Spring in JRS BIH

26 May 2024

At the beginning of March, we closed a beautiful chapter about meeting and socializing with the head of JRS Europe, Alberto Ares, and Nale Barbieri, the communications coordinator.

We are grateful for the opportunity to inspire each other with the same goals and share our experiences from the field. So, we were together in the Lipa camp, in the JRS facilities, the IT container, and the barbershop, we talked with the camp manager Mr. Almin Imamović and people from Morocco. In this place, as Nale Barbieri said through an Argentine proverb, we realized that: “The world is like a handkerchief, when you unfold it, you see that we all came from the same place”

Afterward, we celebrated this day together with families from Cuba at our Day Center, and again, after sharing food and stories, we shared the thought that we are all travelers on this earth and the least we can do for each other is to make this journey comfortable and memorable. At the end of this day, we visited refugees whose life journey ended up between the borders, in search of a better life. We prayed for them and for their loved ones. And there, by their graves, we realized that we have more strength and will to serve, follow and advocate for refugees and other displaced people toward their better life and future.

A special place that we also visited is the Parish of Saint Anthony in Bihac because on their way many travelers come here to pray before going to other European countries. We were welcomed by our Franciscans Ivan and Ivan, who are dedicated to the work of JRS BiH.

In the evening we visited some historical sites in Bihac, they are also the testimony of how different civilizations and religion left their mark on culture and society, and because of it, Bihac today looks like and still is a multicultural society blessed with diversity.

To accept refugees and other displaced people means that we are willing to embrace even more diversity and openness to our future life and life of the next generations.

After the visit with new gratitude and new hope, we continue to provide our regular services like the dentist and ophthalmological services, eye vision checks and eyeglasses, and hearing checks. Besides that, we also continued to offer psychological support to the refugees from Afghanistan. Besides our presence in TRC Ušivak and Blažuj in Sarajevo, where we regularly provided the abovementioned psychosocial support, we are still present in TRC Lipa in Bihać. Our Barbershop in the Lipa camp container is not just an ordinary Barbershop where you can barber yourself or cut your hair. It is more, a place where people can share their stories, find out important social information, and above all interesting gossip. Well, actually it is a very ordinary traditional Bosnian barbershop, very similar to any other Moroccan Barbershop, or Afghanistan Barbershop.

Also, in Bihać, our creative HEART activities are beloved among families in TRC Borići, and here is a very inspiring thought from one of the creative workshops: Manana sera bonito. It triggers us to think in this direction: Our future can be bright if we continue to serve people with all of our hearts!

To prepare others to serve and get familiar with JRS’s mission, and most of all since young generations will participate in building society, and we want more open and hospitable societies, we started with the screening of the film “Swimmers” in Sarajevo schools. Students again showed a high level of sensitivity and openness towards people on the move and the difficulties of their lives. We also provided food for people at outreach locations and for a Syrian family in Goražde for Ramadan and organized a soccer match with asylum seekers and the InterGreat Center.

A nice example of serving in the local community in Bihać and cooperation with the JRS was presented in our monthly radio podcast Blessing of Travelers. It was recorded with Sr. Blanka Šturm in the Library of St. Joseph in Bihać. A special place with a long tradition, first there was a monastery and a school, in the 19th century, and when the school was closed like all other private schools in the socialist period, the sisters continued to operate unofficially. Over time, they created large collections of books, and that’s how the Library of St. Joseph began. Today, the Library is one of the favorite places among the citizens of Bihać, open to everyone. Young migrants from the Borići family camp also had the opportunity to visit the library. Here they spent some time playing and reading. You can hear about all this, and much more, about the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, how they got to Bosnia, their mission of serving God and the Bosnian people, their cooperation with JRS, and generous donations of books to migrants in the Lipa camp.

There were also some special dates this month like Women’s International Day which we celebrated in TRC in Sarajevo and Bihac, as well in Medjugorje. We celebrated Women’s Day together with women from Ukraine in Medjugorje. As is the tradition in our two countries, we gave each other flowers, shared food, and stories, and enjoyed each other’s company. We also distributed monthly vouchers to meet basic life needs. During that time, during our party, their children ate, played, and enjoyed the children’s corner with our staff. For a moment, we forgot that the war is still going on in Ukraine, that it is getting worse, that there are street fights in some cities, and that the civilians who are trapped there do not know what the next day or hour will bring. But that topic was inevitable because this is their reality, they miss their homeland and their relatives, and they fear for their husbands. Hope is still alive, they pray for peace because they want to return to their homes and rebuild them again.

In addition to Women’s Day, we decided that it would be nice to dedicate a special day to the husbands of our Ukrainian friends who live in Medjugorje. There are few men who are together with their families in Medjugorje. They could have left Ukraine because they have sick children or they cannot join the army because they themselves have health problems. So, we just established Men’s Day. We just relaxed and enjoyed nearby Mostar, walked, visited historical sights, and enjoyed the majesty of the Bosnian way of life.

At the end of this month, we opened a new chapter in walking with our European JRS family. We were among people who share the same dream: “Opening doors and walking pathways. (Pope Francis). We learned from each other, and we inspire each other at the JRS Annual General Meeting. We have met our colleagues from national offices from all over Europe, prayed and eat together, and contemplate in the beautiful Seminario Maior de S. Paulo. We enjoyed fado and amazing Ukrainian songs. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the integral model of accompaniment in Portugal through workshops on mental health, advocacy, hospitality, employability, and psychosocial accompaniment. And that’s not all, we also had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the great work of JRS Portugal by visiting the Reception Centers and being inspired by their mission and visions.

We brought to our homes new inspirations on how to accompany, serve and advocate. Besides those beautiful memories of the hospitality of our Portuguese friends, there are also colorful and poetic memories of Lisboa and its cultural sites, and also on Ignatian sites like the famous Broteria, Igreja de Sao Roque, and Museum de Sao Roque. We witnessed the longevity and vitality of the Jesuit presence in Portugal.

All that creativity of the human spirit present in Ignatian sites will probably put a touch on our daily activities back home with refugees in our country.