Pia Schneider (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Pia Schneider (BOSFAM); Pia is a joint Swiss and US national. She graduated from Tufts University in 1994 with a B.A. in International Relations. After a trip around the world, she then worked for three years as a Financial Analyst for Baita International LLC, a real estate company, in Atlanta, Georgia. Pia then took a year to study French at the Sorbonne in Paris. Deciding to remain in Europe, she then took a job with Andersen in Switzerland as a Consultant in the Corporate Finance Division. After three years with Andersen, she decided to pursue a Master’s Degree at Georgetown University, and graduated in May 2004 with an MBA.

City of the Walking Dead

31 Mar

I rented a car today and drove from Tuzla to Srebrenica with Mirso Efendic, a young man working part time for Bosfam and my translator for the day. My goal for this day was to find out how the Srebrenica Center was operating, how many women are involved in the project and how life has changed in the 8 months since I was here last.

I am not sure what I expected. Bosfam in Tuzla has been incredibly busy in my absence, initiating various projects, increasing their output and helping more women obtain permanent housing. I guess I thought Srebrenica would also show marked improvements. Somehow though, time has stood still – the situation in the municipality almost seems to have deteriorated. This is evident in the faces of the people I meet and that I pass on the street. Hope seems to be a foreign word. Smiles are rarer; shoulders seem heavier– the citizens of Srebrenica seem to have come to the realization that changing their lives will be very difficult and slowly people outside are forgetting about their existence. Whereas last year the weavers seemed excited by our ideas on how to promote their products, now they are skeptical and don’t really believe they will see the fruits of our efforts. I feel like a jerk, asking them about their lives, how they survive and what their hopes are – we did the same thing last year and, I cannot disagree with them, not much has changed to date. I feel like I am full of empty promises. So much for the Bosfam motto: “don’t promise – do something!”

City of the Walking Dead – that’s what a politician from Sarajevo called Srebrenica recently. It’s an apt description. With all the industry destroyed and no plans to rebuild, jobs are scarce, if that’s not being too optimistic. Houses are still being rebuilt, but given the fact that it now costs between 25-40 Euros (depending on family size) just to apply, only a fraction of those wanting to apply for housing can do so. The young aren’t returning or are leaving because there are no jobs.

Nonetheless, the trip to Srebrenica was great. I went to the Bosfam center and watched five weavers in action on the looms. I went to some of their homes to see the work they are doing there. Magbula, who has worked with Bosfam for many years, invited me to her home and spoiled me rotten. She might have almost nothing, but she still offered me everything she had. Why is it that the less a person has, the more generous they are? Although we communicated only through Mirso, the connection was instant – it broke my heart when she told me that she lost her husband, one son and her brother on that fateful day back in July 1995 and how she now depends mostly on the small, sporadic income she gets from weaving carpets for Bosfam.

I fully understand Beba’s unwavering commitment to these women, how she doesn’t give up no matter how many grant rejections or setbacks she experiences. Because although it seems like we are not doing much to change their lives, our impact is great – by not forgetting and constantly re-focusing on their plight, we are letting the survivors of Srebrenica know that there are people out there who are trying to prevent a second catastrophe, one quite different but just as drastic as the massacre of 1995 – the complete economic destruction of the town. Srebrenica must be revived and the people living there cannot do it alone – it’s our mission not just “to promise, but to do something!”

Posted By Pia Schneider (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Posted Mar 31st, 2004

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