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Women's cooperative in Srebrenica produces ‘protective masks for everyone’

Activists (from left to right) Valentina, Hilda, Jelena and Željka in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina (May, 2020). Photo by Ahmedin Đozić/Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

This story by Ahmedin Đozić was originally published on Balkan Diskurs, a project of the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC). An edited version is republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Srebrenica is a town and municipality located in the easternmost part of Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a small mountain town with about 2,600 inhabitants, while the municipality has a population of around 13,400. Its main industries are salt mining and a spa. During the Bosnian War, Srebrenica was the site of a June 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, which was subsequently designated as an act of genocide by the ICTY and the International Court of Justice.

A group of women from Srebrenica has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by hand-making protective face masks for people in their communities.

Valentina Gagić-Lazić, one of the founders of the association uniting the group of “empowered” women, Sara-Srebrenica, and a long-time activist in Srebrenica since moving there in 1995, explained the initiative’s origin:

“Nismo željeli potencirati da su to djela samog udruženja, već pojedinaca. Ibrima Halilović, zaposlenica fondacije MI BOSPO je reagovala prva. Javila nam se i rekla da želi da šije, ali da nema šivaću mašinu. Brzo smo razmijenili ideje i došli do rješenja. Stavili smo na raspolaganje sve resurse koje smo imali u Udruženju, poput mašina, materijala i konca. Ubrzo smo organizovale prostor koji smo formirali kao malu radionicu.”

“We didn’t want to do this only as part of an association, but rather as individuals. Ibrima Halilović, an employee at MI BOSPO, was the first one to respond. She got in contact with us and told us that she was willing to sew but that she didn’t have a sewing machine. We exchanged a few ideas and quickly came up with a solution. We gave her all the resources our association had, such as machines, materials, and thread. We also organized a small workshop space.”

The group began with just six women; three sewed and the rest washed, tailored, and ironed the masks.

“The idea was to show our fellow citizens that we stand with them during these troubling times. We hope that these masks will make them feel more protected. There are not a lot of us in Srebrenica and we need to stick together through communion and mutual care. Word of our work must have gotten out because more and more people started supporting us. Women began reaching out, offering to donate materials and help in other ways. Everyone should help as much as they can afford. The spirit of solidarity, in these times, can be felt,” Gagić-Lazić added.

Željka (left) and Hilda sew protective masks for residents of Srebrenica and surrounding villages. Photo by Ahmedin Đozić/Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

The dynamic group includes women from different professional backgrounds who are all set on the same goal: supporting their community. Women in the group are Valentina Gagić-Lazić, Stana Medić, Željka Milovanović, Hilda Đozić, Jelena Bibić, and Ibrima Halilović.

Valentina Gagić-Lazić assists with the cleaning, tailoring, and ironing, while Stana Medić—one of the founders of Sara-Srebrenica—supports the efforts by sewing masks at her home because of her high-risk status.

Željka Milovanović joined this effort using her own machine. An employee of the EKONOMIK factory that makes prefabricated containers, she is said by her colleagues from Srebrenica to be a fierce fighter who doesn’t shy away from any job when it comes to assisting her community.

Hilda Đozić, an employee at House of Good Tones—a cultural project for children—and an active member of her community, contributes by tailoring and distributing the masks. Reacting swiftly to the health crisis, Đozić coordinated with the management of House of Good Tones to secure a workspace for the effort.

Another active member of her community, Jelena Bibić, together with her daughter, tailors and prepares masks for sewing.

Diligent hands of activists and members of the ‘Sara-Srebrenica’ association sewed over 1,000 protective masks in a very short time. Photo by Ahmedin Đozić/Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

Collectively over 1,000 masks have been sewn and distributed to workers of local shops, pharmacies, older community members, and others, as well as to Srebrenica’s neighboring villages.

Sara-Srebrenica continues to respond to the needs of the local and expanded community working alongside the Red Cross and Civil Protection office in Srebrenica to ensure its resources are accessible to all. As mask production continues, the demand has increased with the implementation of mask-wearing requirements.

“The reason we all got together was to contribute. We wanted to do something concrete and useful, as we always do. We just instinctively reacted. It’s important that we share a spirit of solidarity in these troubling times. We must do everything in our power. I believe that has been the driving force for each and every one of us,” said Gagić-Lazić.

By assisting their neighbors in a time of great need, this innovative group that's helping in a range of capacities is a reminder of the power of determined women to support their communities.

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