blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Cameron Macaskill (GYC Bosnia Participant July 2014)
Our first meeting of the day in Banja Luka was at a hotel café with Jelena Milinovic from the government of Republic of Srpska’s gender center. She talked in great detail about the way the RS is set up, and it was very helpful to go more into detail about the government after having mostly learned very general information up to that point.
Our next meeting was with Genesis, an organization that uses puppet shows to teach kids about important issues like tolerance and landmine safety. They have evolved enormously since they initially started work, and now give puppet presentations in schools as well as creating online YouTube videos that are available to everyone.
Our last meeting of the day was in the same café as our first (side note: the hot chocolate there was amazing!). There we met with Radmila, an ethnically Serb author who had written about the Serbs role in the war on a very deep, personal level. She has received a lot of backlash from her community for what she has written and she spoke a lot about her own personal story in addition to detailing her books for us. Many of the GYC delegates bought books from her to send back to our friends in Sanski Most, and hopefully in the next few years some of her work will be translated into English.
After this last meeting we had a few minutes to explore and a few of the delegates attended a service at the beautiful Orthodox Church in the center of Banja Luka. Afterwards, the whole group, including our program leader, Miki, went out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant and walked back to the place we were staying together. We watched Fall of a Dictator as a group and then had an early night’s rest to prepare for another long day of meetings!
Our second day in Banja Luka was busy with meetings. Our first one of the day was with Helsinki Parliament Grandana Banja Luka. They were founded in 1996 and their mission is to work with and empower marginalized groups in Bosnian society (such as national minorities, women, youth, and handicapped). They gave us all a very warm welcome; their passion and enthusiasm was evident in everything they were doing and saying. Our discussion ended up devolving into their frustration with the current government and the way it slows down their ability to act in their community.
We had to run from there to the Banja Luka offices of Transparency International. We learned about the work they do to fight corruption and encourage transparency in business deals. The cases they bring up can last years and years and even in cases where there is finally a verdict there may not be very many repercussions. After a quick lunch break we went to visit the youth group that Helsinski had actually started. This organization was running some very impressive programs for youth in the community. They supported the development of community youth centers across BiH and had their own political academy in order to educate young political leaders and encourage them to have a more active role in fighting corruption and radicalism during their time in office. They also have an active “Be a man” program. Through this program they are trying to prevent and reduce instances of gender-based violence by taking at-risk boys into their program and then changing what their idea of being a man is.
Our last meeting of the day was at the office of the High Representative of BiH. This meeting was very helpful in understanding the international community’s role in getting Bosnia back on their feet again especially as the country becomes surrounded by nations joining the European Union and pressure mounts for them to join as well.
After an ice-cream wrap-up session and debrief, our delegation went to a nice restaurant overlooking the river and had a nice meal together