Inside the Center:

Now equipped with rooms for legal advocates, psychiatrists and computer classes, now funding is the main struggle for success at BOSFAM’s Srebrenica Center.

The BOSFAM center in Srebrenica has over 70 women on its list of weavers. However, due to low funding a low sales only a handful of them are able to generate income from the center. Srebrenica remains a shell of its former self, yet BOSFAM continues to search for new ways to breathe life into this high mountain town.

Photo taken by: Claire Noone, Advocacy Project Peace Fellow Bosnia-Herzegovina 2012

BOSFAM: Supporting Women War Survivors with Bosnian Handicraft

One of my major goals during this Fulbright was to visit the BOSFAM project, a weaving, embroidery, and sewing NGO supporting women who survived the Bosnian war. It is exactly the model I dream of for my project, Craft Power with Miriam Schaer in the Republic of Georgia, and shares many of the same ethos for socially engaged art practice.

Not only did I get to visit, I met their Director and Founder, Munira “Beba” Haždić and she graciously agreed to an interview. After our interview, she shared with me that a permanent exhibition of memorial rugs made by the women of BOSFAM will be installed at the Memorial Center in Potočari. These memorial quilts are grouped not just by location, but also by vocation, age, and gender. They are haunting, and they are life-affirming–truly great art. 

Mel: Have you been with the organization from the beginning? 

Munira: Yes, since 21 years ago. I am one of the founders. 

M: And why handicrafts? 

MU: It is the path of our tradition: to do something with our hands, especially to sit and do something. When the war here, I was not ready to be a refugee, as I am originally from Srebrenica. In 1992, I had to leave my home, because the Serb paramilitary pushed people out and killed many of them. After they pushed us out, we moved to Tuzla. 

I was unhappy because I had to go and ask for food, which was totally uncomfortable for me. But I was thinking in that situation that I have education, I can do something. In that time, we had so many refugees, every school was a refugee center–not filled with children, but refugees. They were sitting inside without food, they waited, they cried, and sat. At that time, I thought what would be the task: we invited women in our tradition, to sit, work and to talk. It was occupational therapy for them. 

Munira shows one of the memorial quilts

At that time, it was just a group of women trying to do something. I was happy to find someone to support us. I met someone from Oxfam, and I told them about my wish to have wool to do socks. One great man–who I always think about–after that gave us support with 90 kilos of wool and we started making socks and sweaters for small kids. We are talking about what happened when we work together. We had so many refugees just sitting in a classroom collection center. Our wish was to do a room which would be like a home, and we would invite women from these collection centers to sit and make crafts. It became one center, and then another one…at that time, there were so many places for women sitting around. 

My boss, a very nice man, told us that the international organizations had to leave Tuzla and stay 3-4 days in Split to stay safe during the bombing. I was asked to go. I asked why, my family is here. At that time I thought about what an NGO is. I am someone from a socialistic country, we didn’t have NGOs in this country at that time. Then, I asked this man what would happen if they left, we don’t have anyone to support our project. I asked them what an NGO is, and told him I wanted to create one. I got support, education, and training in Croatia–it was war, but we went sometimes in and out. 

In October 1994, we started with a new organization, BOSFAM, which means, Bosnian Family. That’s our family after our family members are killed, missing, or outside Bosnia. And when we talk about what we are making, it is a new family. Bosnians–not Bosniaks–and Family, because that is very important to us. Someone who will support you, cry with you. 

First it was occupational therapy. Then it was training: someone who knows something can teach someone else. It’s not a classroom with a teacher, it is a group of women who sit and share. Still we have women who still need this occupational therapy. Especially the women with kids who were killed, especially the women of Srebrenica. I have women who started to make a carpet in 1995 after the fall of Srebrenica, and she still does nice carpets. But every time, when it is near the end, I always ask her to be fast. She lost a son. She says she doesn’t think about her son only when she does her carpets. That’s 20 years after the war. Most of the women need economic support. BOSFAM buys material, we tell women what we need, when they are finished, they know how much money they will get from that, and we also sell at exhibitions. 

M: So where do you sell the work primarily? 

MU: We have this shop. We go on different exhibitions, and we have one shop in Sarajevo (Baščaršija). And we do international sales. Sometimes people come and buy things, then ask for more over the internet. Every Christmas, we have someone who comes and buys a lot from us, that’s big support. What is very important to BOSFAM is the handicraft tradition in memory of victims of genocide of Srebrenica. It has the family name, and a traditional design from Bosnian carpets. 

M: Are women working mostly in their homes? 

MU: Mostly at home, and we have an upstairs space where women work and write. We had a workshop in the basement, but we had big floods in Bosnia, and now need to do a reconstruction. 

M: So how often to you host women upstairs? 

MU: We usually have them on Fridays, or when we need something or do a special program. We call women and invite them to come. And also when they need something, they can always use the space. This center is open every day. We never close. In my life, all people call me “Beba from BOSFAM”. They forgot my family name!

While in Tuzla I am volunteering for an organization called BOSFAM.  BOSFAM essentially provides economic and social support for women displaced by the war in Bosnia.  Everyone here has lost loved ones to the war; husbands, sons, brothers…most as a result of the genocide in Srebrenica.

Instead of looking for handouts, the women of BOSFAM make traditional Bosnian handicrafts (primarily rugs and knit goods), so that they may sell them to support themselves and what family they have left.

I’ll be posting a lot more about BOSFAM in the next few weeks, but if you want to know more now this is their website.

Above is the entrance to the BOSFAM center, which has a sales gallery at street level,  giant looms and offices on the first 2 floors, apartments on the top floor (for volunteers like Alison and me to sleep in).

The BOSFAM center in Srebrenica has over 70 women on its list of weavers. However, due to low funding a low sales only a handful of them are able to generate income from the center. Srebrenica remains a shell of its former self, yet BOSFAM continues to search for new ways to breathe life into this high mountain town.

Photo taken by: Claire Noone, Advocacy Project Peace Fellow Bosnia-Herzegovina 2012

Saturday BOSFAM had a Bazaar for International Women’s Day (which is actually March 8th).  BOSFAM Bazaars basically consist of coffee, cookies, chatting, more coffee, and a bit of buying. A little more buying would have been nice but it was great none the less.

On that note if you are in the market for some handmade socks/mitten/hats/scarves/sweaters/rugs let me know!  Or go to the BOSFAM website.

Got to spend time with some special friends from Indonesia today. The Lord completely surprised us with this gathering. His plans are so much better than our own! Thank you Jesus for your love! #BOSfam #BOSfood

This is the Pigeon Coop next to BOSFAM.  Wikipedia tells me that people have practiced pigeon keeping for about 10,000 years, and people that keep pigeons are reffered to as “pigeon fanciers”.

Apparently Mike Tyson has been a pigeon fancier his whole life.

Every day at 9 and 1 we all sit around at BOSFAM and drink lots and lots of coffee (kafa). It’s my favorite.

Everyone has flowers in this photo because it’s from March 8th, International Women’s day.  I had never even heard of International Women’s day before coming here, but it’s a rather big deal here.  According to Wikipedia it started as a socialist political event…but now it’s kind of a valentines day / mothers day mash up.