two children in their family house in Bratunac until 1992. They were a happy family with a big family estate where all of them used to work and in that way they used to provide more income for the family. Suhra’s extended family and her husband’s extended family used to live in the same town, so they were all very connected, close to each other and they met often.    

However in 1992, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they were expelled. They left their house, their estate, their little town. She left with her husband, son, daughter, mother, father… and they all had only one wish – to save their lives! She found temporary accommodation with her family in Srebrenica.  

Suhra says that she shared her life of a refugee in Srebrenica from 1992 to 1995 with all others who escaped there. She lived as everyone else: with everyday fear for the lives of her dearest ones, with lack of space for living since there were many refugees who found their shelter in Srebrenica, with shortage of basic foodstuff and food, with everyday sorrow for those who were leaving to the front lines and never returned, with the outrages of wounding and concern for survival. She constantly had on mind that her only goal is for her family to survive! 

She tried to make her children not to suffer that much, she tried to provide them a place for sleep and food to eat, she war performing all her duties as a mother, a housewife, a daughter and a daughter-in-law, who has to take care of her children as well as the older members of her family… She was taking care of everything that her family needed: she prepared food, she was providing fuel, water, she was seeing her husband when he was leaving to the front line, provided for him food to eat on the front line and provided fuel for the house in order for her husband not to be cold when he returns, she also took care that her parents have food to eat,… She says that she shared the destiny of all women who were in Srebrenica at that time!

1995 is a year of tragedy for Suhra and for all people from Srebrenica. Her husband went missing in that year. He was 32 years old and she was 29 years old. She, her two children, eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter and all her survived family were deported to Zivinice, a small town near Tuzla.

She was placed into one school building, with another 500 refugees. She lived in one classroom and shared it with another 40 people. They had one bathroom on the upper floor, and they were given food twice a day, since they could not cook there. And that is where Suhra created her small nook that her children called a home that they were coming into and leaving from, where they slept, ate and played. She often took her children to her mother’s in order to give them a bath and to wash the clothes. Her mother was placed in one house and there were less people in it; it was easier to get access to a bathroom so that is where she took her children. Besides all this, there was no news on the missing ones. She knew nothing about her husband and all the other men from her family and surrounding who were taken away. That was the hardest! To be the head of the entire family, to provide everything they need and to search after your husband! Whenever she heard that someone is alive she would go there right away to ask, to gather some information. She wanted to believe that they are alive, that they are captured, that they will return…!  

The very same year women, in the centers they were placed in, started to gather together and to exchange all pieces of information on the missing ones they got. Suhra was always with them. She felt she could not just wait, that she should do something. These women soon started organizing gatherings by which they wanted to send the message that they are waiting to be told where their husbands, brothers, fathers, cousins are… Suhra attended all these gatherings and all protests. When she had someone to look after her children she left them with that person, and when not – she took them with her!

Suhra already started feeling that uncertainty, fights for existence, uncertainty of roof over her head, obligations towards children leave consequences on her physical condition. She decided to take participation in the activities of one association. They also had psychotherapy in the programme to which she joined. This help, as well as the programme of handicrafts’ production, helped Suhra to start feeling greater physical stability. She started making money by selling some of her handicrafts. That was the first money she provided for her family.

She talked to her children from the very beginning about the reasons for her participation in such activities, about what she wants to make and why. She explained everything to them and it showed up very soon that they understand everything. She developed responsibility at them, especially regarding their obligations. She enrolled her son in school immediately and followed all his activities in the school. Even though they were very young they could, in a short period of time, stayed home alone, they fulfilled their obligations on time and they even took over a part of the obligations to fulfill them on their own: they, themselves, took meals she prepared for them, they went to school on time, they returned from school on time and they took care of each other. Suhra was always there to welcome them, to listen to them, to give them all the attention and love they needed. They were always spending time together in conversations, doing their homework or playing. She had great support in her parents and her friends who helped her in taking care of her children when she was absent for longer time. Her parents and her friends supported her work.

Suhra very soon realized that she can achieve more in cooperation with others. But, it was not always easy to move other women. Many of them, due to big sorrow and grief, traumatic experiences, were hopeless and faithless; they thought they can not change anything. But, she did not give up. She talked to everyone; she always asked questions and brought some news. Women from other places, also refugees with the same problems, soon started to join them.

Suhra, moves to Sarajevo in 1997 with her children since she got a small flat to use. That was another fight. The flat was devastated, without any furniture, without any dishes, no stove, no woods, and no bedclothes – simply empty. And they had nothing!

Once again Suhra opened a home for her family with her engagement! She was collecting old furniture, gathered information where could she get something, purchase something. They had only two spoons so they were not eating at the same time! But, children were again going to school, they were excellent pupils and they were teaching themselves, together with her, to be patient and they developed faith in better tomorrow. In order to do everything successfully, Suhra used to do some housework while her children were asleep.

Suhra continued her work on finding the missing ones in Sarajevo as well. Her husband’s remains were found in 2000. That was another difficult moment in her life. Those are the moments that face your hope with reality. And, unfortunately, the reality shuts down your hope! It is very difficult to survive that! Besides that, his remains were found, but, she still needed to wait for identification. This doubt also lasted for three years. Suhra’s husband was buried at the cemetery in Potocari in 2003.
 
In her work Suhra cooperated with all the others who had similar or same goals. She participated in, organized or supported all the protests and marking the anniversaries of massacres, with the aim of initiating the issue of the missing persons and solving the status of their families. Joining the women in the Associations “Mothers of Srebrenica Enclave”, Suhra directly worked on starting the action for determining the locality of the future Memorial Centre.

Women of Podrinje, the region where Suhra is from, decided to form their Association and they did so. She organized the first convoys for going to the pre-war places of living, she coped with the resistance she experienced back then, but she never gave up. They were stoned and could not enter into Bratunac. But, they went once again and succeeded!

Suhra is the president of the Association “Women of Podrinje” and she very actively works on fulfillment of their Association’s goals, but she also provides comprehensive cooperation with other associations. Her Association also cooperates with Prosecutor’s Offices and Courts, they follow and they are present at the trials for the war crimes; she was also a witness in The Hague in one process, she cooperates with the centers for identification of the missing persons, she participates in organizing funerals and marking the places where people were killed as well as the dates of massacres during the last war.

Suhra was directly engaged in the process of adoption of the Law on Missing Persons in BiH. The members of the families of missing persons got, for the first time by this Law, their right on money benefits. Their requests were: financial help for the families of the missing persons, free exhumation and identification of the victims, free burials, marking the places were the crimes were committed and places of exhumation and burial of the victims. This is the first and the only law of such kind in the region.

Suhra, for the motifs of her unselfish volunteer work, with all the obligations a single mother has, states her sorrow, which is present even today, but she also says that she finds herself and sees herself in such fight. The loss of her husband and father of her children, as well as another 23 members of her closer family, as well as all the others who were killed in such way, are also her starting power. She feels that it is her obligation for her hard-working children to know where their father is, as well as all the other relatives, and that they are able, whenever they wish, to visit their father’s grave. Suhra believes that the truth on their missing ones, for which she advocates so much, will influence for something like this never to happen again.

Her children are grown-ups now. Following her work, talking to her and sharing life with her and her actions, they have already created a personal responsibility for reacting on all negative phenomenons in the world. Both of them are always ready to participate in the activities of her Association, to support all the protests for peace in the world, all the assemblies that point to the unjust oppressions, killing people in the world, on every kind of discrimination.
 
Besides all this, both of them are excellent students, they have no big requests, wonderful young and modest people who study hard, even though they live with their mother in two small rooms, without any luxury. Suhra is so happy that they are so hard-working, responsible, that she provided for them to have roof over their heads, that she has such wonderful relation with her children, full of understanding and that her children are on the right path.

Suhra is proud for having such children, but she also knows that her children are also proud on her work and engagement! Because, everything she did and does, gives great results. She is proud for, with other activists, being successful in their efforts to have Memorial Centre in Potocari, where her husband, as well as many others, was buried, to have a place for cemetery in Bratunac, another town where many people were killed… Many, who were missing, are now here, unfortunately not amongst the living ones, but buried with dignity. People who are still missing deserve something like this, and Suhra actively participates in this.

“When you have children, when war takes you away everything you were creating for your entire life, it is difficult to move on, to live. You have to fight grief, hopelessness, anger and you have to be everything in your own family, even something you have never been before.

But, you move since your children must go to school, they need your attention and love, play and help. You become aware that they deserve something else, and that is the truth on their father, for whom they constantly ask and look after, the truth on all the others who were here until yesterday! And there is no news on them, everyone is silent!

Then you realize that you can and must not only be a mother and a housewife, who feeds them, prepares food for them and takes care of them. You simply realize that you have this kind of obligation towards them, as well as towards those who are no longer with us, not to be forgotten. A person can not be missing!

Then you realize that you can do everything and that you can make much more that you ever thought you could. Therefore one has to move and fight since that is the only way you will make something for you, your children, for other children and all other people. I do all this in order for everyone to understand that something like this is inadmissible and that it should have never happened anywhere in the world. Those who made this should be punished adequately, since that also carries a message! And all I want is for all the children to grow up with their fathers and in their houses! I don’t want anyone to do anything similar to what was done to our children anywhere in the world!” Suhra says. 

Suhra still lives with her children in Hrasnica, a settlement near Sarajevo. She lives in an accommodation she got from the municipality for usage and which she shares with many families who are also displaced. She is very active in the Association as well as in everything that follows such engagement: cooperation with other associations, representatives of institutions, authorities, international organizations….

Medina's Story

Medina

Medina Omanovic is 33 years old. She lives in a village near the town of Visoko called Sareni Hanovi. She is married and has two children. Her husband works in a butcher's store. Her cousin recommended her to join Women for Women International's program. Medina is unemployed and she recognized her opportunity for making some positive changes in this program. She was regularly attending sessions and participated in all discussions and she said that she started thinking about starting a business. Medina has planted vegetables in a greenhouse for several years but she realized that she can find additional way to earn some money besides the greenhouse production. Medina attended the training in greenhouse production and she is now implementing the knowledge she gained during the training. She saved her monthly donations and bought some chicken. She realized that she is able to work and also to be with her family and to be able to provide them support when they need it. On the other hand she is also making income that her family needs. The program has helped her a lot because she now values herself and her work more. She learned how to present her products and find markets at the business training. Taking into consideration that her husband works in a butcher's store she recommended him to talk to his boss (the owner of the butcher's store) and to offer him the opportunity to buy chicken from her. She succeeded in this. She bought 100 chickens for the beginning. Now, she is buying 50 chickens every week and she is very proud of her job. If things develop as she planned Medina will expand her production very soon. This program has strengthen her self-confidence and offered her new opportunities in life. Medina believes that every unemployed woman should join WfWI program and recognize the opportunities for improvement of life conditions.

Ahida's Story

Ahida Dudich is a 52-year-old woman living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Growing up in the small town of Namhich, Ahida had a carefree childhood with her two sisters and two brothers and believed her life would be like poetry. After graduating from high school, Ahida's father became very ill, and her family could no longer afford to send her to college. When she was 20 years old, Ahida married a man she hardly knew. For her, "It was bad from the very beginning." Her husband's aggressiveness and impulsiveness as a young man grew worse over time, though the times he was kind to her and their two children kept Ahida's hopes up that things could improve.

Eleven years after she was married, Ahida remembers how the war began in Bosnia and how "I was really afraid for my family, for my children." Her mother and brothers fled their home and came to live near Ahida, who cooked and cleaned for them. Both of her brothers were involved in the fighting, and both had one of their legs amputated due to injuries. Her saddest memory from the war was the sudden death of her mother after her second son's amputation. "I believe her heart just broke," says Ahida, because of what had happened to her brother and the hard life she herself faced. Through all of these hardships, Ahida never lost hope that life would get better, and was inspired by words from a Bosnian song, "There is always enough space in the top when you start from the bottom." Ahida says, "And so I realized that my life couldn't get any worse, it could only get better because I was starting from the bottom."

Three years ago, Ahida learned about Women for Women International, and decided to join to be able to leave the house and make friends with other women. Learning about women's rights through the program made Ahida realize how few of them she enjoyed in her own life. After one session in which the women discussed domestic violence, Ahida confided in her trainer, Amarah, about the struggles she had faced in her home life. Having someone willing to hear her story and take time to help and encourage her gave Ahida renewed strength after years of being put down and devalued. Ahida says that "When you reach the bottom of every aspect of your life, just a small step forward actually helps you rebuild your life because before that you didn't really have a desire to live. But when you make a small step, you make a small break through. You kind of get to see things differently and get your will for life back."

After nearly 30 years of marriage, Ahida finally gained the courage to leave her husband, taking nothing but the sewing machine and some clothes for herself and her son. After trying a few different trades Ahida realized she could make bags to sell to women for when they shopped. Since then, she has made over 2,000 bags and says, "I have my peace now. I am peaceful, I live in a comfortable surrounding. And I'm really proud." She hopes her son will soon be able to find steady work, but she is happy with the changes she's been able to make in her life since joining WfWI. "It's never too late to find the joy of life."

 

 
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