Monday, July 27, 2009

My Blindfold is Off

Disclaimer: The following is merely my experience. I hope that it does not offend anyone. If it does I am truly sorry and it wasn't my intension.

Going into this placement I knew that there was a division between the ethnicities but I didn't realise the extent. Upon arriving, I could see the physical separation: the Muslims lived on one side of the front line and the Catholics lived on the other. However, after having the chance to converse with numerous people and families I started to realise just how real things were.

After work one day one of the children told me that a girl from the centre begged her friends not to leave because she was worried that more people from the other side would come. Around the same time I found out that some of the parents from one side were uneasy about letting their children go to swimming lessons because they would be taught by people from the other side. Others did not want to go to the Yoga classes offered at the centre because they thought the money was solely going towards the other side. (We forgot to include both the Bosnian and Croatian versions of some of the words on our promotional posters.) This was only the beginning signs that there was more to the town than physical separation. I was starting to realise that it was too soon for some people to forgive and forget what happened over ten years ago.

It was also shocking to hear that the school systems and government are doing so little to resolve things. There are still separate elementary schools, and there are separate entrances and floors for the Muslims and Catholics in the high school. A teacher was even suspended for refusing to go through her designated entrance. Moreover, some of the teachers are trying to convince their students to refrain from going to activities were the two religious groups interact. The government does not show much effort in trying and bring the sides together. The local government could not even hold their promise to clean up a park so that the children from both sides could safely interact with each other.

With that said, a book that I am reading, hearing stories and reflecting with the other ICVs has shone a new light on the issue. For instance, I am currently in the middle of a book called ´Empire Lite´ by Michael Ignatieff. It is the last book in the 4 part series about the Bosnian conflict, among other global conflicts. He brings up a good point: who are we to decide when it is good for people to heal, forgive and forget the past? We weren't there, and we never experienced the conflict. In a way everyone in Bosnia was affected. The government officials, teachers, and families most likely knew someone that was affected. Thus, although the optimistic me wishes everyone could live in peace and harmony, I have to realise that some things take time.

Moreover, I have to hope that while some organizations are pulling out their funds and resources, organizations such as Intercordia, Beyond Borders, the American group and the German organization will continue helping support the Omladinski Centar. I also hope that new organizations will be inspired by the OC and want to contribute to their amazing mission. I wish them future success and I hope to visit again soon.

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