Monthly Archives: October 2008

Day Two – Sarajevo & Zenica – Alison Wheeler – Director of Online Marketing

Sahzija – I am the definition of a new business woman

The next morning Seida and her team picked me up in front of the National Theater in downtown Sarajevo and we headed to Vogosca on the outskirts of Sarajevo. We stopped in front of Vildana salon, a freshly painted small building surrounded by a neat white fence. Upon walking in the door, we were greeted by Sahzija Brkanic, a microcredit client with Women for Women International for nearly 4 years. She lost her husband during the war and had to find a way to support her two children, rebuild her home and her life. She stressed to us just how hard things were for her in the beginning. But now, after much hard work, she has opened three beauty salons. Her two daughters run the other two salons and she runs this one.

Solidarity Group Meeting

As we pulled up to our next stop, I noticed two buildings. The one on the right, a bombed out building, had no windows and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) plastic covering what was once the roof. This is how most buildings in and around Sarajevo looked after the war. Then I looked at the building on the left, completely rebuilt with flower boxes hanging on the windows. We went into Sifa Kadric’s home, a client of Women for Women International’s program for 8 years. Inside were nearly a dozen women meeting to make their microcredit payments, talk and support each other – financially, if necessary, and emotionally. One of the women told me about her cosmetics and tailoring business. Another one spoke about growing and selling agricultural goods. As many of them spoke, I kept hearing the same theme. Because of this program, I was able to rebuild my life and put my children through school.

 

 

Gordana – A Woman of Courage

After many cups of coffee (the Bosnians often drink a thick, strong coffee very similar to Turkish coffee), we left the solidarity group meeting and headed to the outdoor market on the outskirts of Sarajevo. We met Gordana, a tall blond Serbian woman, selling shoes in the open marketplace. She told us she had sold goods in this market before the war, during the war and after the war. When Serbs were forced out of this part of Sarajevo, she refused to leave. She didn’t leave during the war and she wasn’t going to leave after the war. This was her home. And as she put it, “Courage. I have courage. I am courageous.” Indeed you are, Gordana.

The Building Blocks of Business

From Sarajevo we then headed to Zelenica, an industrial town an hour north of Sarajevo, to join classes in the core program. In one of the smaller rooms in the Zelenica office, we met a group of women participating in hands on jobs training. About 10 women were watching the instructor trace a pattern and sew a skirt.

In the larger room, we sat with 20 women as they discussed a lesson from the Women for Women International manual, Women in Economics. The women discussed the volume and type of housework they do at home. Then the facilitator asked the group of women, “What are skills you do everyday that you could professionally outside of the home to earn an income?” The women broke into small groups and determined how much they would earn if they provided services such as cooking, cleaning or caring for children. For the next lesson in the program, the woman would be forming small groups and developing a business plan around the services they had identified. They were laying the foundation to start their own business and support themselves.

 

 

 

 

In the larger room, we sat with 20 women as they discussed a lesson from the Women for Women International manual, Women in Economics. The women discussed the volume and type of housework they do at home. Then the facilitator asked the group of women, “What are skills you do everyday that you could professionally outside of the home to earn an income?” The women broke into small groups and determined how much they would earn if they provided services such as cooking, cleaning or caring for children. For the next lesson in the program, the woman would be forming small groups and developing a business plan around the services they had identified. They were laying the foundation to start their own business and support themselves.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Day One – Sarajevo, Bosnia – Alison Wheeler – Director of Online Marketing

I had been looking forward to my trip to Bosnia for a long, long time. Nearly 10 years ago I became friends with a few people from Sarajevo. They had left the besieged city during the war and made their way to Washington, DC. I had heard each of their stories over the years and wanted to see their beloved city for myself. So when I joined Women for Women International in June, I was already planning a trip to Bosnia with these friends and my family. So a visit to the Sarajevo office was included in the itinerary.

 

 

I spent two full days with the Women for Women International Bosnia teams in Sarajevo and Zelenica and came away with a deep respect and admiration for the women in the program and appreciation for the dedicated staff in each of the offices. Here are their stories:

Better to Belong to Something or Someone Than to Buy A Pair of Shoes

 

 

 

I think I truly came to understand the power of the letter in our sponsorship program during my visit with Renata Raus, the sponsorship coordinator in the Sarajevo office. She told me the participants in the program are “proud of their sponsors.” Just as a sponsor may tell a friend or family about a woman they are supporting in another country around the globe, these women in the field share the stories and lives of their supporters. And they wait and wait for these letters to arrive. They want to hear about what their supporters do in their daily lives. It doesn’t matter to them if they get a whole letter, just a few sentences, just a postcard to know they are connected to their sponsor.

 

 

And the beneficiary of the letter is not just the women in the field. A sponsor got to the heart of this in her letter to her sister in Bosnia, “Better to belong to something or someone than to buy a pair of shoes.” Really, what is the cost of sponsorship? The sponsor continued in her letter, “What is the value of something if others are suffering?” The sponsor gains so much from the relationship, if not more…

 

The Entrepreneurs and Organizers of Olovo

 

During the afternoon of my first day, we sat down to a working lunch with women from our program in Olovo. While munching on burek (meat pie), zeljanica (spinach and cheese pie) and the Bosnian version of Italian panatone (alcohol infused fruitcake), I listened to these women tell their stories of bringing home their first paycheck. There was Ramiza Kricic who was selling milk to neighbors in her area. The staff of Women for Women International introduced her to a dairy factory, Milkos, and now the milk from her farm supplies a factory in Sarajevo. And now 82 families are registered to supply to sell milk to this factory! As Ramiza Kricic said, “It is such a good feeling to go to the bank and get a salary….to know you have done something useful.”

 

 

Despite the doubt of her husband and family, another woman, Senada Imsirovic, started to collect herbs to sell in her spare time. Women for Women International matched her with a buyer, Boletus, and her herbs are now used in teas and creams sold locally and internationally. Now her whole family has joined her business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized