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.”

“Vi ste moje ljepotice”

13 Jun

Yesterday was a day of many emotions.  In the morning, I embarked upon an adventure with one of the young women of BOSFAM, Biljana.  She took us up to Slana Banja (literally meaning “Salty Spa”, but it’s more of a park area) and over to see the two salt lakes that Tuzla has.

I have learned in my week here that when Biljana and I set out on a walk somewhere, I should never expect it to be short and sweet.  She is very exact in making sure that I understand and see everything that Tuzla has to offer.  It is also mentally draining in that the only thing she knows how to say in English is “no speak English”.  On Thursday, we were supposed to go to the post office.  This turned into a two hour-long trek around the city visiting two mosques and an orthodox cathedral.  Moral of the story is that I should have known what was in store.

I was completely stunned with the lakes. It was a little slice of the tropics in the middle of Bosnia. Biljana finagled our way into the park for free so “the foreigners” could see how pretty Tuzla is.

One of the salt lakes in Tuzla

Then things got physical.  She had us hiking and climbing steps up to the top of a small mountain (I should remind readers that while I am from California, I do not take kindly to humidity even when it is only technically 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside).  It was so worth it.  We had a front row view of the nicest vista in town.  I could see all of Tuzla stretched before me like a perfect postcard.

View of Tuzla on our hike

On our walk back, we stopped to eat some sour cherries and take more pictures.  Biljana had worn me out.  And it was only 11am.  We returned to BOSFAM and had our ritual Bosnian coffee (some would attempt to call this mud, but I assure you, it is delicious).  Then, one of the weavers approached me.  Zifa speaks less English than Biljana but told me that there was an event in the city in an hour.  It was in remembrance of Srebrenica.  I had previously garnered that Zifa had lost a son and two brothers in the genocide in 1995, so I knew this was important to her.  I gathered my things to get ready to leave.

When I first met Zifa, I immediately knew that I would like her.  She has a very warm and inviting personality and is constantly smiling.  The more I find out about her, the more I am impressed with her strength.

The event in the city happens every month on the eleventh as a constant reminder of Srebrenica and a plea that it never happens again.  Mostly women attend and carry colorful cushions of the names of those killed and still left unaccounted for.  They stand in silence at the main square for a few minutes, pray, and then it is over.

As we walked back to BOSFAM, I thanked Zifa for bringing us with her and sharing this experience with us.  She smiled at me and said, “Vi ste moje ljepotice.”  You are my beauties.

We returned and Zifa got back to work on her loom and I went upstairs to visit with a few of the other women.  That was when I heard something that would really solidify my love for Zifa.  She never goes to the square for this protest because she sees the picture of her son’s face whom she lost 16 years ago.  It is too difficult.  She only went because we were here.  I wanted to hug her, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to just say “thank you” a million times over.  I wanted to show her how much it meant to me that she showed me her past in such an intimate way.  All I could do was to barely articulate, “Hvala.” Thank you.

Below is my youtube video about the protest in the main square.

Remembering Srebrenica

Posted By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

Posted Jun 13th, 2011


  • Tory

    June 13, 2011


    You’re painting such an incredible picture of your journey. This entry brought tears to my eyes (which is kind of awkward since I’m at work), but it is truly an amazing story. I’m so happy that you are getting to be a part of something so life changing. I feel really blessed to be in your life and that you’re sharing these stories with the world. I almost feel like I’m right there with you. Keep it coming!

  • Doh! What a thought! Beautiful .. Brilliant

  • Delfina Dorey

    June 21, 2011


    Not many blogs make me stop and actually reread any of it or even read the entire thing. But yours did and for that I had to stop a moment and leave a message. Just simple thanks for what you do message.

  • Oliver Mcloone

    June 21, 2011


    Your effort on this blog is really noticeable, but I like your simple writing style. It is easy to read and your ideas are clear.

  • Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

    June 22, 2011


    Thank you both. Tory, these women are incredible and I am honestly inspired by them daily. So much strength and they’re all so humble.
    Thank you, Iain for the encouragement. I can only hope to attempt to portray half of what I see in Zifa. Sadly, this week she’s been quite sick and I truly miss being around her. She is quite similar to my own grandmother, so I really enjoy my broken Bosnian speaking time with her.
    Also, Oliver and Delfina, thanks for taking the time to read this!

  • Karin

    June 26, 2011


    What an incredible video, very moving. Thank you Quinn. It’s incredible to think each panel those women are carrying represents a lost life. The solidarity that these women have is so inspirational.

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