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).”


02 Jul

Last Saturday, I went on a day-long vacation with a friend; we were just going to drive without consulting a map and enjoy the Bosnian countryside. We ran out of gas approximately 20 kilometers into the trip, and pulled the car over to the side of the road. We confidently strode up to a man standing outside of a working blacksmith shop, and asked him for a ride to the nearest petrol station. He smilingly asked us to get into his Yugo, and drove us to the station, and then back to our car.

We re-filled the gas tank and were on our way. Soon we passed the “Welcome to the Republika Srpska” sign, signaling our entrance into the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia. Someone has thrown red paint onto the sign so it looks like it is splashed in blood. Driving aimlessly led us to a small mountain road that ended in Srebrenica, and then on to a string of small villages along the Drina river.

We talked about all sorts of stuff on the roadtrip, and it actually turned out to be an interesting part of the journey. Usually long car trips are not my thing. He told me that he had been on his computer checking out a review by about best mattresses, and that he was thinking about getting one. I mentioned that I had had the same mattress for years, queue a 1 hour back and forth on beds, mattresses, posture, bones, muscles. Going back and forth on perfectly normal stuff, that’s just a conversation. I wonder how long it’s been since I’ve had one, that I found this one entertaining. Everyone just complains about whatever these days. It’s all extremes.

Families on outings lined the river banks, sitting in the sun, roasting pork and chicken, and drinking cold beer. We stopped along a dirt road and walked through a small village. It seemed almost all of the village’s 100 inhabitants were sitting outside talking and enjoying the coolness that was setting in at the end of the day. Surprised to see two tall foreigners strolling down their dirt road, many residents approached us and asked us who we were. They were benevolently curious though, and we felt content relaxing in the early evening breeze and drinking in the serenity of the village.

Relaxing along the Drina used to be a common outing for Bosnian families of all ethnicities. Now, some nationalist Serbs say that the banks of the Drina will stay purely Serbian. Americans can confidently walk through those villages, but many Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims) fear what was formerly a common activity – bathing in the cool waters of the Drina. As foreigners, we can boldly approach a man without knowing who he is and ask him for a ride. For some Bosnians, this would be unthinkable.

Life is to some extent more secure for foreigners in Bosnia than for Bosnians. We possess the self-assurance that allows us to feel like we can be on vacation anywhere in Bosnia, something that many Bosnians no longer feel. I recently had lunch with a Bosniac family at their weekend house in Pale (Pale is in the Republika Srpska and was the headquarters of the Bosnian Serb army during the war). They have begun to use the house again, but are still afraid to sleep there; they no longer feel as if they are on vacation in their own vacation home.

Friends and colleagues tell me that they feel much more secure in areas dominated by other ethnicities than they did just after the war, but that they will never regain the certainty about their right to be anywhere in Bosnia they had before the war. For now, that certainty is perhaps only held by foreigners.

Posted By Marta Schaaf

Posted Jul 2nd, 2003


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