This week marks 25 years since Islamic Relief opened an office in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Dr Ismail Palić, Professor at the University of Sarajevo, recalls his experience of working with Islamic Relief during the early years.
“It was 25 years ago when, at the invitation of my dear friend Said Čajić, I met him in an improvised office on the second floor of a residential building on Zelene Beretke Street (then JNA Street) near Hotel Europe. I was barely over twenty years old, a student in a city that simultaneously was and wasn’t mine. Confused and scared by the horrors of war, I remember as Said spoke with seriousness and enthusiasm about his work. I recognised the strength in his words, strength that we all needed. That is my earliest memory of Islamic Relief; entirely emotional and personal.
I began working for Islamic Relief in the autumn of 1992. The rooms that became the Islamic Relief office in Drvenija, Sarajevo, were both my office and home. I was a technical secretary and that meant being involved in every aspect of Islamic Relief’s work – humanitarian, educational, cultural, informational and more. Almost every day I spent part of my time in the field, microphone, photo and video camera in hand, recording Islamic Relief’s work and the difference it was making to people’s lives.
I remember a lovely project called ‘Salam to Rasul’ which asked children to send in their artwork inspired by the personality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Thousands of submissions arrived and in the crowded hall of the Bosnian Cultural Center in Sarajevo, we honoured all the children who took part with small gifts and gave special prizes for the best works of art. It was rare to have such an event in those days, especially in the midst of war, but even now when I think about what it meant to the children, my eyes well up with tears.
My memories from the early years are filled with the encounters we had with people living in such difficult conditions, many of them alone with few provisions. Islamic Relief would go to them with not only food and survival items, but with a smile, a firm handshake, and warm words of encouragement. I remember this more today, when humanity has somehow became immune to the needs of others.
The people I worked with at Islamic Relief were devoted and tireless, friendly and always ready to help. I have beautiful memories of them and their work. They were my family, the only one I had at the time. I will never forget their attention, care and warmth.”