One month in Bosnia

February 13, 2018 | Hanna, DVM, Alternatives, Bosnia, Svitac Bosnia, research officer

I can now say that I have officially been in Bosnia for a full month! I live in a town called Brčko, in Brčko district, that sits in the North-East part of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Brčko District was established in 1998, after the Bosnian War, as a neutral, multi-ethnic, self-governing unit. It is the only multi-ethnic entity in Bosnia, meaning all nationalities involved in the war (Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian) live among each other in roughly equal percentages, and as such the district is a model for a tolerant, inclusive and peaceful Bosnia. I work with an organization called Omladinska Organizacija Svitac”, which has a mandate of providing a range of educational and arts-based activities to enable young people to come together, interact and socialize in a safe and welcoming environment. Svitac is committed to a multi-ethnic Bosnia, in which the respective ethnic groups work together within an open, inclusive and tolerant society.

As I enter my fifth week of my internship, I’ve been reflecting on the reasoning and decisions that brought me to Bosnia. When I told my friends and family that I would be doing an international internship for three months, I received many questions but also much support and encouragement. One question I received, particularly from my fellow International Development friends, was as to why I would choose Bosnia, & Herzegovina seeing as there were more “developing” countries (Bosnia ranks at 81 on the most recent HDI calculation, which is considered “high human development”) to choose from. When I initially applied to uOttawa for my program, doing an internship was always apart of the equation, and particularly doing an internship somewhere within Africa had always been the game plan. Throughout the course of my studies, however, I developed an interest and passion for the nexus between conflict and development. While this is not to say that there’s an absence of conflict in other countries around the world, I was attracted to this position because of an interest in understanding more about a conflict as recent as the one in Bosnia, and to understand the work that has to be done for reconciliation and to move forward. I’m getting closer and closer to finishing my undergraduate degree, and I think this is experience continues to solidify my belief in the important work of post-conflict organizations, such as Svitac. Svitac works to address the root of conflict, and to dismantle the ignorance, fear and prejudice that allows conflicts to escalate or reoccur in the future.

While I have been here for a month already, my role is not completely solidified. Svitac has accepted international volunteers to work with the youth for years, but myself and my colleague are the first “interns” they’ve ever had. There are natural growing pains that come along with this, such as trying to identify what we can do and the volume of work. I’ve always been an overachiever who thrives on being busy, and it has been a challenge to adjust to having less work to do then I am used to at home (where I usually work almost full time and take a full course load). It sounds like an oxymoron for one to be frazzled by having less work, but it’s the experience I’ve had so far. To counteract this, I am constantly working on my perspective and appreciating the work I am given to do. The reality of working in the field as a young, inexperienced individual is that you’re not always going to be given tons of work to do, and frankly, neither should you. I see my role here as more a learning experience then anything else, and to expect to be given all the work there is to do is unreasonable. I do not have any first hand knowledge or experience dealing with conflict, and by no means is it my place to make suggestions or take on work from those who do.

As time goes on, there is a mutual getting to know one another between us and the organization, and it becomes more clear what ways we can best help them with their daily work. My greatest asset is my native English, which allows me to help with writing and editing on behalf of the organization. Equally, there are opportunities to propose suggestions for events with the youth and the community, such as the Week Against Racism in March. I am excited for the remaining time I have to continue to learn and grow through the challenges presented to me, and to see where this path takes me!

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