Sunday, March 22, 2009

March Madness, part 3

The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is sharply divided by ethnic barriers. There are the serbs, the croats, and the bosniaks, each with their own dialect, religion and customs. People from these three regions rarely interact and there are major prejudices towards one another. The purpose of the Youth Leadership Program (very quick summary) was to take 6 students and 1 teacher from each of the three regions (Banja Luka, Tomislavgrad, Tuzla), bring them together and have them visit the U.S. for 4 weeks, where they attended a Civic Education Institute at Willamette, worked on community service projects together, visited high schools, lived with host families, and overall learned how we as Americans come from all different religious and ethnic backgrounds, but still volunteer and work together to make our communities a better place…basically learning the rights and roles of active citizenship.

Having said that, I think one of the most rewarding parts of my trip was the very first day of the Pre-Departure Orientation. Lejla (Program Officer from the Embassy) and I waited in the lobby of the hotel for the different groups to arrive. They were all traveling into Sarajevo from their various hometowns. The group from Banja Luka arrived first, as shown in this picture.
I have to admit I was nervous to meet these teenagers, not sure what they would think of me and how friendly they would be. But they were the most friendly, polite, wonderful kids! They immediately greeted me with huge smiles and hugs and we sat and chatted while waiting for the other groups to arrive. The group from Tuzla arrived next and it was so cool to see the kids from Banja Luka spring up from their chairs and rush over to greet these kids, who normally they wouldn’t interact with. It was amazing to see them introduce themselves without any inhibitions. The circle got larger and there was much laughter and boisterous conversations. Lastly, the group from Tomislavgrad arrived and it was the exact same thing…immediate welcoming and we all sat around the table in this huge group getting to know one another. And this is the best part. Take a look at these pictures. These were taken right outside my hotel room door in the hallway. This is what it was like every evening. Every single student in the hallway, playing UNO, talking and laughing until the hotel staff would come up and tell them to go to their rooms. You would never have known these kids had just met. You would never have known these kids were from three distinct and divided regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was an incredible thing to witness.

The daily sessions went well. I would cram each night, preparing for the next day’s sessions, and it always turned out better than I expected.
By the end of the trip, I was flat out exhausted, and couldn’t wait to get home to see my family. I will always cherish the memory of Olivia running up to me at the airport and hugging me as tightly as she could…ahh, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I had missed my kids so much, and it was hard to be so far away from them, and for such a long period of time. I also was able to surprise Sarah by picking her up at school the day I returned. It was so sweet to see her shocked, yet trying to maintain her cool composure while at school, reaction.

And…I get to do this all over again in March 2010. Actually, I don’t want to think about it just yet. Anyways, I’ll leave you with what very little pictures I took while in Sarajevo.

1 comment:

momaof4 said...

So pretty!! Oh to be a teenager again, and not letting other thoughts get in the way or who we are or who we are with.