Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

Quinn Van Valer-Campbell (Bosnian Family – BOSFAM): Quinn was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. She first visited the Balkans in 2007 to work with Bosnian NGOs, and studied abroad in Bosnia while an undergraduate at Fordham University. Quinn was studying for a master’s degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in California when she began her AP fellowship. After her fellowship Quinn wrote: “I am more confident in what I know I am capable of. I proved to myself that what I have learned is applicable and relevant in life and not just in class. [The fellowship] has shown me the way in which the cultivation of people to people relationships …can change lives.”

The Chance to Move Forward

21 Jun

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.

Tima: truly a strong woman

Tima: truly a strong woman

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.

The (nonexhaustive) list of names at the Potocari Memorial

The (nonexhaustive) list of names at the Potocari Memorial

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.

Thousands of graves stretch before me

Thousands of graves stretch before me

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.

The new BOSFAM center in Srebrenica

The new BOSFAM center in Srebrenica

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


  • Victoria

    June 21, 2011


    It is difficult for me to read of your experiences of the women of Bosnia without feeling tearful. Your writing is so beautiful and so descriptive that these women are beginning to feel like sisters rather than faceless strangers. You remind me of how powerful and courageous women are. I can’t help but feel that the important work of the world, namely peace, can be accomplished if more women could and would travel to one another’s countries to establish relationships and trust.

    Coincidently, I have watched several programs over the past couple of weeks regarding the struggles and victories of the women of Darfur,
    Malawi,Cameroon,Burma, and Ethiopia. The efforts of these women to cope with war, rape,poverty, forced marriage, domestic violence,ethnic cleansing, and lack of education is remarkable. Against all odds they continue to do whatever is necessary to feed and protect their children and stress their belief in the value of education.I have been especially impressed by the lengths many of these women will go to to enroll their daughters in school and keep them from early marriages in order that they will have a better life than the women of previous generations.

    Watching your video of the women of Tuzla taking to the streets, monthly, to remind others of the atrocities of Sebrenica (and of war in general) deserves front page publication in the world news media. Wouldn’t this serve us all better than the sexual adventures of our politicians and the latest diet fads? (From my soapbox: keep women preoccupied with jealousy among women and body image and we won’t have the time or inclination to promote the welfare of one another.)

    Your example of putting “feet on the ground” to help the women of Tuzla certainly makes me question my impending retirement and how I will spend it. My work may not be over yet.

    I’m proud of you and feel deep admiration for the brave women of Bosnia.

    P. S. Thank you for your wonderful video and photos.

  • Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

    June 22, 2011


    Thank you so much, Mom. I’m very happy to see that this got a few wheels turning. The deeper and further I get into my studies and my time on the ground, I realize that this isn’t something that will simply disappear or go away anytime in the near future.
    Talking to and hanging out with these women makes me realize daily how strong they are. One would never know the pain and trauma from their past by looking and/or talking to them. It’s incredible.
    I think what you said about the sex scandals and diet fads is right on point. From time to time, people make comments about how certain topics are too ridiculous to be news articles. However, as soon as Arnold has an out-of-wedlock child, as soon as Wiener takes pictures of his wiener, and as soon as some other scandal is revealed, all goes out the window and we’re consumed by that nonsense. I think it has a lot to do with being desensitized and disengaged since technology is ever-pervasive.
    Perhaps more people will take your lead, as I did when I first started to travel on my own :), and do something. Anything. Simply being in a different place is learning. I read an article today about a 13-year-old girl from the Bronx going to UConn in the fall. Her dad homeschooled her and, as a result, she has never set foot inside of a classroom. At first I thought, how sad. But then, her dad was quoted, as many have already said, that the world is a classroom. Only now did it actually hit home.

  • Megan

    June 22, 2011


    It’s so sad. Wow. I’m glad you are there, so many people don’t even want to travel, but there is a huge world out there, full of different experiences and lives being lived. In this case full of tragedy and what you said in response to your mom is so true- even when I listen to NPR they talk about Weiner and then they do a story on a bombing somewhere- and I’m thinking why do they almost set these stories on par- it’s ridiculous.
    Any way I’m really pleased for you that you’re having this experience and though I’m stuck for now I hope to travel more and in a helping capacity such as you. Love you Quinn!

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