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Most Mira – Humanity in Action International Exchange

Project Overview

Four Senior Fellows collaborate with a Bosnian NGO to use art to promote peacebuilding among the youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Identifying the Problem

The tensions between Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats culminated in the war that tore the country apart in the 1990s, and has continued to pose significant problems for the social, political and economic progress of the country. The war’s legacy not only affects the conflict’s victims and perpetrators, some of whom continue to live in the same communities as one another, but also indelibly impacts the next generation of Bosnians. In largely segregated schools, young people of different ethnicities learn different and divergent histories of their communities’ violent past. Many of them have never even met each other, much less engaged in creative projects together. 

For many of Humanity in Action’s Senior Fellows, their previous work and personal experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina have inspired their desire to further contribute to the peacebuilding efforts in the country. Senior Fellows Janine, Nick, Asger and Ana had all witnessed or experienced firsthand how the divisions within Bosnian society served as obstacles to reintegrating the country’s different ethnic groups, and they wanted to collaborate on a project that used innovative methods to address the ethnic divide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Creating A Solution

Various organizations are addressing how Bosnian youth can begin to imagine a shared future in such a politicized and divided society. One such organization is Most Mira (Bridge of Peace), a UK and Bosnian organization that uses art to promote peace and understanding among the youth in the northern Bosnian town of Prijedor. For the residents of Prijedor, the legacy of the Bosnian war is especially vivid, as the town lies near the infamous Omarska Camp, where more than 5,000 people were interned for five months in 1992. Since 2009, Most Mira has held an annual youth arts festival in Prijedor to promote teamwork among hundreds of local children from different ethnic backgrounds. 

In the spring of 2013, Most Mira planned a project for students and teachers from four neighboring schools in Prijedor to participate in four months of drama workshops in preparation for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The team of Senior Fellows wanted to use this opportunity not only to support grassroots work with Bosnian youth, but also to more deeply understand and raise awareness about the importance of bringing this group of children together to perform a play that was the result of their collaborative efforts. 

The team communicated extensively over Skype in order to coordinate the logistics of their trip as well as their ultimate goal: to publish a report highlighting Most Mira’s approach, along with the work of other Bosnian NGOs, in engaging youth in peacebuilding through art. The Senior Fellows were heavily involved in Most Mira’s project, leading workshops and working with the youth to help them finalize preparations for their performance. They also engaged in structured discussions with Most Mira trustees and other experts in the field of peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to place their work in its broader political and social context. The team discovered that the seemingly straightforward production of a play takes on a much deeper significance when considered within the context of the complex political, economic and social challenges facing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the festival concluded, the Senior Fellows returned home and again took to Skype to work on compiling their report, dividing its various elements and working on editing and design to create a unified product. They then published their report, “Creative Commons: Engaging Youth in Peacebuilding through Art in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” which they hope will contribute to the larger conversation about the creative methods being implemented within the peacebuilding movement in Bosnia Herzegovina and other countries.

Lessons Learned

The most significant lesson learned by this team of Senior Fellows was to remain flexible and always be ready and willing to adapt the project to a changing set of circumstances. For example, while the team had originally planned on conducting an evaluation of the festival, a more general report about the organization’s work was preferred rather than an evaluation. This situation highlighted the importance of communication and respecting the boundaries of the partner organization, particularly when it plays such an important role in ensuring the project’s success.

The Senior Fellows were confronted with another challenge when they learned that performances in the schools might be canceled. However, the Most Mira trustees stood their ground, and the children did end up performing in the schools so that their fellow students could witness their efforts. The fact that international volunteers had flown to Bosnia and Herzegovina may have raised the profile or legitimacy of the project. When engaging in a project like this, it is important to reflect on the role of international participants so that we can fully understand how we can use our leverage without abusing our role. The Senior Fellows stress the importance of using good judgment about when to be more flexible and willing to compromise and when to be more assertive in your original stance, particularly when working in an environment in which external factors can significantly influence your ability to accomplish your goals.

Get Involved!

The Senior Fellows are working to disseminate their report as widely as possible, as well as publish blog posts on various aspects of the issues raised in their report. They especially hope to cover examples of Bosnian youth crossing ethnic lines to become more engaged in civil society, and intend to develop recommendations for increasing concrete opportunities for young people to come together in creative ways to promote more issue-based, rather than identity-based, civic engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Senior Fellows are currently working to strengthen the partnership between Humanity in Action and Most Mira by planning opportunities for more Senior Fellows to get involved in next year’s festival. International volunteers play a vital role in Most Mira’s work, as they expose local youth to a broader world in which their ethnic differences are not significant or even apparent. Bosnian Senior Fellows, in particular, can serve as important examples for these youth in modeling their approach to inter-ethnic communication and civic engagement. The team encourages other Senior Fellows who are interested in serving as volunteers to get in touch with the project leaders. The Senior Fellows envision expanding their group to also include representatives of other youth organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and welcome any ideas concerning collaborative projects, including replicating the peacebuilding-through-art method in other places in Bosnia.

Funding

Once the Senior Fellows had established their team, they pursued funding opportunities to cover their travel costs. They were awarded a Humanity in Action Senior Fellow Grant, which covered the majority of the costs related to the project. They also received in-kind support (housing, food and local transportation) from Most Mira. They are currently engaging in further fundraising efforts to support participation in next year’s festival.

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