Daring to Achieve More

The following days will be quite challenging in Sanski Most. Yesterday Bosnia held its general elections. Today, some preliminary results came out. It will be a tough period for many people I know here. I didn’t need to convince people to vote as much as I thought I would, because they were already going to do it. It’s even worse though. If people already planned to do it, then they had some hope that something will change. It doesn’t seem like that is going to happen, and so people will become less and less hopeful, and might lose the will not only to do something about the current situation, but to actually live in this country. It’s sad, because it’s those people this country needs the most.

When analysing the stories we’ve collected in the storytelling project, there’s one specific thing I’m looking for, and that is: what inspires people and what makes people hopeful? It is crucial that whilst we acknowledge that we need to deal with the past, and find a way to move forward that does not involve violence, we do it by emphasising hope, creativity, and I believe for Sanski Most, we also need to do something crazy, daring, with the potential to bring people to work together, and be inspired to not give up.They say Sanski Most is like a ghost town in autumn/winter. That it is boring and depressing. That nothing exciting ever happens. That people cannot wait to get out of here.

This is why I brought out an old idea that has never been implemented here. Why? Because it is hardly possible. My role in this is to tell people I believe 100% we will manage to do it. I really mean it, I think with the right level of commitment and support we can definitely manage to do it. The idea involves something that brings us together: music. People look at me, and are very sceptical, though I can see they have some hope. I have already managed to get one more person on board with believing it is possible. I have also already got one of our directors to say that there is a 72% chance we will pursue this. The next step is to raise awareness of it in the local community and get people involved. Most will probably do it because there’s nothing to lose. Others because they are curious. The next step is to come up with a crazy method for a crazy idea. As long as we can motivate each other, I am sure we will be able to succeed, no matter how much coffee it takes!

Storytelling Project Update: Almost there

Coordinating the project has been amazing, especially because half way through I got a coordinating buddy. Claudia arrived 2 days before Sam and Michelle from GlobalGiving came to visit us. She got a very good introduction to the organisation and soon after we teamed up for the storytelling project. That also created new possibilities, since a lot of people in the local community of all ages speak German as a second language. With good research skills and a great background in volunteering with non-profits we made a great team!

We have learnt a lot from doing this project. We got to meet many amazing people, and although at first we thought we might be a bit annoying (asking everyone we met for stories), soon they started to help us get more people to interview, and we witnessed a lot of solidarity and team-work. It was  probably the more sceptical people  that helped us reach out to their connections, to the point where they would always ask how the project was going, and always try to help us find more people to interview. They became a part of the project, despite me never even imagining it would go like this. In the end in CIM we didn’t really do this the ‘traditional’ way’. Despite recruiting a team of volunteers in the beginning, the progress was very slow, and being under pressure, we had to begin collecting stories as well. What resulted from this though was that there is now a large group of people in Sanski Most, most not affiliated to CIM, who know exactly what the project is about and who believe it is something more people should take part in. We spoke so much about this, and advertised it to the point that some locals will probably remember this for years to come. Normally when you meet with people for a coffee, or go out the first thing they ask is ‘how are you?’. In our case, it is ‘how are you and how many stories do you still need?’. People we got to know this summer also know the story question, and tell others what we look for specifically when trying to get them on board to share their stories. They don’t do this because they have an incentive, but because they now believe the GlobalGiving storytelling project is very interesting.  Some people specifically think it is a great idea to gather data and are impressed by the method used. Everyone is grateful for coffee though. Thanks, GlobalGiving!

When I first came to Bosnia some people were asking how many stories we needed. I said ‘at least 100′. They didn’t really believe we would manage. It took longer, but the secret ingredient to gathering these stories was trust, and people buying into it. It wasn’t necessarily about locals or foreigners doing it, but about people getting used to the project itself.

One day we interviewed E. He agreed to do the interview, but ‘only because he knew me’. When we finished getting the stories, he said it would be much easier for him to tell us stories whilst hiking, or out in the nature. We could walk and he could tell me 100 stories, not just two. The context did not suit him as much. In a way I do believe that would be a great way to collect stories: by just living here, exploring what this place is all about by just doing what the locals do, whether that means sitting in a caffe all day having strong coffee, or hiking in the mountains around Sanski Most. With every story,  you could then ask if you could record it. I’m sure the answer would always be positive. Another example of this was D. He found it very hard to think of ‘stories to tell’ when I first asked him. One evening we were out together and he was telling us story after story: let me tell you about this, about that, and I observed how natural it was for him to tell us about all of these events in that environment compared to how long it took to find to stories to tell me when we sat down for that specific purpose. For this very reason, I will try to train new volunteers on how the project works, and encourage them to document these stories by just ‘living here’. That means, whenever they hear a story they believe needs to be documented to kindly ask if they could do it. If the people trusted you to tell you that story in the first place, they will most likely trust you to write it down as well.

Today, we interviewed a friend of a friend of a friend. When A. came to pick up his drums from the CIM office for a local concert I asked if any of the two friends he brought with him spoke English or German. He said one of them did. Claudia came down, and set up an interview with one of A’s friends and we got two very distinct stories from him. In fact not only did we get two stories, but we also managed to convince him to become a volunteer with the organisation. He was really impressed both with the project we were doing and the work of CIM so he decided he would help further and ask some other friends. Today we met with him and his friend K, and after we got two stories, K said he was very happy he was asked to do this, because it was very interesting to him. He used the word ‘inspiring’ to refer to our meeting. He further mentioned he would have never done it unless his friend asked him to. I then asked what would happen if I or a local person stopped him on the street and asked if he had time for a short interview. He said he would have ‘lied’ about all these things he had to do, and refused politely. He also said most people would do the same. K was not the only person who said that though. A lot of people said they decided to do it only after spending some time with us and got to know more about the project.

The storytelling project also motivated us to use a more story-centred approach in our programmes, be it though social media, our newsletters, or grant writing. This year is CIM’s 10th anniversary, and it will also be the first year we will have an annual report. It was always suggested, always considered, always recommended though there was very little capacity for it. I am hoping the new local volunteers we recruited will also get involved in writing CIM’s 2014 story in the shape of an annual report.

‘Our Way’ A story of community spirit in Priboj, BiH

I had the chance to participate in Peace Camp this year. The training is the main, annual project that CIM organises, involving young people from across Bosnia. I had the chance to have a casual conversation with one of the group leaders. Mili is a very outgoing, free-spirited person, and his energy is amazing. We were sitting down in the hotel’s lounge, working away on our computers. Suddenly he complains about the slow internet and explains he had to send a person a link. They had enquired how he managed to build a tennis court with under 3000 euros in his local community. I was interested, and as he went on to tell me what had happened I was speechless. I asked Mili if he would be ok to record this story for our globalgiving project, and not only did he agree to that, but also to posting his story here.

It goes like this:

In 2008, I watched a tennis tournament in Australia for the first time on tv. Ana Ivanovic got a great result, and I got the idea to build a tennis court. I spoke with a lot of people from the local community and they made jokes about my idea. I spent 4 years searching for possibilities to build the tennis court, never gave up. After 4 years, I got information about youth bank possibilities to get 1000 E, if we have 5 young people ready to work on the project and find minumum half more from another source. We started campaining indidvidually, when I explained the backround to people they started to trust me more. The funds could be in money or other type of support. we got promises from local companies to flatten the ground. Before that we needed to ask the local football club to give us land and to my surprise it was very easy in the centre of town, close to the school next to the main road, and the football court. The company came with a different machine than needed, they tried to make it flat but it was impossible and i organised zoung people, first 10 than more and we started to fix the ground to prepare it for the next stage. At the same time, still the community, even if they gave us the money they still didn’t fully believe, it was 40 degrees in August, they thought we were crazy, and we had a timeframe. It was a 3 month project. After we flattened it (6 days) we started to dig the foundation for the fence, again manually, the young people only had shovels and other basic tools. We spent 3 days on it, because the fence was long, around 100 metres. It was a hard job because the ground was rocky, but we managed it. After that the next step was to buy stones to make cement to fill the foundation with an iron net inside. After that we did the first foundation stage. After, we asked local building companies for wooden materials to hold the foundation, 25 cm above the gorund. We did it ourselves, we worked 3 days and made the boards and blocks. We filled the boxes with iron pillons. Again we did it alöne with tools from friends and family, and the local community. Again 4 four of us digged again diagonally for the drainage, we collected rocks from the river with a mini tractor and filled the hole completely to make the draining systen. After that my friend with a big truck put the second layer of small stones for the tennis court. 40 m3 and we got this 3 times cheaper than the regular market price. When we brought this we organised 3 tractors from the community to move these stones to layer them. The guy with the skip, came to the tennis court and tried to flatten everything, and again we didn’t have to pay anything. It was a donation in kind, again. 6 or 7 of us made is completely flat again with basic tools.The next step was to layer the residue black clay for the local power plant, again 40m3. My friend who had a truck went there, and I promised I would pay him 35 E for each truck ride. He did 3 rides and again manually me and 5 friends flattened it, completely manuallz. 10 cm thick. Still some people from the community said we were crazy and we would never make it. A lot of local politicians offered us finanacial support, but only if we joined their party and promoted them. Unfortunately for them I refused it, even if they wanted to give us all the money. We had promised the local community that the local politicians would not be involved, and that’s why they donated. I refused politely and said I couldnt make it political, and wanted the courts to be build with the support of local residents. At the same time, I was training for to become a tennis referee and I asked support from the national tennis association. They offered to help me. They gave us the tennis lines, and I asked them for the red clay and they were reluctant. I was grateful though because the lines were 350 E. I came from Banja Luka, and I gave the community this news. Because of the size of the black clay which was uneven, we had to ask for the roller truck again, and we actually got a tube full of concrete with a metal stick, more than 200 kg, and we did it ourselves with that improvised tool. I went to the mayor to ask for a bit of help and he said he couldn t help but he said he had a friend who could help. We got the machine and we rolled the black clay some more. We even worked during rain. It was hard but we didn’t give up. We ran out of money for the red clay. We asked local companies for a machine to crush bricks to make red clay, but it didn’t work. When we told the tennis association we collected all money from the local community, only 15 minutes later we got a call from a guy in Banja Luka and he said he would give us all the red clay for the money we got. He was from Switzerland. He also transported it. The drivers paid for our drinks too. The local school sent all the 9th graders with 2 staff to help put down 30 tonnes of clay. We got the Accomplishement of the Year Award from the National Tennis Association for this.  The media started to pay attention because i posted a photo album on
facebook called ‘our way’ , and everyone was surprised. We built the tennis court our way with our hands, with a small ammount of money. I published all the photos step by step, and from that the people who didn’t believe in us came to us to shake our hands. It was a massive sucess because we proved everyone we could do it, and because of all the hard work. All the time some people said we would steal the money don t do anything. The whole entity was surprised about the award we got. I was so happy especially for the young people who worked with me.


The step by step photos of this project can be found here.

Globalgiving Storytelling Project: Visit to Fenix

On Wednesday we decided to have a ‘field trip’ to Fenix for the storytelling collection. Fenix is a local organisation that aims to provide the social services that so often lack in Bosnia. They have a maternity room, a home for elderly people, a soup kitchen and a hostel which also acts as a shelter for homeless people. Knowing that the people they help are some of the most disadvantaged in the local community we really wanted to get their stories.

Me and my new colleague, Claudia recruited two local volunteers, made contact with the manager of the centre through a friend who works there, and agreed to go and collect the stories at around 10 am. At first, the manager introduced us to a woman who agreed to share her story. Most people hadn’t arrived yet. We let Elmin, our youngest volunteer do the first interview. It was his first time doing this type of work and he only got half an hour of training. We sat next to him, ready to support him with anything he needed. There was no need though. We were so amazed with how brilliant he was, how professional, clarifying certain things, actively listening, and showing so much interest in the story.

Another man agreed to have an interview and Claudia and Haris went with him outside. After Elmin finished his first interview, we tried to ask more people if they would want to chat to us, but most people refused. They also seemed to be quite suspicious. Later on though, more people heard about what we were doing and soon after that, we had more people interested than we could handle. Elmin sat in one place for 5 interviews, one after the other. Outside Claudia and Haris also got more people interested.

One thing we learnt from this experience is that trying to be more spontaneous did not give as good results as when we would schedule interviews with one person at a time. From a quantitative point of view it was better, but the quality of the research was not as great as in the past. The stories were very heavy, and seeing how much people rushed to us to tell us what had happened to them was very sad and exhausting. We were literally drained of all energy after just two hours. I also noticed that the amount of information decreased. The stories, as important as they all were in content, got shorter the more we stayed there and the more people we interviewed. Another important lesson was how much better it is to use an audio recorder. I would normally just take notes, and write down the stories, but having Elmin with us, who had just recently participated in a programme related to youth activism and digital media was great for us to give it a try. We asked everyone what they preferred and only two people agreed to be recorded, however, those seemed to be the stories with the most context and emotion. I will definitely try to use it more from now on.

It was devastating to hear the stories on Wednesday. It is heart-breaking when people who are some of the most disadvantaged in the community had their houses completely destroyed, and now, once again they are left with nothing. As Elmin said later that day, these people literally have nothing more to lose in life, all is gone. First their families were killed in the war, and now, just when they managed to rebuild their homes and move on, the catastrophic floods occurred, and they lost everything again. There were many organisations people mentioned helped them. One person in particular really moved us by saying how grateful he was to us personally and to CIM for recording their stories and telling the world what conditions they have to live in. Indirectly, the lack of services, the poor economy, and most of these problems that people face are a direct result of the conflict, and poor political decision-making and cooperation at the national level. Whilst we try to overcome these obstacles and do our best to have programmes that address the issue of national and grassroots reconciliation, I am also thankful to Fenix and all other organisations in the local community who deal with the consequences of the political and economic situation in Bosnia.

GlobalGiving Evaluation Programme in CIM

In May we received an email from Globalgiving UK asking whether we might be interested in hosting two evaluators to visit us. Knowing about the programme and what it implied I immediately sold the idea to our directors who also got very excited about it. I am so happy we said yes, despite being such a busy summer.

Michelle and Sam, our evaluators arrived on the 27th of July and stayed with us for 7 days (2 days more than planned). They both had backgrounds in development work, and received training from Globalgiving.

We had many discussions about CIM, from the work we do, our impact, our target audience, and programmes to finances, administration, environment, and well-being. I loved how enthusiastic they got about CIM’s vision of building a Peace Embassy. I took them on a walk along the river to the piece of land we want to buy, and I loved how they already had ideas in mind of what we could do there. It was so refreshing to meet up with such creative people who got so inspired by our vision.

We also spent a lot of time talking about challenges and things we could do better. One day we got so carried away that we ended up having lunch, coffee, and tea for 5 and a half hours in Stari Hotel. We dissected our website, social media engagement, fundraising ideas, potential partnerships, graphics and illustrations, catchy titles, and more!

Sam and Michelle brought a good dose of positive energy to the office, and both me and my colleague Claudia have started working on some issues we discussed the same day they left us. Globalgiving, can you send them back sometime, molim?

We went to the beach, but the storm found us!

David’s Reflections from Visiting CIM

Together with Elynn, David is travelling for his studies/research and whilst in Bosnia he got in touch with CIM and came to visit us last weekend. They had a chance to spend a day with our directors and find out more about the organisation. Me and my housemate, Hannah, hosted David, Elynn, and Louis (a PhD student from the University of Birmingham) in our house, and had a lovely time sharing thoughts, music, and having nice conversations about the things we are passionate about. Below you can read David’s reflections on his experience visiting us:

He was a friend of the daughter of a woman who occasionally leads an Ingram Scholar meeting. Safe to say it was a loose connection. So when Vahidin Omanovic invited me to Sanski Most, a town five hours north of Sarajevo unfamiliar even to some Bosnians, for an interfaith iftar, I had no idea what I was getting into or with whom. This was one bet that paid off.

Vahidin is the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM) and a professional peacebuilder. Together with Mevludin Rahmanovic and a host of local and international volunteers, Vahidin aims to rebuild trust and foster reconciliation among the people of Bosnia—Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, and others—as well as support peace processes in other countries that have suffered from violent conflict. There is not a person better suited for the job.

Vahidin’s animated personality and contagious smile together with his unrelenting devotion to family and community made me feel right at home sipping espresso in this strange town. And that is precisely what CIM aims to accomplish. One of their ventures, Coffee for Peace (Kahva, Kava, Kafa Za Mir), brings together local citizens for conversations about the dynamics of reconciliation in a post-war society. CIM recognizes that the simple act of getting to know just one individual from “the other” group (whether it be an ethnic, religious or national divide) can challenge the biases created by war. Mevludin added, “You have to bring it to a human level. You have to see people on a human level. All it takes is one coffee.”

On Friday evening, the Center for Peacebuilding hosted an interfaith iftar. Iftar is the breaking of the daily fast for Muslims around the world. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from 2:30am until sundown (about 8:30pm) every day for thirty days. Through the absence of all substances including food, water, and cigarettes, one is pushed to reflect on life, hardship, and his own faith. In 2010 when CIM first introduced the idea for an interfaith iftar, paradoxical by definition, they were met with harsh criticism. Few local restaurants offered to donate food. Security personnel were present at the event. Four years later, when CIM posts the date of the interfaith iftar on Facebook, local restaurants call them to donate. Carpets are rolled out for an abundance of food. Student choirs belt out songs from various religions in multiple languages. Even members of the United States embassy attended the event. It is a slow process, but the Sanski Most Center for Peacebuilding is making waves in the world of conflict resolution.

There ought to be a footnote on my diploma next to Bachelor of Arts in Political Science that reads:Appreciates theory, celebrates data. As a matter of preference, if I were making the case to a panel of investors, I would rather stand next to a chart that empirically demonstrates the effectiveness of my product, than rely on heartfelt testimonials. In every interview that I have conducted in the last month, I have enquired about the methods of measuring the success of peacebuilding efforts. It is ‘the billion dollar question,’ as one scholar observed, referring to the exceptional amount of funding behind government programs and nongovernmental organizations working in the field of conflict resolution (Vahidin would scold me if I didn’t mention that CIM is not among the recipients of this funding and relies solely on grants and donations. Mevludin explained the difficulty in measuring peace:

It is one of the hardest parts. A gardening project is easy to track, you grew one ton of potatoes for example. But peace is very hard. We have people who participated in our Peace Camp and when they went home, they became the leading figures in NGOs in their own communities or established new NGOs. We have seen a large increase in local funding and participation for the annual iftar. It is showing us that people feel part of a community. But you can never know how many people you will affect when you change one person’s mind.

This last line hooked me. Unlike a product that achieves a desired outcome (remove dirt from a carpet or regrow hair) and a trial that measures its validity, a peacebuilding initiative may have far-reaching and potentially unmeasurable effects. As Mevludin described, CIM sees the small wins–increase in local participation in the interfaith iftar, for example–but cannot measure the total impact it is having in Sanski Most. So in a sense,donating to the Center for Peacebuilding is a gamble. But this is one bet that is sure to pay off.

via Betting on Peace.

A Weekend in Sanski Most


The reflections of a recent guest we hosted in our home last weekend. Such beautiful words! Thank you Elynn!

Originally posted on ...for my long walk is not ended:

20140723-162400-59040448.jpgSanski Most is a small northern town in BiH with a diverse population, and had recently been impacted by the damaging flooding in the country. This general description was about all I knew as we traveled five and a half hours by bus to the city for the weekend. David had been in communication with the organization, The Center for Peacebuilding (CIM), and they kindly invited us up for an interfaith Iftar* they were holding on Friday night. CIM was celebrating the fifth year of running the event, and its success was evident by the staff’s pride at the end of the night. During its first year, CIM found the community reluctant to donate resources due to historical religious tension and the barrier-breaking nature of such an event. However, this year a simple Facebook announcement motivated enough donations to feed about 400 people of all faiths, ethnicities, nationalities, and…

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My stray pets III

Picture this:

A big, skinny dog sitting in the middle of a crowded street. His empty stare is fixed on a point, he looks hungry, doesn’t move. People walk back and forth, no one notices him. He keeps on staring at that point, looking helpless, abandoned, lost, hungry. No one stops. Why is that dog just sitting, staring in the middle of a street?

We stop. Pet the dog. He gently jumps up and puts his front paws on my hips and looks at me as if he were haunted by something. Dogs are not generally skinny here. The strays, the ones with families, they look ok. It looked like he gave up on looking for food. His look was so desperate and sad.

My neighbour here has 26 dogs. We wondered why. We found out she was taking dogs in trying to sort out international adoptions for them. A stray dog kept walking around, always at the gate, barking, running, trying to get in. It was like he knew it was a shelter and dogs were cared for inside. He tried so hard. He was then told off. He stood at the gate for a few days, watching the dogs inside play and run around happy. He stayed there for days, quiet, and just staring. He is now inside. Because of his begging, silent begging, he was invited in. I’ve been here for over a month, I’ve never seen that dog so happy before. His eyes are shinning, it’s like his soul is smiling. He doesn’t have a permanent home, but my neighbour’s children play with him now that he got a bath.

Have a look at these lovely creatures that live next to me and play in the river behind my garden on facebook .

Storytelling Collection Developments (week II)

The second week of our Storytelling Collection Project has just ended. The good news is, I have managed to speak to our volunteers individually and they have at least scheduled interviews in order to collect stories. Since I have arrived I have been posting more on social media, and have written a grant proposal for Peace Camp. I am almost finished, the only thing missing is a story of success. I am taking my time filling in that box. I know the standard would be to tell a story from the organisation’s perspective, though I would really like to incorporate a lesson learnt from globalgiving, and I have asked a person who took part in our project to tell the story from their perspective.

I find there is a lot of free time in between small tasks in CIM, so I have also started taking interviews from people who speak English well. After three stories, I realised something. Not being from here was not a disadvantage, on the contrary. I remember in Corrymeela, people would come to me, tell me their stories without any notice or context. After a casual chat where they asked where I was from, what I did there, and how I found the experience, they poured their hearts out, and I have been told on several occasions: ‘I have never told this to anyone before’.  When speaking to my mentors about it, they said most likely it happened because I was an ‘outsider’. When I asked a person I had met this year through mutual friends if they could tell me a story, they accepted. I was not expecting what followed. When I got towards the end of the form, and adapted the question and asked: ‘how likely would you be to tell your friends/family or organisations about this person?’, they said: ‘I have actually never told this to anyone else before. I wouldn’t just randomly bring this up in a conversation’. This really had an impact on me, and I am now happy I decided to interview community members as well, it just shows me how important it is to ask people for a story, as otherwise we might never get to know what is important to those we wish to serve and empower. It motivates me to motivate others even more to do this regularly.

The beginning of the project has not been without challenges. The fact that we are collecting the stories during Ramadan means that it is harder to meet up collectively to follow the progress. Especially young people tend to switch their activity to night time (as they sleep late during the day, and eat their first meal just before 9pm). Iftar (breaking fast after the sun sets) is also an important family tradition here, and that means meeting people generally happens after 9:30pm, and the volunteers’ schedules vary accordingly.

Another challenge as I have been told and witnessed myself is collecting two stories from one person. People don’t seem to find it hard to think of a story, but for two they need more time. Some volunteers have been told they would get interviews from various people, though they will need to wait for them to have two stories ready. I have personally had a more spontaneous interview, and we stood there for about 20 minutes, when the person said they found it hard to think of something else, and when I sensed a slight frustration might kick in, I told them I could do with just one, especially since it was not about CIM.

The scribes we’ve recruited seem to be quite independent, despite most of them being quite young (16-18). They are happy to meet up and chat, but when I ask if they need any help or have any more questions, they enthusiastically respond that everything is in order.

Another challenge, which I’ve adapted to has been facebook. People in Bosnia use facebook as their main means of communication. I use facebook extensively as well, and post on average at least twice a day on my personal page, whilst also posting content on the organisation’s page. In Bosnia people use facebook more than face to face or phone communication. If I post an announcement about the project on our volunteers’ group, everyone likes my post. I literally get a 100% like return. No one usually comments though, not even when I post a question. I then started to send more individual messages (after I had received friend requests from everyone + their friends). This seems to be working much better, they respond much quicker and provide me with more information. It’s definitely something to think about more in order to get better at this.

Because I have more free time than anticipated, I have decided to gradually input the stories into the database as well. I realised it also pretty much takes as long, if not less than scanning everything to be sent out to globalgiving. It is more efficient this way.

Polako (slowly) we’re making progress :)

Adeline's drafts, opinions, and experiences


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