As part of the Storytelling project, we decided to visit Fenix, a local social care organisations, in order to speak to their beneficiaries. The organisation provides social services that so often lack in Bosnia, for the local community of Sanski Most. 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 listed to their stories.
Together with my new colleague, Claudia and two local volunteers, I made contact with the manager of the centre through a friend who works there, and they agreed for us 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 professional he was, 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, on the patio areas. After Elmin finished his first interview, we tried to ask more people if they would want to chat to us, but most 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 found more people interested.
One thing we learnt from this experience was 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.
It was devastating to hear the stories on Wednesday. It is very hard to witness how 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.
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.