Tuzla and Srebrenica

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Over the course of this past weekend, the program took us to the cities of Tuzla and Srebrenica. These two cities are located in the east of the country and are of moderate to small size. While Tuzla is a fairly cosmopolitan city located in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica is in the Republika Srpska(RS), the Bosnian Serb side of the country. To say that there is a marked difference of atmosphere between the cities would be an understatement. It is to be expected given that Srebrenica is primarily known for the genocide that took place there and there is denial by locals that the genocide even took place.

My first thoughts on the trip are that it is an intentional reminder about the toll of war and the horrific nature of hate when fully manifested. I think that in school we often think about terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing and trauma in academic terms to be analyzed, however, in doing so we separate ourselves from the human emotional dimension that must also be understood. For me I feel torn between two arguments. Part of me thinks that how can one fully appreciate and therefore understand the costs of conflict without taking into account the emotions that drive it? While another side argues that being involved at a personal level fundamentally compromises your objective ability to evaluate the conflict and make the practical decisions necessary to bring about peace.

My second thought on the trip was that it was yet another reminder of the war. I think that every day I go to my internship at the history museum I am reminded about the war and in a sense I am always thinking about it rather than on how things can get better. For me it is the third time being in Srebrenica (the first and second times being before and after the Peace March). When you read and hear about the political situation here, where there are intentional institutions of structural division between the ethnic groups, you ask yourself how can people be brought together if the structure in which they live divides them from the outset? One thing demonstrating this is the subject of education in the country. Power has been so decentralized that there are multiple regional and municipal governments that are given jurisdiction over issues that would ideally be consolidated into a single decision making body. Of these issues, the one that bothers me the most is education. In the RS, there is active denial about the genocide about the number or that it even happened. In the textbooks, on all sides, include terms of Us vs Them. It is frustrating that the socialization process foments division from the outset. I find there is so much focus on the past, and necessarily so, since reconciliation can’t really occur until there is truth telling and recognition about the events of the war. But the focus on the past limits the ability to look to the future or the change one must have within themselves to achieve that brighter future. In essence, the country doesn’t seem to be at a place for reconciliation to occur and there does not seem to be enough incentive to motivate changes in attitudes.

Lastly, my thoughts on the trip are that I don’t know what to do. Naturally, after seeing the memorial and hear that there is denial about the genocide, you feel that you need to do something. But then you realize that you will soon be leaving, that you will soon be distracted with your own life issues and needs, and that you will soon remember that what happened here goes on today all over the world. It’s depressing to say the least, but it would be inappropriate to take light heartedly either. What is important, however, is not to think that this is the only way things can ever be. There is change happening even if only on the small scale. It may take time, but people are doing things. In other words, you can’t lose hope. I may not feel hopeful at the moment, but realizing that even though I may not be the one that resolves all of this country’s issues, at the very least I can bring awareness to them and maybe in a small way make sure that no one forgets.

Surviving Srebrenica

Since my arrival Bosnia, I had been feeling far removed from the war that took place over 20 years ago in a Balkan nation halfway across the world from my home where I have never had any personal connections.  Sure, I remember overhearing bits and pieces of what was happening on the news back in the early 90’s, but I was too young to comprehend what any of it really meant.  In Bosnia, there are still many buildings that have not been restored since being damaged during the war, over 100,000 landmines still in place across the country, and it is clear that communities of the three primary ethnic groups are quite segregated with nationalist sentiments still running high as their respective flags are flown ubiquitously in the regions of the country that each claims as its territory.  However, the area of Sarajevo that we are staying in does not capture this feeling at all.  It is amidst many bars and hotels, with tourist shops abundant and obnoxious electronic music blasting through the streets until the early hours of the morning.  While it is certainly a great spot to be in to get around the city and make the most of the rambunctious nightlife of Sarajevo, it doesn’t exactly make one feel close to the complicated and tragic history of Bosnia.  Ironically, the city’s historical center and old town known as Baščaršija, is just a couple of minutes away by foot.

My feelings changed drastically during our group visit to Srebrenica.  This may have been the first time since arriving that I have really felt like I was in a post-war Bosnia, where the deep wounds from the conflict are visible 20 years later and still healing.  A little historical context for those who are reading and have not heard of what happened here: Srebrenica is a small town in the east close to the Serbian border where the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims occurred in July of 1995, towards the end of the Bosnian war.  Srebrenica became under siege by the Serb army which led to its subsequent occupation.  Civilians fled the town to try to reach a safe haven in in the city of Tuzla where the Bosnian army could protect them, but were mercilessly slaughtered by Serb forces on their way to this destination in an event known as the “Death March”, as they trekked through the hills with limited supplies.  Captive males and females were separated by military forces.  The women were raped while over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.  Over 20 years later, their remains are still being discovered in the forests and hills in the region.  This was the largest genocide committed on European soil since World War II.

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Our excursion began about 60 miles north of Srebrenica in the city of Tuzla, where we visited the Missing Persons Institute and International Commission on Missing Persons.  Here we learned about the process of identifying the remains of those killed during the war.  It certainly felt a bit surreal entering a room with hundreds of body bags filled with human skeletal remains and the victims’ personal belongings recovered from the dense forests of Bosnia.  Looking at a human jawbone and femur among the rest of the remains on an examination table had me wondering what specific fate this poor soul had suffered two decades ago.  However, at this point I still viewed the conflict and genocide as a thing of the past, which took place in the distant past.

 

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I had not yet seen the devastating emotional toll this had on the citizens of Bosnia.  This all changed quickly once we entered Srebrenica itself as Hasan Hasonovic, who was our guide for the entire trip, recounted his personal experiences to us as a survivor of the genocide, giving us the details of everything from his trek to Tuzla to the deaths of his twin brother and father.  Personal accounts from many others who we met including Saliha Osmanovic, a resilient Bosnian mother who had her entire family taken from her, were harrowing and difficult to wrap my head around.  What helped me understand best how these people were feeling was to put myself in their shoes and imagine if this had happened to me.  What if my father and brothers had been lined up, executed and their bodies were dumped into a mass grave in the most degrading manner possible?  What if my girlfriend had been raped?  What if I had been forced to leave my home and trek over 60 miles through the mountains, with limited food and water, in order to find protection?  This exercise in empathy combined with the testimonies of the survivors who we met, made the genocide seem all too real and suddenly not so far removed from the past.

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Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and the gravestones of thousands who perished during the war

 

I am no stranger to dark history.  While previously living in Germany and Austria, I had visited many WWII and holocaust historical sites such as the Nazi party rally grounds where Hitler spoke in Nürnberg and multiple concentration camps including Auschwitz and Dachau.  I toured a Spanish inquisition museum full of disturbing medieval torture instruments in Andalucia.  I have been on site of many southern plantations which belonged to slave owners in the southern United States.  However, this was different.  Watching color video footage of several Muslim men being lined up and shot from a time period when I was alive is an entire different animal than anything else I had ever witnessed.  The scars of the past here are much more recent and the wounds fresher.  After Srebrenica, I can only count my blessings and be grateful for the easy and comfortable life that I was born into.

 

For the past couple of years, I have been working on being thankful for everything in my life each and everyday, realizing how trivial any of my personal problems are relative to so many others in the world.  Refugees from Syria, those who have lost their homes and loved ones in any number natural disasters, and now after this excursion, the people who carry on living after what occurred in Srebrenica in July of 1995 are reminders that I am an incredibly privileged individual who can’t possibly begin to understand their pain and suffering.

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Tarik Samarah’s famous photo of a doll left behind at one of the mass grave sites near Srebrenica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this post was pretty grim and bleak.  Here’s a picture of Zareen and a cat to lighten the mood just a bit.

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Week 5: My Internship

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When I first was accepted to the Global Practice Bosnia program, I knew immediately which internship I wanted to apply for. Before applying, I had spoken to a few students that had done the program the previous year, and the Atlantic Initiative sounded like the perfect fit for me. As a security student, there are very few options that allow us to fulfill our degree’s internship requirement, but the Atlantic Initiative is one of the organizations that is actually accepted by the Korbel School’s career services office.

I knew there was a chance that the Atlantic Initiative wouldn’t offer me an internship spot, but I was extremely fortunate, and found out that I would be working for them about a month before our departure. The Atlantic Initiative (AI) is a non-profit and non-governmental organization, established in Sarajevo in 2009 by a group of university professors, lecturers, and journalists who share common concerns for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly related to the slow pace of its accession to NATO and the European Union. The Atlantic Initiative partners on projects with the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and enjoys support from NATO HQ Sarajevo, the Bosnian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, the George Marshall Alumni Association in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a number of non-governmental organizations in the region that share or reflect their mission.

AI focuses on several different projects, but is currently working extensively on gender and justice reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as violent extremism and radicalization that leads to terrorism (right up my ally!). My first assignment with AI dealt with researching the status of women in the various armed forces throughout Balkan countries. Focusing on whether or not women in the Balkan armies had access to avenues that deal with and punish sexual harassment within the armed forces, my research proved to me that so far, very little has been done to address these issues. Although some countries that have made their way into the European Union have vowed to end sexual harassment within the workplace and in the branches of the armed forces, there is very little reporting that takes place, and hardly any data to support if any actual progress has been made.
Currently, I am working on a project that has yet to be published and is politically sensitive, so I cannot speak very much about it. Although I can’t talk much about the project itself, I am honored to have the opportunity to work with such amazing women on such an important topic that needs to be discussed. The Atlantic Initiative has given me a lot of new experience in terms of research, and I hope that I have been as much as an asset to them as they have been to me. I truly value my time that I spend working with them, and it is an opportunity that I believe will make me stand out in the future, whether it is for PhD applications or looking for a post-grad job. Not many people can say that they have worked for a security organization abroad, and I am forever grateful to have been given this chance to do so.

Sarajevo: Part 5

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”

-John F. Kennedy

WINGS OF HOPE // FONDACIJA KRILA NADE

            When I found out that I would be going to Bosnia I decided to do some research into some places that might serve as applicable internship placements. During my research I stumbled upon Fondacija Krila Nade, or Wings of Hope.  They are an NGO that, in all honesty, does everything that you could possibly imagine in order to provide support to individuals that suffered during the war.  Some of the support they provide is, but not limited to, programs for children, psychological and psychosocial support, and free legal advice and counseling.  Along with this information, I found a very impressive timeline of successful programs that they had completed in the past.  Needless to say, I was extremely excited when reading about this organization and hoping for the possibility of interning here.

Over the course of meetings with Ann and others, I found out that this was a possible location, and that she had sent students here in the past.  I was overjoyed and extremely excited for this opportunity.  I heard stories of the work and of the director of the organization, Maja. Passionate, strong, dedicated, hilarious, wonderful. All words describing this woman who seemed to be a legend in the GPB community.

Here I am, 4 weeks later, and not only are all of those words true of Maja, but of all of the individuals that work there.  They are so dedicated to providing help and advocating for the people that walk through their doors, as well as individuals of Sarajevo. They understand not only how to help people, but how to connect to people.

Currently, we (myself and 2 other GPB interns) are working on a legal support program that they are piloting.  They are providing support to individuals in need of legal counseling, but do not have the means of paying a lawyer, the court fees, and the other fees included. We are helping to do research into possible funders of the program, as well as drafting the outline of the project proposal.  Normally the idea of this would terrify me, and while some of it still does only because I want to make sure we create this project up to Wings’ standards, I am excited because the past year I have been learning about and working on program evaluation projects.  I feel like I am able to put this knowledge to use… and that feeling is so wonderful. I feel challenged as well as determined.  Outside of the scope of program evaluation, later this week I will be working with the clinical psychologists at Wings, and will be given the opportunity to learn about cases that they have had, and learn how this differs from my westerns concepts and ideas of clinical work. For me, this is such an important part of the work that I hope to do. I am extremely excited to dive into this part of the internship.

Not only do we learn about our professional interests here but, here I have learned more than I ever thought I would about the people of Bosnia. Their beliefs, ideas, their culture.  I have been able to immerse myself into the Bosnian culture through these charismatic individuals.  I feel like I have truly found another home through Maja and the Wings staff. They have been providing me with an internship experience that is developing my professional framework, as well as challenging my beliefs and ideas, and helping me to evolve my sense of self. I have met people that I look up to, and strive to be like.  For me, I can not only say that I have made friends, but friends for a lifetime.

 

 

Week 4: Meeting Up in Paris

As some people may already know, my fiancé has been working for the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia during my time in Bosnia. Before I left for Sarajevo, we had planned to meet up in Moscow halfway through my 8-week stay. Call it ignorance, or just chalk it up to being an American, but I truly did not think I would have any issue applying for a Russian visa in Sarajevo. Especially because Russian citizens can apply for an American visa virtually anywhere. I found out about a week into my trip that I would NOT be able to apply for a Russian visa abroad, only in the United States. Freaking out, my fiancé and I began scrambling for another destination. Looking at flights to various European cities, we finally chose Paris, France.

After we decided on Paris, I told my fiancé that I had to come clean about something. When we first started dating, he had shared all of his amazing travel adventures with me. Impressed that he had traveled to over thirty countries, I decided to stretch the truth about where I had actually traveled. When he came to my apartment for the first time, he looked at my collection of Eiffel towers on one of my bookshelves, asking me if I had ever been to France. Embarrassed to say no, I casually answered “Oh, yeah. I went to Paris on a trip with my French class in the eighth grade.” I had no idea that we would end up dating, and then eventually engaged. When I told him that this was actually going to be my first trip to France, he burst out laughing, “I can’t believe you did that, you’re ridiculous.”

I’ve wanted to go to Paris for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite movies growing up was “Passport to Paris” with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who play the granddaughters of the U.S. ambassador to France in the movie and fall in love with cute French boys. Instead of taking Spanish, I opted for French all throughout middle school and high school. When I got to college I made it to the intermediate level, quitting during my junior year when things started to get too hard. I couldn’t believe after all of these years I was FINALLY going to experiencing Paris for myself. When the plane started to descend, I looked out the window and could see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, which looked like miniature figurines from the air.

I waited in arrivals for my fiancé’s flight to land for a little over two hours. Lost in my phone, I didn’t even realize he had arrived. Suddenly, I felt two hands on my shoulders. There he was, standing right behind me. I felt a rush of overwhelming joy come over me. We’ve never been apart from each other for more than two weeks.

That night was crazy. France had won one of the final Eurocup 2016 games against Germany, and the city was going wild. Cars were honking in celebration; people were hanging outside of their windows flying French flags, screaming. Crowds begin to form around every major landmark. We passed by every sight that I had waited years to see. Our cab slowly made its way through the traffic and finally we arrived at our AirBnB, which had an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower.

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The view from our AirBnB apartment!

The next morning, we woke up and took a cab to the Louvre. Luckily, the crowds weren’t that big, and we had gotten there early enough to not wait on any lines. We started with the Islamic art, and then went on a mission to find the most famous work of art in the world, the Mona Lisa. Passing by masterpiece after masterpiece, we finally found her. There she was, a tiny little frame protected by a glass shield surrounding her on all sides. Tourists from all walks of life pushed forward, gasping in awe (or maybe disappointment) and crying out in different languages. Several people stopped to take selfies (I’m also guilty of doing this). Finally, Dan and I made our way to the front. “That’s it?” I asked. “That is what all the fuss is about?” We both laughed. It was amazing that people had come from literally all around the world to catch a glimpse of this tiny, underwhelming painting. The crowds surrounding the painting were more of a sight to see than the painting itself.

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The Mona Lisa… as tiny as ever.

After the Louvre, we made our way to the park, which is also home to a little amusement park of sorts, with a giant Ferris wheel. I begged Dan to get on it with me. We paid, and got on, and rode all the way to the top. Immediately I started to regret it. Here we were in this tiny little metal basket, over a hundred feet in the air, swaying back and forth. I tried to focus on the view, but I was hanging tightly to the edges of our little rusty carriage. I was relieved when we finally got down.

Afterwards, we got some slushies (which I ordered successfully en français) and made out way to the famous Love-Lock Bridge. I had brought a tiny little travel lock with me, which included two keys. I wrote our initials and the date on the lock, and we found the perfect spot to put it. Counting to three, we both threw out keys into the Seine. Legend has it that any couple that puts their lock on the bridge and throws the keys into the Seine will be together forever.

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On our way back, we decided to find a place for lunch. Both of us missed eating Thai food, which is a usual thing for us back in Denver, and decided to find a Thai restaurant on Yelp. After 45 minutes of walking, we arrived to the restaurant and found out that it was closed (even though Yelp said it was open). We sat down at a nearby bar, had some drinks, and plotted to find another Thai restaurant. Eventually, we found one that was more than authentic. We had an amazing red curry that seriously beat most Thai food that we have eaten in Denver. It was extra spicy, a luxury for me because spicy food is virtually nonexistent in Bosnia. We spent the rest of our day wandering around Paris, and that night we laid in bed watching our favorite TV shows while feasting on sushi (another thing that’s extremely hard to find in Sarajevo) and Pizza Hut. It was perfect.

On our second day in Paris, we made our way to the Palace of Versailles. This is somewhere else that I’ve always wanted to go, because I love Marie Antoinette (she was a feminist for her time!) and the 2006 movie “Marie Antoinette” by Sofia Coppola is one of my all-time favorite films. The soundtrack, the visuals, and the historical accuracy are incomparable. Versailles itself is breathtaking. It’s so decadent—the architecture, the gold, the gardens. They even have a Ladurée on site. After touring the main grounds, we took a tram to Marie Antoinette’s special hideaway, known as Le Petit Trianon. I was lost in awe. Finally, I was walking through the same hallways and down the very same stairs that Marie Antoinette herself had walked. It was a dream come true for me. I’m still amazed that Sofia Coppola had been granted permission to film her entire movie at Versailles and in Le Petit Trianon. It was like walking through a little piece of history, where I was Marie Antoinette for the day. Thank you Danny for organizing our trip to Paris and for making sure I got to see Versailles. You are the kind of partner that everyone deserves to have in his or her life. When we got back to the city, we spent the rest of our night eating baguettes and candy and drinking champagne. Just hanging out in our little Pied à Terre indulging ourselves in every way possible.

Our last day in Paris was a little hectic. We didn’t realize that the Eurocup Finals would be shutting down almost every street and the Eiffel Tower. The city was crazy, with crowds everywhere. We could hardly move in the area around the Eiffel Tower. Everyone around us was sporting either a French or Portuguese flag for the game. We walked our way down the Champs-Èlysées and found a Ladurée, where we stopped for some macarons. It’s one thing to have Ladurée in New York, but an entirely different experience to be eating Ladurée macarons IN PARIS. I was in my glory. Getting a cab back to where we were staying was almost impossible, but luckily we were able to make it back safely. Once again, we got Thai food, only this time we ordered it online and decided to stay in for the night, due to the crowds. I was successful in answering the phone and speaking to the delivery guy in French when he arrived! #SoProud. We spent the rest of the night finishing up Game of Thrones, because the last few episodes had aired while we were away. All night long we kept hearing banging, which sounded like fireworks. Later, we found out that the crowds at the Eiffel Tower had gotten rowdy during the game (France had lost against Portugal, 0-1) and started setting things on fire. The bangs that we had heard weren’t fireworks, but water cannons and tear gas being fired. Good thing we had decided to stay in.

Saying goodbye to each other at the airport was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. We had a weekend away from reality, and now we had to go back to it. Being together in Paris made me realize how much I had missed Dan, but it also made me realize how strong our relationship truly is. We have spent the entire summer away from each other, following our dreams while still supporting one another and making sure we each achieve our independent goals. I hate to brag, but I truly have one of the best men as my other half. We are each other’s rocks, and we are a team. We are strong because of each other. If we had to do this summer all over again, we would, in a heartbeat. We know that the opportunities we are experiencing this summer are once-in-a-lifetime, and that no matter what, we will always have each other to fall back on.

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Reintegration and reconnection

Leaving Sarajevo was much harder than I anticipated.  I spent time with friends and  family traveling afterwords, and this was pretty effective in allowing me to avoid reintegration for a little longer.  Then I am home, and starting to work full-time, and I have been a witness to one of the darkest times in human existence but no one else around me has.  How can I hold these stories of death, survival, and resilience and spread truth? At first I told it exactly how it was, especially to those closest to me, and even if the only question  was how my vacation was.  But then a funny thing happened, and I stepped away from Bosnia, genocide, and war for a while.  I worked, I lived, and I avoided (including this blog post). It was so easy to do.

This week I reconnected with another close friend, and told the stories and experiences I brought back with me again in great detail, over many hours.  I felt reconnected to my experience in Bosnia again, and felt guilty for taking space from it in the first place.  This is a small part of our privilege as  witnesses, and not survivors.  At any time we can leave the trauma behind. Though it is always there to come back to, this is and will continue to be a balancing act, both in my personal life and experiences as a trauma clinician.   The pain and suffering of others affects me deeply  when I listen to and attune myself to it, but I can stop at any time.   My goal for reintegrating after my experience in Bosnia is to spread the truth and stories I have learned in a sustainable and consistent manner.  I have found some ways over the last week to weave these into my thoughts, conversations, and daily life without feeling overwhelmed.   I hope to encourage people to listen to the difficult parts of my experience as well as the ones filled with joy, and to be respectful of the knowledge I have and limits of others.

Internship thoughts

I have had an interesting experience with my internship(s), to say the least. My original placement with KULT left quite a bit to be desired. I had the impression that they would have more for me to do, but that was not the case. On top of that, the business manager of the organization did not want me to come into the office for logistical reasons, so I ended up working in my supervisor’s apartment while he was out of town. It was nice to have a place to myself, but ultimately I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and it was incredibly frustrating.

I could not be happier to have changed my placement to Wings of Hope. Everyone who works there does amazing work and the director, Maja, is an inspirational figure. One thing that I especially appreciate is that Wings is fluid in their programming and the way that they serve survivors of the war and Bosnian society in general. They started with a focus on providing mental health care for trauma survivors, which is still an emphasis, but they have broadened their mission to include everything from English lessons for adults who were minor soldiers to free legal aid to an anti-corruption project. It is heartening to work with people who are not only able to see the big picture, but are willing to take it on.

From a personal perspective, i think Wings of Hope is a perfect fit for me. I get to work on a proposal for their legal aid program, utilizing my research skills and legal background as well as honing my grant-writing abilities. At the same time, I am working on English lessons with a former minor soldier, which is completely out of my wheelhouse. I also hope to contribute in some way to their anti-corruption project, which is a vital effort addressing a huge problem in Bosnian society that I am both quite interested in and able to contribute to in a meaningful manner. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to contribute in these small ways to Wings of Hope’s far-reaching mission.

How has time flown by?

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When I initially began the pre-departure meetings for the program, I was a little concerned that I did not know where I would be working or what I would be doing. As the time to leave grew closer, my anxiety only increased. And when I arrived and had yet to find out what I would be doing, I was understandably still concerned. However, what I did not realize was the sort of opportunity that I had been given. Instead of being told my exact duties and what precisely I would be doing over the course of the next seven weeks, I was given the opportunity to in effect create my own internship and method of utilizing my time in Bosnia.

And so that’s what I did. I created my own program proposal that would allow me to do my own research and work with some of those there as well as contribute to the practical needs of the museum. It would mean that while I would be doing the kinds of things I was accustomed to in my graduate program, I would get to see how the museum works from behind the scenes and handle historical artifacts. At the same time, I would get to see how a museum with very little resources operates and provides their services to the public.

One of my favorite experiences with the museum was in helping them move rifles, pistols and grenades from the Second World War (all disarmed of course) to a new exhibit. I suppose that playing video games doesn’t quite prepare you for the actual heft the weapons carry. It was quite funny to see myself holding grenades in my hands like I would apples and handing a bazooka from one person to the next. Though at the same time it was also a realization and bringing about of consciousness to their intended purpose. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t skip a beat when a grenade fell from my hand and onto the floor.

As for my personal project, I’m going to try to do some primary research –though I doubt I’ll be able to get much data since I leave soon – and I’m going to do some conflict analysis on the country. It probably won’t be published or make it to any journals, but for me at least, I will feel that I have a better grasp about what is going on here beyond what you might read in the news.

I’m happy that I finally know what I’m doing in Sarajevo. For the first few of weeks, I was concerned that all I would be doing at the museum would be providing free labor and moving things around the museum. But instead, I found that I had been given an opportunity to really test my skills and do something that truly interests me. It was definitely not what I expected and I’m happy it wasn’t. I’m sure that it will continue to be a truly growing experience for the rest of my brief time here.

USAID Fellowship

When I accepted a summer fellowship for USAID at the American embassy in Sarajevo, I had no idea what a nightmare process the security clearance/background investigation would be.  After submitting the same forms several times over and completing three separate sets of fingerprints at the police station in Denver, I thought I would be good to go by the time I arrived in Bosnia.  Unfortunately, this was not the case as the individual in charge of collecting/submitting all of my information did not seem to handle the task well and had no answers for my many questions about this enigmatic process.  However, this was a bit of a blessing in disguise as my supervisor was able to place me in a different USAID office right up the street from the US embassy for a good experience.  Here I was able to work with “Measure”, a monitoring and evaluation team for the agency that collects surveys and completes statistical analyses to gauge the political attitudes of the country as well as the impact that USAID’s projects have had.  The data I reviewed revealed a lot of interesting beliefs in Bosnia, such as very conservative attitudes towards women and same sex couples.  Additionally, during the two weeks I spent here, I learned about new methods of analyses that are useful for my degree in Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration.   The team that I worked with was supportive and open to my presence in their work.

 

After the very frustrating process of going through a security clearance/background investigation which took months longer than it should have, I was finally able to start work in the United States Embassy in Sarajevo.   The Program and Project office where I am placed is currently in stage of transition, as my original supervisor left for a position in Bangkok after my first day in his office.  A temporary officer came in to take his place, but only until the end of July.  This has caused some confusion in terms of where I need to be and which projects I should be working on.  The inevitable red tape and bureaucracy of the governmental agency has also followed me into the embassy, as approval for my access to USAID’s computer network has been complicated to say the least.  Nevertheless,  here I have had the opportunity to participate in meetings involving the process of brainstorming new development objectives and creating an agreement with the Swedish International Development Agency to donate over $100,000 to a local LGBTI organization.  I’ve been in charge of corresponding with this organization, named the Sarajevo Open Centre, and planning the following meeting with representatives from both embassies to finalize the donation agreement.  I am scheduled to brief a visitor from Washington DC about the Open center and its goals next week, which I look forward to planning.

While writing this blog entry, I have just received word that my computer access card is ready.   Starting next week, I should become even more involved in the process of forming development goals and projects designed to help with USAID’s goal of Bosnia becoming a more stable country, closer to Euro-Atlantic integration.  What I like most about the agency is that it focuses on improving both functioning institutions as well as strengthening the economy via promotion of foreign direct investment and private sector development.  What is underlying both of these development objectives, however, is resolving the issues related to ethnic tensions across the country.   It is clear that USAID is attempting to address this in order to move forward with the rest of its strategy.

Wings of Hope//Fondacija Krila Nade

            It has been almost two weeks since we set off on the Peace March. There honestly has not been a day that goes by that I have not thought about that experience, and how it has changed me. I am so thankful for that opportunity, and while it was so difficult, it has been a truly life changing experience. Having the internship I do made it a lot easier to come back to Sarajevo after

Wings of Hope//Fondacija Krila Nade

            This internship has been absolutely amazing the first four weeks. I have not only learned about the non profit itself, but a lot about the history of Sarajevo and what individuals went through during the war. Wings of Hope or Fondacija Krila Nade is a non profit organization which works with both children and adults giving them a “psycho-social support using a multi-systemic approach”. The offer counseling/therapy to clients regarding a multitude of issues, they offer free legal help for marginalized individuals. They also offer English & German lessons to individuals who wish to take them.

I just graduated from the University of Denver in June with my Masters degree in Social Work. So for the past two years I have had required unpaid internships for school. My most recent internship was at the African Community Center in Denver working as an intense case manager with refugee families. This internship was one of the most life changing things I have ever done. So when I came to Wings of Hope, my standards were really high. And I am so happy to say that my standards have been met. The employees and volunteers at WHO are absolutely amazing, they are all so incredibly talented and passionate about different topics. It has also really been interesting to learn about how non-profits work and how different organizations work together in Bosnia.

Currently we are working on a proposal for the donors of Wings of Hope to receive more funding to help with legal fees for clients. While Wings of Hope offers free legal counseling, there are still some regular court fees that come along with any court proceedings. Two other interns and I are working on this proposal by doing research, and getting information from the Wings of Hope employees. This is not something that I am very experienced at, so it is really nice to have this experience.

 

I really could not be more thankful for these experiences that I am getting in Bosnia. I have met some absolutely incredible people, both in the DU program, and the local Bosnians. I love hearing people’s stories and learning about their lives, and Bosnia is definitely a good place to do so.

 

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

                        -Benjamin Franklin