Written by Birgit Felleisen (page "NGO Development" by Dave Bekkering) Photos by Anita Tomic and H. Halid Gornji Vakuf June 1997
In this brochure, we want to tell you about this work..
The pre-war population of Gornji Vakuf and the surrounding villages was 25,130, of whom 53.1% were ethnic Muslims and 42.6% ethnic Croats. Today, many displaced persons have found refuge in Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, and others have left to live as refugees in other countries or have joined relatives in other parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Now, Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje has approx. 65% Muslims and 35% Croats, and besides Mostar, Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje is one of the few divided towns in the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
There are no check-points in the town, and the Dayton Agreement guarantees freedom of movement between the two sides of the community. However, an invisible line along the former cease-fire line divides the town into two distinct communities. The two sides avoid contact with each other. In this small community, everybody is very aware of the role which everybody else played in the war. People lead almost totally separate social lives, and parallel political and civil structures exist on each side. The Croatian side of the town has renamed itself Uskoplje, and each side now has its local authority, its respective health service, schools, police and kindergartens.
People who had flats or houses on the (respective) "other side" of the town have traded their flats for ones on the "right" side. Only a handful of families remained in a part of town where they are surrounded by people from a different ethnicity. Most people from the town went to school together, worked together and lived together for a long time. Now, some of these friendships are still alive, but generally these connections were broken because of the war, in which neighbours shot each other. It takes time to create a new life, and with our project, we are here to assists this process.
Our set-up of working under the UN system as volunteers is very unusual. At present we are the only project of this kind working under the umbrella of the UN. While traditionally the UN and NGOs coming from a community-based, grassroots background operate and design policies quite separately of each other, this set-up has been a unique opportunity to bring issues that have been present in the peace movement onto the UN agenda, and thereby link these two approaches and structures and benefit from each other's experience and resources.
This unusual set-up is also reflected in the way our work is funded. While we receive funds towards the running costs of the project, administration, some small salaries and some funds towards the programme from the UN, we have had to raise the other half of our funding ourselves. We have received support and contributions from peace groups, small aid and human rights organisations, Trust Funds, our personal friends and families and many others. Our different backgrounds as volunteers have helped us to engage support from such different organisations as the German Komitee fuer Grundrechte und Demokratie, the Dutch Trust Fund Stichting Doen and the humanitarian organisation Fatima Marija, the Swedish women's' organisation Kvinna till Kvinna, the USAID STAR project, the Austrian government, the Dutch local initiative Tilburg Za Mir, the British Quaker Peace and Service and the German Quaekerhilfe, OXFAM, the Bosnian Women's' Initiative and many others, as well as small groups of individuals interested in one of our programmes or social reconstruction and reconciliation in general.
Although the aims of our project are quite clearly reconstruction and peace work, we work according to local need and attempt to stay as flexible as possible within this objective. In the beginning of the project, this has meant that peace work was first of all humanitarian aid: housing, fire-wood, food and such simple things as glasses or cooking utensils were desperately needed. Then, a few months after the Dayton Agreement, supporting local people in coming together in groups to meet identified needs of reconstruction, income, education, youth work and other much-needed services became the priority of our work. Now, after almost two years of work in the town, we are moving into a phase where the initiatives which were set up with the help of our project are moving towards independence, and are firmly established in the town's social infrastructure. Now, we work towards sustainability and capacity building, so that when the presence of internationals ends, what was started is left with security and potential for the future, and is completely given into local hands. The Youth Centre and the Organisation for vocational training and reconstruction Obnova BiH have already registered as separate NGOs, while Federalna *ena and our Youth Club are preparing to register.
Local people and grassroots work were always priorities, and we as individuals and the project have greatly gained from this so far. We tried to base our work on the existing visions, structures and capacities in the town. While being in contact with the town's political leaders, we have built our programme with ordinary local people who have because of their personality, their work or their experience gained much respect in the town. In supporting these community leaders, we were able to ground our work firmly in the community and attract people's participation in the project's programme. This grassroots approach makes it a community development programme designed by people from the community. We have provided training and support, contacts with other organisations and funders and experience from our professional fields which have fed into the local community.
This grassroots approach has also meant that now that the organisations initiated by the project now move into local hands. Until the end of 1997, we are hoping that all sections of our programme will have registered as independent local organisations.
In all this work, it has been very important for us to recognise the fact that reconciliation cannot be pushed. We need to respect the reality of what happened in Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, and need to let things happen in their own speed. Pushing issues against the sense of the community would be adverse to what we are trying to do. Instead, we provide opportunities, encourage activities, support initiatives and help in developing long-term visions.
Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje is situated at high altitude and is extremely cold in winter (the lowest UNPFOR recorded was -40C in 1993), and people heavily depend on housing, fire wood and coal. In the immediate post-war situation, we transported and provided fire-wood, and since the spring of 1996, 250 family houses have been reglazed. For between 50 and 100 DM depending on the level of destruction, one family can be provided with minimal reglazed living space. The schools on both sides of the town have been supplied with school materials, furniture, computers and other materials. The old primary school is now attended only by Croats, and Muslim children are taught in 17 disused shops in the town centre. Many houses, however, have been destroyed beyond use, in some cases up to 90%. Unlike other international organsations, we have decided to reconstruct houses even if they are destroyed to this high a degree.
Unemployment is extremely high, while on the other hand people who worked in other fields before the war lack the necessary skills to rebuild their houses. Because of this, we combined reconstruction with vocational training in which men can learn bricklaying and plumbing in a group of men from both sides of the town. The criteria used to identify participants are social need and a willingness to participate in joint ethnic training in building skills. Local engineers provide theoretical training for the participants. As part of the training, the participants will reconstruct the houses of 10 especially vulnerable individuals (EVIs), who are, because they are old or widowed mothers, or invalid, unable to rebuild their houses themselves.
The degree of destruction varies from house to house, and different materials are needed in each case. rather than giving participants a standard set of materials, as is the usual practice, the participants are given a credit of between DM 7000 and 10000, depending on destruction, for which to choose building materials which suit their needs in order to rebuild an inhabitable living space for their family. In 1996, this programme was run very successfully, funded by the Austrian government, UMCOR and a pool of other funders found by the project.
As in all parts of our programme, we have tried to engage local people on the decision making level from the beginning. While the building programme is organised by international volunteers from UNOV/UNDP, the training is overseen and designed by the headmasters of the two schools on either side of the community, who are former colleagues and have agreed to work together again. This brings key figures from both sides of the town together, and at the same time roots the programme firmly in the community.
In last year's programme, we provided trucks for transport, and tools and equipment could be loaned from our "tools library" which was established in 1995 and financed by UNDP. The need for funding of physical reconstruction is still great, and with refugees returning from Germany and other countries, more tensions arise around the issue of basic housing.
The Youth Centre, a project run jointly with UMCOR, is situated on the cease-fire line in a location perceived as safe for people from both sides of the community, and provides young people and children with a chance to meet. The Youth Centre works closely with the teachers in the schools on both sides, and from the beginning the Youth Centre and the schools were linked, and teachers have encouraged their students to take part in our courses. Teachers from both schools work in the Youth Centre, where they make contacts with their former colleagues.
In the spring of 1997, the Youth Centre moved from the three tiny rooms it started off with into a much bigger space in what used to be the department store. It offers not only English, German and Computer tuition run by international volunteers and local teachers, but also offers classes in different musical instruments, dance and drama, and a section for ecology and mountaineering. Since the opening of the Youth Centre, between 300 and 400 children have attended classes in each of the nine 6-week cycles. With the larger space available, in the current cycle 588 children are participating in the formal Youth Centre activities, with many more joining the more informal activities of open supervised playing space with opportunities to talk, make friends, games, puzzles, music, books, videos and much more.
In order to give children a chance to get to know each other across the lines, and to give them a much-needed break from their environment, we took 200 children, 100 from each side of town on a holiday on the Croatian coast financed by the German Komittee fuer Grundrechte und Demokratie. The first day saw them playing on separate parts of the beach, but games and joyful time together in a different place, and a football match where a mixed team from Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje won 6:1 over a local team from the coast brought supporters shouting for the same group, and the effect of this holiday was to be sensed everywhere in town afterwards: for the first time in years, young people from both sides of the town gathered at the fountain in the centre of town to chat and exchange memories of the holiday. Thanks to the same donors, we can offer this holiday again this year.
As one of the earliest groups started by the project, the Youth Centre has recently celebrated its first birthday. It has now become an independent NGO, and with its experience provides training for other organisations. Jasminka Drino, a local teacher and the co-ordinator of the Youth Centre has attended trainings in conflict management run by Miramida in Zagreb and other organisations, and is part of the Delphi/Star programme for a women's network of conflict management trainers in the former Yugoslavia. With this background, she has run conflict management workshops for girls from both sides of the town, and has run trainings for the women's organisation Federalna *ena. This passing on of skills and training is very important with the view towards passing the entire project over into local hands
The Youth Club '96 video workshop offers courses in the use of this material to document the life of the community, and in the future the Club plans to publish a small newspaper for the community. A band has been established and trough co-operation with other Youth Centres and Youth Clubs in both parts of Mostar, Bugojno, Tuzla, Travnik and other towns, concerts, a festival and evening entertainment were organised. In all these activities, the Youth Club has been in dialogue with the police from both parts of the town and the international police, and a no drugs policy was introduced from the beginning.
Also, the Youth Club works as a catalyst to encourage young people to attend workshops and trainings run by other organisations in conflict management skills (like Miramida run by the Anti-War campaign in Zagreb) and youth work, human rights and organisational skills trainings These opportunities for training provide skills for the future, and future employment, but can also be directly applied in the present situation and give perspective. Recently, the Anti-War Campaign Zagreb ran a conflict management workshop here which was attended by 24 young men and women, 12 from either side of the community, which was until then a thing difficult to imagine in this town.
The Youth Club has so far received small donations from UNOV, UNDP, UMCOR, the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, Fatima Marija, OTI (Office for Transition Initiatives of the US Agency for International Development) and others, but more funds are still needed to support on-going youth work. The Youth Club is in the process of registering as an independent NGO, as the Youth Centre has already done. Women working together: Federalna *ena
Women were in the beginning the most able and willing to make steps towards reconciliation or co-operation. Federalna Zena was founded by some outstanding women from both parts of the communities. Moreover, as a direct result of the war experience, women's role in the community has changed: women have emerged as leaders in the social reconstruction process and as influential professionals (in schools in particular). They are often the only wage-earners in the family (often as single heads of households), and as mothers need to cope every day with the effects this war has had on the children.
A joint ethnic group of women was begun in October 1995, with the aim of establishing an income generating knitting and sewing project. Since many women are now the only wage earners in their families, large donations of wool, and donations of a few sewing machines helped to set this up. The knitters and tailors are now looking for ways of marketing their products to provide a more reliable and steady income. Although they have now secured a contract with a Norwegian knitwear company, they are still looking for other opportunities to sell their products.
Funded by the Swedish women's organisation Kvinna till Kvinna and by the USAID Star Project, Federalna *ena have run trainings in business skills, management, marketing, accounting for small businesses, tax laws and fund- raising as well as on participatory leadership, conflict management and group building. These courses were run by both international and local organisations and were open to the wider community.
However, Federalna *ena did not come together solely to support each other in creating an income. A more important focus is the hope that women from both sides of the town can work together, having the same problems and worries. Most women suffer from health problems resulting from the war or from the fact that for years, no health care was available. In 1996, Federalna *ena had a mobile gynaecological clinic at the cease-fire line, and together with Medica Zenica they are hoping to train doctors in performing smear tests. If testing of large numbers of women is to go ahead, however, a lot of money would be needed.
Education of women has become another important issue. Classes in English and Computers provide women with vital employment skills in a transforming economic system, and bring women from both sides of the town together, learning together and getting a chance to meet again after often years without contact.
These organisations need several kinds of support on their way to independence and that is what the Development Unit aims to provide. They need to know where they can get funding, where they can get specific training for their staff, where they can get information, with what other organisations, local or international, they may co-operate. Especially bringing in trainers to build the capacity of these local organisations has been a top priority. The Development Unit has also put the local NGOs on the map of the Bosnian NGO world, by presenting these NGOs and the town of Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje to the major international organisations present in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A separate activity of the Development Unit was an effort to Bosnia-wide centralise information about local NGOs and local NGO assistance by international organisations, in order for local NGOs to find out whom they could turn to for training or funding, for international organisations to find out what local NGOs they could support, and also for international organisations to find out what their colleagues in the field are doing - as there is surprisingly little co-ordination amongst these international organisations, a duplication of efforts is apparent. This activity resulted in a survey called An introduction into the world of Bosnian NGOs.
One concrete activity that well illustrates the intentions of the Development Unit is the organisation of an NGO development seminar. All local NGOs from Gornji Vakuf /Uskoplje attended a seminar during which the focus was the establishment of themselves as independent NGOs separate from our project. Trainers from Croatia and Bosnia were engaged in this three-day seminar. Apart from this the seminar was meant to stimulate the emergence of a so called civil society forum, a forum of local NGOs and community leaders that see themselves as a people who can together deal with the community's problems and be a partner for the local authorities.
Apart from this on-going work, the pharmacy has now received funding for a dental care programme for 2000 children in town, in which all children in primary schools have received free dental examinations. Dental care was one of the most difficult areas of health care during the war, and many children (and adults) have not been able to receive dental care for years. The recorded data from this project will be analysed, and after the summer holidays the children will be provided with free basic dental repair. However, this project can only go ahead if we can find the funds to provide materials, dental equipment and small salaries for the local dentists participating in this programme.
In the immediate post-war situation, volunteers started a community visits programme, conveying messages between the two parts of the divided town, providing social work, information and support to vulnerable individuals and families, and assessing the needs of individuals and the town. Now that many immediate needs for survival have been met, however, we have shifted our focus and our energy on working towards sustainability and capacity building for the groups and organisations which we have helped to set up.
We are careful never to offer any service which would duplicate an already existing service, be it formal or informal. Since health is a continuing problem in this post-war situation, the project recently ran an inquiry into health services in the area collecting information on existing services, and researching future needs. Because both sides of the community were establishing or rebuilding their own separate health care facilities, the report resulted in the project not taking up health services as a programme.
On the other hand, in this community faced with extremely high unemployment, a pressing need for opportunities for Adult Education and advice in small enterprise was identified. Shortly, an Adult Education Centre will open in two small rooms near our office. With minimum equipment, the Centre will offer 65 participants classes in computer skills, and 40 participants classes in English as a Foreign Language. The classes will provide an opportunity to gain employment skills, creativity and a change of self-perception and future perspective. At the same time, the classes will play an important role by being the only activities for adults on offer in the town in which people can mix with those from the other side of the community.
Securing basic existence and finding useful activity are the most basic conditions for any peace-making effort. Shortly, a Micro Enterprise Adviser will join the project to advise small local businesses and people wanting to start a business in order to provide themselves with employment and income These are major stabilising factors in a society without foreign investment, without a state benefit system, but with almost full unemployment. Working towards ecenomic normalisation is not only a pre- condition for peace-building, but is in themselves peace- building activity, providing opportunity for mental, psychological and economic recovery.
Also, following on from last year's success, the German Komitee fuer Grundrechte und Demokratie will again fund a children's holiday for 200 children, 100 from each side on the Croatian coast. The children will spend 10 days getting to know each other, enjoying time for games and recreation, accompanied by international volunteers from the project and some of the children's local teachers who will renew pre-war contacts. Last year, the holiday led to children starting to meet in the centre of town, still no-man's land, which had not happened since the beginning of the war.
Several local organisations have so far emerged from our work, and have now registered as independent organisations, or are in the process of registering. They have their own coordinators and membership, and act independently of our project, although close ties of mutual support and friendship remain.
Becoming independent, although of course the ultimate aim, makes it more difficult for these groups to find funds to support their much-needed activities, because they do not have the same personal contacts in other countries as international volunteers could provide. In the future, therefore, it is becoming more and more important for these groups to make these contacts, and establish on-going networks with groups abroad. If you would like to get in touch with any of these, the project is more than happy to put you in touch with them, and provide you with any information you might need.
Federalna *ena (Federal Woman) provides opportunities for contact and reconciliation, mutual support, education, health and other advice, and an income generating project for women from both sides of the town. Having registered as a local NGO, they provide trainings for the town at large and have two co-ordinators, one from each side. Contact: Nermina Jukie and Pavka *uljevie
The Youth Centre has since May 1996 offered education for young people in school age through classes in English, German, Computers, a number of creative classes, conflict management run by trained trainers, opportunities to mix in a safe space without pressure. It provides trainings for other organisations, organises cultural events conducive to reconciliation and gives local teachers a forum for contacts. Contact: Jasminka Drino
The Youth Club for young people between 16 and 30, music, video filming and journalism. Recently, conflict management has been introduced and was attended by committed young people from both parts of the town. Contact: Edin Dedie
Obnova Bosne i Hercegovine (OBIH, Reconstruction of Bosnia and Hecegovina): the directors of the primary schools on either side work together on a vocational training programme for men who train in ethnically mixed groups in building skills to build up their houses. Contact: Vahid 5ehie and Josip Jurina Cvijet Mladosti (Flower of Youth): an association of teachers to help teachers and students of the destroyed school on the Muslim side of the town, organise recreation for children, work towards finding equipment for class rooms, from chairs and tables to computers and other school materials. Contact: Tahir Mahmutovie
Eko Planinari (Eco Mountaineers): Coming from an awareness that ecology was not a prominent issue in former Yugoslav society, and aware of children's' need for contact with nature around their largely destroyed town, Eko Planinari were set up by a group of local mountaineers to provide ecological awareness raising among children and young people, acquainting them with the mountains around their town and in other areas of Bosnia. Contact: Mustafa Kirlie
Zagrebaka Pomorska Banka Split, Croatia
Obala Hrvatskog Narodnog Preporodna 21005
Bank Code (Bankleitzahl): 34400620149
Bank Book (Kontoinhaber): Vanesa Dinie
Account (Kontonummer): 2586488055