In 2016, BHeart continued to support Bosnian and Herzegovinian women victims of sexual violence from the 1992-95 war. Working in partnership with the Foundation for Women’s Empowerment (FWE), BHeart provided help to Gerc Sumejja, a Mostar-based, non-profit association for women victims of war violence. BHeart’s funds were used to purchase farming equipment for the most disadvantaged of Sumejja’s members. Women who received our help are either single mothers or caretakers for their husbands and/or other family members who are severely ill or disabled. Following BHeart’s purchase of the four motocultivator machines, the owner of the store from where the machines were purchased was inspired to donate an additional machine to Sumejja.
Before the women were given the machines, they had no other choice but to rent them at the steep price of 50 KM ($27) per occasion, despite an overall monthly household budget that is as low as 400 KM ($215). As a result of the donation, the women and their families are now able to more efficiently and effectively cultivate their land. While we donated the machines to specific members of the association, they lend the machines cost-free to other women in the group.
In December, BHeart Board member, Nevena Bosnic, currently living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, travelled to Mostar along with representatives from FWE to meet and visit Sumejja’s president and members.
Nevena’s touching report from the ground is below:
It is near impossible to fathom the realities faced by women victims of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There aren’t enough articles, reports, documentaries, Hollywood films, or books to understand what life is like for these women and the daily obstacles they face.
Entering the small, multipurpose space in Potoci outside of Mostar, I was welcomed with a quote on the wall reading:
“When you cross a bridge with outstretched hands, love, hope & friendship emerge.”
My heart was racing. I felt an immediate rush of excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to meet the members of Sumejja. I was thrilled to finally put a face to the names of the women we worked with over the last few months.
A door tag read Hana*, the organization’s president and outspoken advocate fighting to bring justice, hope, and support to her members. Entering the warm room, the walls were covered with certificates of thanks, posters for justice, and pictures of various individuals who have supported Sumejja over the years. We were greeted by two recipients of the motocultivators, Woman 1 and Woman 2 (to protect the privacy of Sumejja’s members and their children, we cannot reveal their names); the son of Woman 1; as well as warm and delicious zeljanica, or spinach pie, made by Woman 2. Dark and bold Bosnian coffee was roasting on the stove, and Hana was a few minutes away, heading back to the office after a meeting in Mostar’s center. The husband of Woman 3, ill and bed-ridden, stopped by to meet and thank us on behalf of his entire family, while Woman 4 was unable to join us due to a court appointment.
When Hana walked into the room, she was a huge ball of energy and warmth. She walked into the room with a big smile, thrilled to meet the strangers who donated to her organization. Hugging and kissing Hana, I felt I had known her for years, not seconds. She has a way of making you feel like you are right where you belong. Upon our greeting, however, her smile transformed into a look of anxiety as she handed us the “Dnevni List Mostar” daily newspaper. That morning, they ran a front-page article identifying 21 individuals currently under investigation for war crimes. This came as news even to the named individuals, who received no formal documentation informing them of these investigations, while offering no protection to the women who brought cases against these men for their crimes. It was clear that being the first paper to print this news took priority over protecting the lives of the victims (witnesses) and their families.
Sitting there, drinking coffee and eating zeljanica like any other day in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I learned about Hana’s painful past, including gruesome events while in a camp during the war. Hearing this made my stomach drop, skin crawl, and blood rush with anger and frustration. As a vocal advocate for women in her organization, fighting relentlessly to bring justice to the perpetrators, she detailed an aspect of her life I still struggle to comprehend: Retribution.
She has survived many assassination attempts- from her car being bombed to almost getting run over by someone else’s car, and more. I am listening to her describe these events and struggling to understand that: This. Is. Her. Life. Not a movie. But what she deals with day in and day out. Hana survived horrific crimes during the war, and in her determination to bring this truth to light, she is again a target by the same, terrible individuals and their cronies. The victimization, stigmatization and lack of government support our women face each morning they wake up and night they lay their heads down to sleep- it’s all so difficult to wrap your head around.
We turned the attention of our conversation back to our donation and the women who received the four motocultivators. Hana described the moment she was notified by FWE that her organization was selected by BHeart as the recipient of the machines. She spoke emotionally of the shock she felt learning that a group of strangers half-way across the world in Washington, D.C. found her organization, located in the outskirts of Mostar, and elected to support its members. She was hesitant to believe the news until the machines were delivered. Then the women showed me the pictures of their farmland, berries, and vegetables.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, I found myself sitting in awe, listening to Hana speak of the association, its members, and their relentless efforts to support one another, and remain positive. It is truly an honor to support these strong and courageous women. However, none of this could have been possible without the generous donations of our supporters. And for you, we are ever grateful as are the women of Sumejja, whose words of acknowledgement read:
“Our deepest and warmest thanks for your understanding and selfless support in strengthening the economic independence of women victims of war.”
*Use of pseudonyms to protect the identity and confidentiality of our women