Caution: this story contains some graphic references to the Srebrenica massacre which some readers could find upsetting
The coronavirus pandemic brought back some really triggering and painful memories for Azra. The single mother of three found herself worrying about how to feed her children and keep them safe. 25 years after surviving the Srebrenica massacre, Azra was reliving her worst nightmare.
Azra lost her parents at a young age, long before war ravaged her home country of Bosnia & Herzegovina. She was raised in a loving, happy home by her grandmother. "She was really like my mother. She loved me a lot."
In 1995 when the Bosnian War broke out, Azra’s grandmother did whatever she could to protect Azra from the worst of it. But she couldn’t keep her from it completely.
"It was horrible to see that much blood. Whenever I heard the whistling sound from the grenades, I'd run to my grandma and hide behind her."
Throughout the Bosnian War Azra's grandmother didn’t want them to leave their home. They managed to stay until 11 July 1995 – the day of the fall of Srebrenica.
"Horrible things were happening. Screams at night... Dead people... The next day, it was very hot, and we didn't have water. Across the street was a house so my cousin and I went to get water. We didn't know what might be inside there.
"When we opened the door, in the bath tub we found heads. We ran in a panic, straight towards another room. There we saw the bodies. Then we ran out. Screaming."
“My Grandmother tried to calm us down by telling us we’d just imagined it. But I knew we hadn’t.
“Even when we were safer, I dreamed about those heads, those bodies for nights. Those screams of children and women in the night. How they were saying: ‘don't please, don't touch me, let me go.’ My grandmother would wake me up telling me it was just a bad dream. But I knew it wasn't – I’d seen it with my own eyes."
Six months after the Srebrenica massacre, the Bosnian War ended. Azra and her grandmother were able to return to Srebrenica.
Azra finished school and became a mother, relying on her grandmother to help give her three girls a happy and carefree childhood. But when her grandmother died, Azra was left all alone.
In 2016, she learned that SOS Children's Villages runs a programme to help vulnerable families in Srebrenica. She received food, hygienic packs and school supplies, and the girls went to creative workshops. Azra was given help to apply for welfare and managed to secure a part-time job. Things looked good for the small family.
Then came March 2020 and the world shut down.
"At first, I was afraid for my children's health. As time passed, I felt imprisoned. I had flashbacks from the time Srebrenica fell in 1995. When we were locked up and living each day at a time."
SOS Children’s Villages provided support through a staff member, Meliha, who gave Azra a much-needed boost of energy and hope. "Meliha brought milk, food and hygiene packs. Without her, I would have felt alone and forgotten. Meliha is my support in this hard time."
Azra says that having someone like Meliha to talk to who is supportive and caring is the most precious help in the world. "She is like my sister."
SOS Children's Villages also paid for the internet so the girls can carry on with their school work at home.
Azra doesn't tell her daughters of her traumatic past. Azra's goal in life is to help her daughters look forward to a much brighter future. She is confident it will come true. "This too will pass."
Names have been changed to ensure the protection of those featured.