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).”

My Last Day at Bosfam

18 Aug

On my last day at Bosfam, many of the members told me that it would feel strange for them to spend their days in Bosfam’s Center in Tuzla without my regularly joining them for coffee. It will be strange for me too.

Although I sometimes grew frustrated with the amount of time I spent drinking coffee, in some ways, I see it as one of the most important components of my internship. Apart from learning how to make Turkish coffee Bosnian style (which makes me all the more eligible for one of the Bosnian men the women eyed for me) I developed an appreciation for the daily challenges Bosfam members face.

I have worked in post-conflict situations before, but this work was primarily administrative and involved little contact with beneficiaries. Because the Advocacy Project internship was with a local organization run by the very same people it aimed to assist, all of my work necessitated communication with beneficiaries. Close cooperation meant not only adapting my working style to jive with theirs, but also just spending time with the women as they discussed the fluctuating price of tomatoes and whether or not the municipality had paid the electric bill in their collective center. As my language skills improved, I was able to participate in these discussions, expressing indignation at the fact that electricity had been cut in the collective center, or comforting a woman who cried.

I am pleased with some of the concrete things I accomplished at Bosfam – helping to complete their new website, writing some project proposals, and compiling a product catalogue. However, when friends and family ask me about the internship, I will mention the coffee first.

Posted By Marta Schaaf

Posted Aug 18th, 2003

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