Bosnian Woman Becomes Agent of Change

PVE community action in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A USAID program to prevent violent extremism at work in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Amra Bjelincevic, community liaison for USAID Preventing Violent Extremism program
Defeating violent extremism before it takes root
“I realized that the negative energy many of us feel can be used in a more positive way.”

April 2018—The struggle to find a good job is difficult and disheartening for young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where an unfortunate 57 percent of youth are unemployed. This can have devastating consequences: It can kill their desire to address other issues in their lives, harm their relationships with friends and family, and make them vulnerable to negative external influences.

Selma*, an unemployed 23-year-old woman in Tuzla, had long struggled to find work, and at one point she stopped looking entirely. Her life lacked structure, and she began to lose hope. She was, however, still open to new opportunities, which she demonstrated when she started coming to USAID-supported community workshops aimed at helping at-risk youth.

A relatively high number of BiH citizens proportionate to the population have left the country to become foreign fighters in ongoing conflicts, showing that local youth are at risk of being radicalized.

USAID works with youth, parents and communities to teach them how to recognize signs of radicalization and extremist messages to prevent them from ever taking root. USAID helps young people at risk of radicalization and other extremist influences to resolve conflicts and overcome obstacles in their lives.

Through USAID’s MovieEQ workshops in Tuzla, experienced teams of psychologists worked with Selma and others to reduce their risk of instability and increase their resilience to radical views. Selma got to work on herself, but also got to hear and better understand the perspectives of her peers.

“Participation in MovieEQ left a strong impression on me,” Selma said. “During the workshop, I learned new things about myself. I learned that I am more creative than I thought. And I learned about the mistakes I make in human interactions. I realized that the negative energy many of us feel can be used in a more positive way.”

She realized upon completing the workshop that she was far more creative than she had originally thought, and used her newfound confidence and positivity to create her own business making handmade soap from goat’s milk. By defeating social exclusion and unemployment, Selma has found a newfound sense of belonging and has channeled her talents in a positive direction.

“Now that I have my own business, I am meeting new people and feel more fulfilled and useful to the community I live in,” Selma said.

Her ability to reflect on herself allowed Selma to improve her relationships, creating longer, more stable friendships, which have also benefited her business. As someone who has gone through the workshop, she is dedicated to drawing more young people in.

Offering young people like Selma a deeper understanding of themselves and the lift of hope is a key objective of USAID’s Preventing Violent Extremism project. She is one of 1,300 youth in 15 at-risk municipalities targeted for assistance by the project. The program, which runs from 2015 through September 2018, is designed to help communities disrupt the radicalization process in its early stages, one person at a time.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Last updated: April 04, 2018

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