Marta Schaaf

Marta Schaaf (BOSFAM); Marta graduated from Smith College in 1999, where she studied European History. She spent her junior year in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2000 Marta volunteered for Balkans Sunflowers, a grassroots NGO in Macedonia, and was assigned to work with Roma refugees from Kosovo. She taught English and computers and coordinated Sunflower’s activities with other INGOs. She also assisted the local Macedonian Helsinki Committee and other local agencies with grant-writing and English language publicity. She remained on the board of Balkan Sunflowers, coordinating US-based grant writing. Marta next took a job in New York with Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde). After a year, she moved to Kosovo, where she directed public health projects. Some dealt exclusively with public health (such as TB control), while others involved working with civil society. Marta helped to set up a health clinic for Roma, and worked to develop the capacity of local disability advocacy agencies. At the time of her fellowship, Marta was studying at Columbia University, with a focus on southeastern Europe, human rights, and political development. Marta wrote the following in a final assessment of her internship: “In general, I was very pleased with my summer, and I think AP offered a unique program. I think because the program is so attractive you would get quite a few qualified applicants. While I was often frustrated with Bosfam, I think this is part of the game when one works with a local NGO. I support Bosfam, and respect the work of the organization. It became almost immediately apparent to me that Bosfam’s first need was to improve its business practices and to begin to make the leap from a one-woman NGO to a small business (not that it will ever completely make this transition).”

First impressions

12 Jun

I have worked in other post-conflict situations, but am struck by how omnipresent the ghosts of war are here. Everyone with whom I have spoken has mentioned the war and the myriad of ways in which it affected their daily lives. No one has mentioned personal tragedy, just the daily humiliations and deprivations that strangled their existence in the 1990s and that continue to mark their lives. Friends from Bosfam explained the layout of Tuzla to me as a map of war tragedies and changes – the site of a massacre, the site of destroyed buildings, the site of a former Yugoslav monument. My AP colleague, Peter, showed me around the outskirts of the city where Partisan monuments from “that war” are slowly being vandalized to death, and new monuments to “this war” are still being completed and command the respect of fresh graves.

At the same time, many of the very visible scars of war are gone; most buildings, churches, and mosques have been rebuilt. People’s discussion of the war and the present situation are not urgent and fresh, but are more descriptions of how life is now refracted through the lens of past violence. Loved ones are gone, jobs are scarce, social dynamics are changed, old neighbors have been replaced with new ones, and many war profiteers are still on top. Some of this is irrevocable. One new friend explained to me that Tuzla is a nice place to live, but that the city has lost some of the vitality that made it special. Residents are tired and traumatized, and are not as friendly or open as they were before the war.

The women at Bosfam are emblematic of these changes, in part because the function of the organization is to address the consequences of the war. Beba, the Director, is struggling to keep the organization financially viable, in part because she feels a responsibility for the women weavers whose post-war existence is tenuous. Her communication with me and with a donor who visited yesterday reflect this urgent sense of duty and feeling that war marks every moment of existence.

Posted By Marta Schaaf

Posted Jun 12th, 2003


  • Beth Rabinowitz

    September 11, 2008


    I am in the process of doing a project about establishing better civil society in Bosnia for my HON 494 course Bosnian Hisotry, Memory, and Identiity and wanted to see if I could do an online interview or gather other info from you.
    Beth Rabinowitz

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