I got ill in 2005. I thought it was the worst case scenario, and I don’t like to remember those moments.
On my way back from the hospital, a friend of mine told me that an organization, Women for Women International, was on its way. I don’t know why but something about it attracted me. Maybe the name, “Women for Women.” I don’t know really what it was exactly. So, I was coming back from Mostar, and I didn’t go home straight away. I went a couple of hundred meters further, straight to the museum, where the organization held their presentation. I heard only half of it; the other half I didn’t hear because I was so worried about my health at the time. I had fibrocystic breasts, and when I went to some information sessions about women who actually did have breast cancer, it comforted me because I knew then that I didn’t get my worst case scenario after all.
Then I saw women making these baskets. I liked them, but I decided that I could make them better by decorating them. It is really hard work, even hard for a man, but I can do it. Women for Women in Sarajevo saw my determination, and so I just started making them. At the time, I didn’t really do it for the income; I just wanted to forget about my health problems. And at one point I realized that I had something close to 300 baskets and I had filled the whole room with them. Friends of mine from Austria came, and I was supposed to go to the seaside with them. We decided to put all of the baskets in the car and take them with us on our summer holiday. And it took us only half an hour to sell all of the baskets. And to think that everyone had originally said to me, “What are you going to do with all of those baskets?” I was the happiest woman alive. I had my wallet filled with all of these different currencies of the world: dollars, Australian dollars, euros, pounds, everything. I had managed to earn the equivalent of my husband’s monthly salary.
I decided to share my joy with the women in Sarajevo. So that is basically how I got started. The group gave me a job to educate and instruct 60 other women, to train them to make and decorate baskets. It was my greatest joy when those women started making an income.
My husband lost his job shortly afterwards. We said we have no work, no steady income, now it is my time to shine. We have all the time in the world, and time is money. I read that every five seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies of hunger, and this is something that I can’t live with. I can’t be at peace with this. They died because they didn’t have the conditions that we have. Food is basic; food is something we all need. And so I decided to concentrate on organic food production. During the summer, I would go with my children and work in the field and produce the basic food that all of us need. And during the winter I would work on my baskets. I am a member of another project and through that I secured some loans that allowed me to buy a greenhouse. And I am really managing very well. I have no surplus. I don’t waste any food. I sell it or use it. But I have applied to get a second greenhouse, so I can expand my production, and I am probably going to have it a bit closer to my house. That is how it all started. But without Women for Women, I wouldn’t have anyone to pick me up. I wouldn’t have anyone to cheer me on as I do it.
My husband does all the difficult jobs, here and around the house. But men do not understand the seriousness of this job. He usually says, “We’ll do it tomorrow,” whenever I tell him we have to do something. But here in Bosnia, you can’t count on tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will have something else to do. And it is important to do everything now. But it has not been easy for my husband either.
Eventually I made baskets for Kate Spade, out of artificial straw. It involved many women and I fulfilled the role of coordinator between the 60 women in Sarajevo. That was all done within Women for Women.
It makes me happy to work with and help these other women. There was one woman called Halimiah, who does not get any social aid. And she lost her daughter when she was only in the fourth grade of elementary school. She will never forget her pain, but when she finds herself in a bad place, she takes a bag of pinecones and in deciding which pinecone is good and which is not, she manages to at least forget her pain for a moment. This work is limitless.
I am now sharing the work with the women I trained and we share the income too. And when Namkah told me that she used the money she got from baskets to buy a used car, I cried from joy.
Out of the 60 women that I trained, at least 10 of them are making money. I took on the role with the intention that at least one of the women I trained would earn money from the baskets, and now there are 10. That is the reason that I was put here on this earth. It really fulfills me that no one is crying anymore.
None of these jobs are a burden for me. My biggest burden was when my children would ask me for something, and I would not be able to give it to them. So, I told myself that I would do anything to be able to give them everything they need.
There are so many moments I can recall when Women for Women has impacted me. I think that I would have to put all of those moments together to tell you what it really did for me. It helped me to not think about my hardship and misfortune. It is all destiny. It is all fate. We are all born with a task or a goal in this world. It was probably Women for Women’s task to come to my city on that day when I went to the hospital. It was probably its destiny to come there at that time and give me just a light of hope. Sadly, I don’t have enough time to go and visit all of the programs and trainers. I always tell them that they don’t even realize what they have done for me.
The photo accompanying this article features a Women for Women graduate, however, for privacy or security concerns, it is not an image of the woman described in the article.