Islamic Relief psychotherapist and project officer, Šemsa Ahmetspahić, reports on how psychosocial support is building a network of good deeds in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The infrastructure and economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina was devastated by a brutal war in the 90s. The rebuilding of schools, homes and infrastructure has begun, but many people remain displaced and suffer from a chronic housing shortage, widespread loss of livelihoods, and the legacy of war. More than half of the country’s young, working-age people are unemployed.

Islamic Relief was one of the first organisations providing aid during the war, and now – after the war – we are also leading the way. Pass it Forward emerged from another project where we had many educational activities, and opportunities for orphaned children and their mothers to gather. We offered them psychosocial counselling and therapeutic support. That is how I began to work with Islamic Relief.

“I like to describe the project as a circle of good deeds.”

Šemsa Ahmetspahić is a psychotherapist and project officer working in Islamic Relief Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Šemsa Ahmetspahić is a psychotherapist and project officer working in Islamic Relief Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We started opening our door to other people that were experiencing psychological problems. Clients that we helped told their friends about us, and the circle of beneficiaries has spread wider and wider. I like to describe the project as a circle of good deeds. Because we, as a humanitarian organisation, are providing psychological help free of charge to vulnerable children and adults that can’t afford to pay for treatment.

Instead of charging for services, we ask beneficiaries to contribute to the project. Everyone contributes what they can. This helps us provide treatment to other people, and support orphaned children.

Now, we have extended the scheme for another two years. We aim to provide much-needed psychosocial support to 600 vulnerable people living in Sarajevo, Tuzla and surrounding areas.

“Our impact is huge”

Traumatic events create different impacts. Some people develop anxiety, others struggle with depression or phobia. Many have attempted suicide, and eating disorders and pathological grief are common.

It is not easy for a person suffering from psychological problems to admit it to themselves – and especially not to others. They may self-medicate with antidepressants and get even deeper into trouble as they become resistant or addicted to the drugs.

We help them to resolve their trauma and to understand their condition – so they can function successfully within their family, community, and workplace. Our impact is huge.

Islamic Relief was one of the first international organisations to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War – getting vital supplies into Sarajevo from 1992. Our current programmes in the country includes sponsoring orphaned children, as well as developing livelihoods and delivering vocational training.