Islamic Relief is marking its 25th anniversary of working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that has suffered from the horrors of war and genocide as well as catastrophic flooding and underdevelopment.
“Bosnia has a special place in the history and memory of Islamic Relief,” said Naser Haghamed, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide. “The story of our involvement with the Bosnian people is engraved in our hearts.
“As we mark our 25th anniversary, I salute the many brave men and women who stood by the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the most difficult and horrific time of their history. These past 25 years demonstrate that Islamic Relief makes a lasting commitment to the communities it works with, and doesn’t disappear from the scene when the politicians and the TV cameras move on.”
The war years
When war broke out in 1992, Islamic Relief was one of the first international aid agencies to respond, delivering emergency aid door-to-door to besieged families who were having to risk their lives to access food and water.
“This was the ugliest war in Europe since World War Two, and the humanitarian impact was catastrophic,” recalled Dr Hany El-Banna, Founder of Islamic Relief Worldwide. “Our work in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a turning point for the organisation as we played a leading global humanitarian role.”
Semir Velija Kukuruzović, Country Director of Islamic Relief Bosnia-Herzegovina, was one the first members of staff to join the team in 1992. He remembers the heart-breaking scenes as food supplies dwindled and people become heavily dependent on humanitarian aid.
“As a grown man I could understand the situation but what could I say to a five-year-old boy who just lost his father and was desperately hungry? This boy asked his mother to draw him a pan with eggs in it, and then he ate the paper because he hadn’t eaten eggs for so long.”
During the war years Islamic Relief provided more than 700 tonnes of emergency aid to the Bosnian people including food, water, medicine and firewood. We helped people grow their own food, restoring a sense of purpose and hope. We supplied mobility items for the injured and gave clothes, bedding and shoes to those who were forced to flee their homes without their possessions.
When the war ended, Islamic Relief began a long-term reconstruction project, renovating homes for 12,000 people and restoring schools and health centres. We ran a three-year project to provide cows for unemployed people and more recently, established greenhouses and raspberry farms to help poor communities become self-sufficient again.
In May 2014, when a state of emergency was declared during the devastating floods, Islamic Relief launched an emergency appeal to deliver life-saving food, water, hygiene items, clothing and generators to flood-affected people. Just eight days of rain caused more material damage in Bosnia-Herzegovina than the three years of war.
Hope for the future
Whatever the changing needs of the Bosnian people over the last 25 years, Islamic Relief has been there to help them live with dignity and independence. From providing psychosocial care to traumatised people to helping families rebuild their lives and livelihoods, Islamic Relief has remained committed to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We are very proud of having taken the lead when war broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina and have made great progress over the years,” said Semir, Country Director. “We believe there is room, food and water for everyone on this planet, and this philosophy remains at the heart of our work.”