Genocide. It is something that the women of BOSFAM deal with on a daily basis. No one in Bosnia was left unaffected from the war. And these women lost their closest family members: sons, brothers, husbands.
One woman, Tima, wears a hijab. When you first meet her, she seems reserved and almost harsh. She stands tall and proud and I recently found out why. She is a simple woman with not much education behind her. However, she raised all her children to be highly educated and successful individuals. They are her ultimate accomplishment amplified only by the loss of her husband in July of 1995 when Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs. That was when she put on the hijab and has not taken it off since.
Last week I visited Potocari for the first time. It is the place in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered, shot point blank, in warehouses and thrown into mass graves around the country. On the way to the new BOSFAM center in Srebrenica, we stopped at the memorial cemetery in Potocari. It was almost completely deserted, much different than what I will encounter on July 11 when tens of thousands of mourners come to bury their loved ones.
Thousands of simple white graves stretched out before me. They seemed to go on for miles. I could sense a definite shift in Beba’s attitude. She lost two nephews and a brother-in-law and they were buried somewhere in the expanse before us. In less than a month we will be back to Potocari with many others. I have been trying to mentally prepare myself since the day I received confirmation of this fellowship, but I know that nothing I can possibly conceive of will compare to this experience in two and a half weeks. I have coffee every morning with women like Tima who were personally affected by the brutality of the war. I cannot imagine the pain through which they have gone and that they have surpassed.
I cannot help but be completely inspired by Beba and her drive to help and encourage women of all ages and, more importantly, of all ethnicities. While sitting in the Srebrenica center with a blond woman, Beba turned to me and asked: “What is the difference between Milica and myself?” I looked at her like it was a trick question. I had been attempting to understand bits of their conversation, usually with no luck, so the question caught me completely off guard. Beba looked at my surprise and said, “Exactly. Nothing! She is a Serb and I am a Bosniak. There is no difference.”
Beba lost almost everything she had during the war. Her house in Srebrenica was destroyed. Twice. Instead of letting hate for the enemy control the rest of her life, she sought to help her country and found a way in which to do so. She has opened two centers for women in Bosnia – one in the Federation and the other in the Serbian Republic (which is based out of her parents’ house). Not only have these places provided all women with income generation, but she has vowed to never close her doors on those in need. Even when most of the members of the Tuzla center will attend the memorial in Potocari, BOSFAM will remain open for those wishing to seek comfort.
Many talk about “helping people” and doing something for “the greater good”. Beba is one of those people who has done something. And she hasn’t just done something. She has given countless women forms of expression and a new, open, and inviting community. But it can’t come from nothing. The women who lost their sons, brothers, and husbands saw an opportunity and embraced the chance to heal and move forward.
Posted By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Posted Jun 21st, 2011