blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Melanie Dominski
I first came to Bosnia in the summer of 2010 as a delegate with Global Youth Connect. I was in the middle of completing a two-year Master’s Degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and I was craving an on-the-ground experience that would help me understand the real life implications of all the theory I was studying. It was during this three-week delegation that I first interacted with the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM).
After spending a week in small, rural Sanski Most, where CIM is located, observing the work of the Center and, at times, working alongside the Center, I was absolutely amazed by the grassroots peacebuilding work CIM was doing and the small, but real steps, they were taking towards the development of a peaceful and stable Bosnia. Despite my admiration for the organization, I never would have imagined that three short years later, I would pack my belongings and move to Sanski Most to join CIM in their efforts. I completed my Master’s Degree in International Affairs – with a thematic concentration in Human Security and a regional concentration in Europe and Eurasia – in May of 2011. While completing my degree, I found a job at one of DC’s most prominent human rights NGOs. I spent three years working at this NGO, during which time I was promoted three times.
By all measures, my DC-based human rights career was off to a wonderful start. While I loved my job and the opportunities and experiences it provided me, as the years passed, I wanted more and more to work on the ground alongside human rights defenders fighting the battle for global human rights. I wanted to experience firsthand the struggle for human rights and I wanted to do all I could to further the cause. I also understood that gaining work experience in the field would greatly benefit my DC-based career in the long term. So, I began to consider what kind of field experience I wanted. After careful consideration and a lot of research, I decided that I wanted to work with a grassroots organization as opposed to an international organization or government. I felt that a grassroots organization would likely have a greater understanding of the situation on the ground and the needs of the local community. Grassroots organizations are often run by members of the local community and, thus, often have a deeper understanding of the local circumstances and realities, as well as an understanding of what actions can be taken effectively to address those circumstances and realities.
I wanted to ensure that my time in the field not only moved my professional career forward but also provided me with an opportunity to learn about the complex situation on the ground and the realities of human rights work. I thought that working with a small, local grassroots organization was the best way to accomplish these goals. As I began to consider where I wanted to work, I immediately thought of CIM. While I had the opportunity to interact with a number of small, local grassroots organizations in the past, CIM stuck out in my mind as an organization doing incredible work in a difficult environment.
I wanted to be a part of it! I reached out to Vahidin Omanovic, CIM’s Executive Director, and made arrangements to work with CIM. In April 2013, I arrived in the Sarajevo airport, suitcases in tow, ready to begin a new and exciting chapter of my life in Sanski Most. Now, fifteen months later, I am still living in Sanski Most with the intention of staying for another six months. During my time working with CIM, I have learned a lot about myself and about the field of human rights and peacebuilding. My interactions, both professional and social, with members of the local community, have taught me more than any book or theory ever could about the impacts of war and genocide. I have spent many lazy afternoons sipping coffee and discussing politics, religion, war and life with locals. Through these conversations, I have been able to piece together an invaluable understanding of the local perspective on human rights, peacebuilding and reconciliation.
It is this perspective that now guides my work when I write proposals for funding or develop new programs. It is this perspective that helps me ensure that my work is responding to the actual needs and desires of the local community. While many of my workdays are filled with writing proposals for funding, writing reports about ongoing projects, writing newsletters, maintaining and updating social media accounts and developing ideas for new programs, I also have had many unique opportunities here that I never would have had otherwise. I had the life-changing experience of visiting the International Commission on Missing Persons’ local morgue after the mass grave of Tomasica was exhumed and hundreds of the bodies were brought to Sanski Most. I joined CIM’s Executive Director and Program Director in running CIM’s tenth annual Peace Camp. I assisted in the countrywide humanitarian response to the devastating floods in Bosnia in May 2014. I managed eight volunteers, responsible for overseeing their work. I even met my fiancé in Sanski Most!
When I do return to DC, with my Bosnian fiancé by my side, I will return with a much deeper understanding of what peacebuilding and human rights work truly is, including how difficult the work often is. I will return with a greater comprehension of the situation on the ground in the Federation of Bosnia and of the people who live here. I now have a wealth of knowledge that is only available to those who immerse themselves in the quiet, local lives of those they are trying to help. Upon returning to DC, I will do my best to share this knowledge with my future employer and co-workers and to use it effectively for the promotion of a peaceful and stable Bosnia.
My time living in Sanski Most and working with CIM has changed me professionally and personally in ways I would never want to undo. Both Sanski Most and CIM will remain forever a part of me.