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.