The Tapping of Potential

As a visitor, here for just two short months, I have become enamored by Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that has one of the most layered and complicated histories of any place I have studied.  The interwoven intricacies of this extraordinary place have become deeper mysteries to me the longer that I stay here.  It’s like that old saying, “the more you learn, the less you know.”  I think that it would take a lifetime to really understand what makes Bosnia, well… Bosnia, but we are so lucky that we have spent our time here with citizens who can shed more light on where Bosnia is now and the potential of where they know it can go.

Right now, people my age are leaving.  When the unemployment rate is over 50% and those without jobs are highly educated, what is there to do but look for work elsewhere?  It is troubling to hear this from the very generation that can help propel this country into the future.  They have unfortunately become disenfranchised by an economic system that has crippled them financially and left them with few other options but to work towards life in a faraway place.  If work is found here, it has a high probability of not being intellectually stimulating in a way that someone with a master’s degree would want to be challenged.  These people want to work creatively, want to start a family, and want to grow old here, but unless some significant changes are made, that is an extremely difficult dream to make reality.  I hope that they begin to have the structural support they need to stay here because some cannot wait for their passions and careers to begin much longer.

With that being said, citizens have begun to tap into untouched markets that are changing the way certain people live here.  We are lucky enough to work with innovators who see the bigger picture of progress in our different internships.  For me, it is interesting to be able to shadow and watch what my Executive Director, Sejdefa, has done with vulnerable populations and public health.  Perseverance, inventive ideas, and optimism have propelled her forward throughout the years, and she is constantly coming up with new ways of bringing community resources together to reach and serve wider audiences.

No one would have thought seven years ago that older adults would have a non-smoking (borderline impossible in a place where cigarettes are a coveted part of daily life) community center where they can come together to have a place to congregate, express themselves artistically, and just talk with each other, but Sejdefa made it happen.  She knew that this population was being left behind because their children went abroad for work or perished in the war.  Adults need support systems too, and thus, The Centre for Healthy Aging was born.  Membership is open to any older adult who feels lonely (within a municipality radius), and her centers are filled with hundreds of people looking for companionship, regardless of ethnic background.  She now has the municipality and community behind this project and can continue to raise awareness about the importance of healthy living at later stages of life.

Along with healthy aging comes proper reproductive health for the younger Bosnians who are staying here, looking to start the next generation.  This country has low birthrates, high abortion rates, and little education on proper family planning.  With the support of the UNFPA, Sejdefa and her partners have created a curriculum for physicians in both Republic of Srpska and The Federation to come together, learn ways in which to talk to their patients about this very taboo topic, and have productive dialogues about future trainings.  It was such an honor to be able to sit in on a UNFPA meeting where doctors are taking such important next steps for the reproductive health of their patients.

All of these issues reach beyond ethnic lines and affect everyone in the country the same way.  Luckily, with collaboration and a common goal, important community and social problems have begun to be tackled.  While these two projects are just the beginning of a long journey toward social change, they show that while shifting social perceptions is difficult, it is not only possible, but powerful, for a developing nation.  They became a reality after united, unwavering hope and determination for a healthier, better Bosnia.  There is so much more to do, lowering unemployment being paramount, but projects like these make me hopeful for a brighter future in a country still healing from its troubled past.

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