By Holly Christie, SOS Children’s Villages UK
A quarter century ago, a small mountain town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina became the scene of the Srebrenica massacre – more than 7,000 boys and men lost their lives. The children who lived through the war are now grown up, but for many, the emotional scars live on.
Some grew up with traumatised parents and became the victims of abuse or neglect. Others were refugees, returning to their homes to find their communities shattered, and themselves living a stone’s-throw from the scene of the murders of their families and friends.
On my recent visit to our projects in Srebrenica I was struck by how the pain of these childhood experiences is being passed down through the generations – ruining childhoods today.
In the wake of the massacre the international community rallied to provide humanitarian aid to those in need. There is no doubt their support saved lives. But the emotional needs of the children were all but forgotten in the rush to provide the basics for survival.
Children need so much more than food and shelter to thrive, and without a focused effort to ensure children received the psychological care they needed after the war, a generation of children grew up traumatised by violence, loss and displacement. Decades later, many parents are finding it difficult to form healthy relationships with their children and the community has become trapped in poverty.
Five years ago, SOS team leader, Leija, began a project to break the cycle of childhood trauma that was holding her community back.
She was resolute as she shared her ambitions for Srebrenica with me – to help families, and the community, become self-sufficient again within ten years. It won’t be an easy goal to reach. But as the project neared its halfway point, and with sixty families already on their way to becoming more stable, Leija is confident that by its completion families in Srebrenica will no longer need our help.
Every family is unique and needs different support to get back on their feet.
Merka had a great business idea to restore her family’s fortunes, but no experience or capital, so the team helped her write a business plan and get funding for her organic farm. Other family businesses are struggling because of poor infrastructure, so the team are bringing them together to purchase a community van to sell their products in the big cities. And for Norijia, counselling has been the key to repairing his relationship with his five-year-old son, Alen.
Norijia with his son Alen
Norijia’s father was a violent alcoholic – an illness he attributes to his wartime experiences – and Norijia feared history would repeat itself if he became angry with his son or raised his voice. He distanced himself from his child and left the childcare to his wife. But these days, counselling is helping him be the father his son needs.
If my visit to Srebrenica has taught me anything, it is the impact a happy and safe childhood can have – not just on that one child, but their families, their community’s and future generations. An entire community can be restored, one childhood at a time.