What a gift.
It has been approximately one year since I left Bosnia. I must first express my deep gratitude as I have been given an amazing opportunity to be here for a second time. Coming back began with an invitation followed by paperwork and other priority to-dos, finishing my master’s program in Social Work, difficult goodbyes and many nights of dreaming about what this trip would be like compared to the previous year. In full disclosure, after returning home from Bosnia last year I hoped I would return someday but I never considered I would be back so soon.
Participating in the 2013 International Service Learning program as a student for two months transformed me in many ways. Both my heart and mind evolved from having basically zero information and knowledge about Bosnia to developing a blossoming curiosity and passion for the history of Bosnia, it’s people, the war, post-war conflict strategies and healing, and the continuing social, economic and political environment of the country.
Returning to Bosnia has instantly deepened my respect and appreciation for the country’s people as well as solidified my curiosity for the country’s current social, economic and political situation. In my new role as the program’s coordinator I now have the privilege to see the “behind the scenes” organization of the ISL program as well as the opportunity to assist NGOs in a new capacity. This privilege has given me access to resources I will use to explore Bosnia through a new cultural immersion lens as a leader. I feel humbled by this position and I look forward to the education and knowledge I will gain listening to the stories and experiences of each student in this program through their unique lens as well as hearing the voices of Bosnian people.
I am currently reading the great Paulo Freire’s (1970) book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and I am finding much, if not all, Freire describes in his book about the relationships between those who are oppressed and those who oppress to be quite similar to the situation here in Bosnia. The war in the 1990s left a remarkable scar and collective wounding on the country that is ever present today. The political situation in Bosnia continues to be terribly corrupt and although there has been a growing small movement of radical political activists willing to confront the corruption, there continues to be a great need for revolutionary organizing and action.
What is “pedagogy?” – the science and art of teaching, education and instructional methods
Freire’s (1970) vision for a pedagogy of the “oppressed” states:
“a pedagogy must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation (p. 48).”
My initial conversations with Bosnian people about the protests in early February organized by Bosnian radical political activists have revealed that for many young activists the protests were dismissed by people with power in the country and resulted in no change. It appears that the momentum of the movement in Bosnia for political dissenters is in great need of both numbers and empowerment. Political apathy for the current system is obvious anywhere you go and although there is a growing trend for some Bosnians towards change, my impression here is there continues to be a larger number of Bosnians who do not see any change coming soon and therefore no reason to become involved in any political action or organizing.
This summer will be quite the adventure travelling through the country. I hope I can share my experiences with you and continue to develop my love for this country. A distinct trait of Bosnian culture is their welcoming and relationship-oriented attitudes towards being with people. The first day I arrived in the country I was instantly welcomed and hugged by each person I came across and this trend continues to be true every day.
I continue to observe and experience the love and humanity of this place every day and every moment.
Reference: Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.