A talk given by Jenny Stone Wigg MBE at St Mary’s on Sunday 28 October 2012…
I am very happy to have been invited to talk a little about the work I am doing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I don’t know how many of you are informed about Bosnia and its difficult political situation.
The country is divided into three ethnic groups. Bosniaks (moslems) 48 percent, Serbs 31.1 0/0 and Croats 14.3 percent. This is because many of the Croats, after the war, obtained Croat passports and went to live in Croatia.
During the Ottoman era 1463 – 1878, when the Turks invaded Yugoslavia, there was terrible bloodshed and fighting. The awful thing is that the Serbs tried to do the same terrible things in the war in Bosnia from 1992 – 1995. Many young Moslem women were raped so that they would not give birth to pure Moslem children. One would think that so many years afterwards, people would have been more educated and would have never taken such terrible measures.
From 1878 – 1918 there was the Austro Hungarian rule but political tensions culminated on 28th June 1914, when a Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip , assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. This was the spark that set off World War 1.
Yugoslavia was formed in 1918 – 1941 and the Second World war was from 1941 – 1945. From 1945 – 1992 it became a socialist communist state under the presidency of General Tito. During this time Bosnia’s existence in Yugoslavia was peaceful and prosperous.
In 1992 -1995 after the declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty on 15 October 1991, which was followed by a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia on 29 February and 1 March 1992, was the beginning of the second most atrocious war in Europe.
Sarajevo was under siege for 4 years, with the only means of escape through a very dangerous tunnel that they had dug out. It was very frightening as people had to get water and food and were constantly shot at. In the evening as soon as it started to get dark there was a curfew and nobody was allowed on the streets. This was psychologically a terrible test to the peoples’ mental health.
There were terrible massacres, several of which were in Sarajevo, one of the most terrible was when the people were doing their shopping in the market place in 1995 and a grenade fell killing many.
In 1995 in Srebrenica, 8000 Moslem men and boys were taken prisoner, tortured and killed, and still people are looking for the bodies of their loved ones. Each year in July they hold a memorial service when each year there are about 300 bodies that are found and buried.
After this the Nato stepped in and bombed Serbia which eventually led to the end of the war. The Dayton Agreement was put in force and the country divided into Croat/Moslem Federation and the Serb Republic. The only problem being that everyone who wanted to have a house built must return to their village of origin, consequently many had to return to the land of the so called enemy.
There were terrible prison camps in the north of Bosnia where the people were tortured and killed in the same way as the Jews were in Germany.
The number of identified victims is currently approximately 110,000 and 1.8 million still displaced.
Now, 20 years after the end of the war one can see very few bombed houses, as most of them have been rebuilt, but the suffering is still continuing. One can see elderly people looking for food in the rubbish bins and I am overwhelmed with people asking for financial help.
The three ethnic groups cannot agree and the Bosnian Serb president would like to tie up with Russia, and is making problems for Nato to perform in Bosnia. The Bosnian Croats are not much better and would like to join up with Croatia. I am horrified when I am down in Herzegovina, so near to Medjugurie that people can be so racial. In Medjugurie, whether one believes in the appearances of Our Lady or not, there is a feeling of peace, and people are really praying sincerely for the good of the world. I sometimes wonder whether she appeared in Bosnia for a specific reason, as this is such a tormented political country, and the terrible thing is that few of any of the religions are doing what is written in the Bible or the Koran.
It is so crazy because the Moslems are very moderate Moslems and one can count on ones’ hand those that are with their faces covered. Only a small percent wear the Moslem headdress.
Looking on the brighter side of things it is a very beautiful country with cold snowy winters and hot summers. Beautiful mountains, countryside and lakes and the people are very warm and hospitable.
Sarajevo and Banja Luka are like any other European cities but unfortunately do not have a strategic social program. It was odd last year as the soldiers who had fought each other in the war joined together to complain about the corrupt situation among the politicians and to ask for more money.
I was in Bosnia during the war and bought in help with an organization in Italy run by a catholic priest.
In 2001 we began our own organization and are now doing the following projects.
Due to the terrible social system people are constantly telephoning me, as they live in the countryside and are unable to afford the bus fare to take their children to hospital when necessary.
We have 160 children approximately, with a sponsorship at a distance, and with 25 pounds, (3 of which we keep for expenses) a month, we help to pay for the children’s school books, feed them with a snack at lunch time or the parents in the winter, use it to buy wood to heat the houses.
One little boy in the project was born with only half his hands and feet and has to walk four kilometers to school. He lives in a very old house and his mother has had several serious operations.
Another single mother has three children and the youngest of two years, does not speak as he has a tumor in the head. Now she has a problem that the second son has a heart problem and as she has no money and the hospital is one hundred and fifty kilometers from her house we have had to help her.
Another lady called me last week. She has two children, lives in a house which is nearly falling down, and during her second pregnancy after an operation to remove her womb her husband abandoned her. She now has to bring up two children and has a tumor on the leg. She called me as she could not afford the fare to visit the doctor at the hospital.
Another two children have a mother who is in a mental home and they lost their father, who looked after them, recently.
We just collected 2000 Swiss francs to help a young girl with Lopus disease, this affects the immune system. She had to try a new treatment.
These are just some of the problems I am facing with the children.
We have a project helping war veterans, and have purchased eight 100 meter greenhouses, for eight families, and another 8 people will also work in them. The war veterans are also suffering from post war trauma stress and this project helps them economically and acts as a therapy. One man told me that he used to sleep only two hours now he sleeps four or five.
The third project we are working on is in collaboration with the Swiss Embassy and we are working with the director of three schools, two Moslem and one Serb. These ethnic schools had no contact together and I am teaching them humanitarian work. I and my assistant visit them twice a month and have formed groups of 24 children, 12 of each ethnic group, mixed the groups and either sent them to the elderly to bring them food packets or sent them to do jobs for them. We have had some terrible experiences as the elderly who have no family are not looked after. Most of them are only getting 25 euro a month and one couple showed me their electricity bills which were 75. Another elderly lady had her house full of cockroaches but nobody ever visits her. I am hoping that the sanitary people will have done something now. I purchased two large sprays.
The children are really getting along together and are really happy with what they are doing. We took them to Sarajevo for an outing in September and they all thoroughly enjoyed it and got on together. I try to not talk too much but to reach to them through actions, as the situation after the war is very delicate.
We delivered over 1500 shoeboxes from England last year and this year I am receiving over 2000 to deliver to children living in poor areas.
Every year we receive a lorry of goods from my colleagues in Switzerland and a lady in Slovenia also collects them from her village so we are able to provide them with clothes, shoes etc.
The Anglican Church in Lugano sent me satchels with books and pens, as a present to the 24 children who are helping with the project for the elderly.
In August I had a lady, who is a Methodist priest, visit me from Greene, New York, with seven of her church members, they collected 5000 dls and helped to rebuild a house for a very poor family. They put in the water pipes and put in a kitchen and bathroom. The mother of the family had tuberculosis. It was a great success and was on the Bosnian television.
I then had a group of young Italians come to a village of returnees, who are very poor. It was the fourth year they have come and they are accompanied by a catholic priest. They did animation, prepared a meal for a hundred children each day, for ten days, and organized sports and a concert. On the last day they took all the children to Sarajevo for a days’ outing.
This year was the worst I remember as it started snowing in February and stopped at the end of March. It was the coldest winter since the 1950’s.
I am now very worried as this summer was the hottest for a hundred years and many of the crops were burnt. All the maize was destroyed and I am worried about the elderly people, living in precarious situations how they are going to survive. I am trying to collect money for food packets for the months of January and February.
Peace, that is what we all long for. In this world of political turmoil and economic crisis the aim of our association is to help people to respect one another’s different religions and cultures.
Remember a smile and a handshake is the first step towards peace.
On the table at the back I have left a donation box and some pamphlets.
Thank you for listening to me.