Resume of my trip to Bosnia, funded by the
Loughborough College of Education Commemorative Award
 - Gemma Toze
Department of English and Drama

With the prize money I was kindly awarded from the University, I did some voluntary rehabilitation work in Bosnia. I worked with a Christian organisation called ‘Novimost International’ who work with the young people of Bosnia to equip and inspire them, and enthuse them about their lives. These are young people who have grown up either seeing the horror of war themselves, having lost loved ones, or having to live with relatives who are severely affected both mentally and physically. Novimost also aim to ‘build bridges’ between people of different religions and ethnicities, that were in opposition throughout the war. I worked in Mostar, in which there is a great political and religious divide between the Catholic Croats and the Muslim Serbs. The two are divided between West and East Mostar, separated only by a bridge over the river.

The work I did varied greatly. Novimost had recently taken responsibility for the local sports court in order to renovate it for the local community. Our first task was to paint it and also to graffiti it with positive words, alternative to the graffiti that was previously scrawled over the walls. It was really encouraging that the local boys also got involved and were very respectful about what we were trying to do.

After this, we spent the majority of the time in two villages on the outskirts of Mostar, called Salakovac and Vrapcici. Salakovac is a transit village, which means that the people have been living there since the devastation of the war, whilst saving money or building their homes elsewhere. Although they live comfortably, they are poverty stricken and rely on supplies from organisations such as Novimost International. One of our enthusiastic children.Vrapcici is more of a permanent home for its residents, but is still relatively poor. We went to the villages and worked with children and young people from four to sixteen years old. We encouraged creativity through drama games, music, break-dancing, face painting and artistic activities. The children were so warm and incredibly grateful, they would run up to the van as soon as we arrived and follow us as we left. The children go to schools that encourage a communist approach to learning, and the adults do not seem to realise that children need to be shown how to play. The children would play one game for ages and not get bored, even without a sense of competition. It was a great honour to be able to build such strong relationships with the children in such a short time. After we had got to know the two villages better, we decided to speak to them about our Christian beliefs and God’s love for them, through drama, mime, clowning and break-dancing and so we put on a performance in the evenings. Both the children and adults were very attentive and were very interested in the message we gave. We also toured this performance to other places including the youth club that Novimost run permanently in the evenings for fifteen to twenty-five year olds.

I’ve learnt so much personally from the whole experience and was so impressed by the humility and gratefulness of all the people we worked with. I was really stretched in adapting my acting talents to be comprehendible without language. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to give some of my talents, speak about my Christian faith in a predominantly Muslim country, and to learn so much from the Bosnian people.

Secretary to Prizes Committee
October 2002
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