In Bosnia and Herzegovina, many children attend classes in the same building, but are physically separated by a dividing wall; children from different ethnic groups must enter the school through separate doors. Although more than two decades have passed since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting inter-ethnic war, separation between Serbian (Orthodox), Bosnian (Muslim) and Croatian (Catholic) ethnic groups continues to this day.
In November, thanks to support from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, facilitators from PPI’s Sports and Peace Innovation Network (SPIN) traveled to Vlasic, Bosnia to see how sport could play a role in bringing these groups together. At a sports facility in the Vlasic mountains, PPI Chief Programs Officer, Gunnar Hagstrom, PPI – Northern Ireland International Fellow, Joe Smith, and PPI – Cyprus Coordinator, Stephanie Nicolas, came together with 20 Serbian, Bosnian and Croat coaches and teachers to learn how sport has been used in some of the world’s toughest conflict areas.
For Stephanie Nicolas it was a life changing experience:
“For me, it was the first time that I was actually facilitating a session, not to mention being in a new country speaking a different language. It was nerve-racking, but it improved me both as a person and as a facilitator. The world is filled with people that want to improve not only themselves but also the communities they live in. It gives you a new perspective of life and how lucky we are to have these experiences. I look forward to being able to lead more training sessions with our own participants, and help them develop as future leaders on the island of Cyprus. ”
For first time trainer, Joe Smith, one participant stood out in particular:
“Near the end of the training, one trainee, Dzenan Suta, told me about his own attempts to use sport to bridge divides in his hometown of Mostar, a place where Bosniaks and Croats are still segregated, and the “two schools under one roof” phenomenon is an unfortunate reality. We brainstormed for hours about what a cross-ethnic sport program might look like in Bosnia, what role Dzenan and other participants could play in it, and how the training had shown the tremendous potential when likeminded individuals work together. I left excited to continue to build the relationships that were built that weekend, and look forward to the opportunities that are on the horizon in Bosnia.”
PPI – SPIN will return to Bosnia in early 2016 with the hopes of bringing youth from around the country together to play on mixed basketball teams “with each other” while being coached by the local coaches from the inaugural PPI-SPIN training.