08 September 2000
by Yasmine Rana
Sarajevo has very few trees. There is a sense of desolation and devastation. There is a feeling of absence, of missing pieces that were once present. Despite the visibly absent and the devastated present, there is a place working to rebuild what was lost while focusing on its future.
The Sarajevo Youth House was established by UMCOR, United Methodist Committee on Relief, in December 1995. Since 1997, it has been registered as a local non-governmental organization (NGO). The Youth House provides local, returning and refugee children ages three and up with educational, psycho-social and recreational support in a safe and nurturing environment, enabling them to rebuild their communities and their lives. Self-expression is encouraged through classes in music and art. Programmes are also offered in languages, computers and media. There is also a successful preschool playroom programme. One of the strongest statements of creative expression is from the Youth House's photography programme. Through this programme, children were given tools to capture images of Sarajevo toward the end of and after the war. Many of these photos have been sold to benefit the Youth House. They are chilling images of the people and buildings that experienced destruction. What was particularly powerful about the photographs was their perspective. Behind the lenses were children who were witnesses to what was happening to themselves and to their city.
To volunteer in the Youth House is to listen to personal accounts of the past and to see the future. Adolescents and teenagers shared with me their experiences of the war. Through fables used to teach language, children identified with the characters that "lost" something or someone. The art classes began to replace the greenery that was cut down during the war for heat, with a makeshift forest made from paints and paper, so the younger children would be surrounded by trees. The Youth House employees and
volunteers strive to create a setting for children to recapture what was stagnated and lost. Despite the conditions of the House, which would mirror the conditions of any post-war social service facility lacking funds and supplies, many children from the community are members.
Early next year the Sarajevo Youth House will move into their permanent residence. Although they have been operating in a small, borrowed space with few materials, the volunteers and employees have provided the children of the community with a place to develop themselves creatively, educationally and socially. There is a strong sense of belonging in the House. I, too, felt that sense of welcome and belonging. Although I went to volunteer for the summer, I returned with the feeling that I received much more than I had wanted to give.
Yasmine Rana volunteered at the Sarajevo Youth House in the summer of 2000.