"They brought me back to life ..."

Therapy groups in SEKA-House
Participants tell about their experience

In 2000, three therapy groups for 12 women each took place in SEKA House. The participants were all staff from different projects situated in Bosnia-Herzegovina (federation and Republika Srpska), and Croatia. As always in SEKA, the participants had different national and religious backgrounds. Each group met on three dates in SEKA. The groups were instructed by experienced therapists: Edita Ostojic and Nurka Babovic for group 1, (both from the women therapy centre Medica Zenica), Marijana Senjak and Nurka Babovic (both from Medica Zenica as well) for group 2, and Nermina Vehabovic-Rudez and Efedina Jamakovic-Cehajic (both Medica Visoko) for group 3. Three participants wrote down their impressions and experience in their therapy group for us.

bibliotherapy seminar

Vesna S. has survived war and persecution as member of a minority in the Republika Srpska (the part of Bosnia-Herzegovina that is still dominated by Serbian nationalists). She writes:

The worst part, the war and post-war years, lays behind now. I have got through them - as a woman, a mother, a wife.
Many things are over now, but I still have to deal with many things day by day and live with them: Live with the fact that I lost my job which I loved and did with all my heart, (...), live with the fact that almost my whole family had to flee - my relatives, my friends - most now living far away in other countries. I had to get used to a life under totally different conditions in suddenly strange - well, rather hostile - surroundings. Because this is not the building, the street or the city anymore I used to live in before the war. I have new neighbours, new fellow citizens... . I rarely meet somebody I can greet, even more scarcely someone I can really talk to. The former connections - friendships, relationships - are cut, in some cases forever, in other cases former relations should be given the chance to be re-established in a common daily life. But it is never going to be the same again... .
As a generally happy person, I became sad and disappointed by all what had happened, but I am still very convinced that I want to stay here, that I must stay here and claim my space. Being in this mood, I receive an invitation to participate in a group in SEKA-House. I accept!
I go on the (long) journey with mixed feelings: How will it be to travel from the Republika Srpska through the Federation to Croatia for the first time? Will the other women there accept me?
Every one of us has her own experience with war she has lived through on the contrary side. Every one of us has her personal fears, her traumata.
Will we be able to overcome this and spend some time in a tolerant atmosphere together?
All my doubts and fears drown in the blue sea as I meet "my Semsa" on the ferry, and on exiting the ferry on the island of Brac, when I meet "my Borka", and afterwards meet Gabi, Mirjana, and Goga. The real surprise is yet to come: With a later ferry, Zeljana, Ankica, and Sejada arrive, and in the evening I get to know the rest of the group members, a group we will later on name "the sea surges": Sanja, Zamfira, Sadeta, Sefika, and Vahida.
Women from the federation Bosnia-Herzegovina, from the Republika Srpska and from Croatia: Together at one place, happily joined, there is laughter, jokes, songs, conversation and dancing - you have to live and see that.

lively mood when dancing in the evening

I would like to mention our cooks Marija and Fani as well, and certainly our group instructors, Edita, and Nurka. So many different women at one place and such a wonderful atmosphere: trust, friendship, mutual support.
Every one of the 4 group meetings in SEKA has made me richer, stronger, and closer to my own feelings. I have worked on myself, got to know myself better. I have looked for the unconscious strength in me and have found it. I have learnt from the other's experience, learnt from their life. At the same time, I shared my confidence, my feelings, my life with them; because I knew that here in this place, with these women, I would find what I had lost and would rebuild what had been destroyed in me.
And I was right. I found a sort of inner centre, a nucleus where I can return to, when things are hard on me, when a situation seems hopeless, when I am in need of advice. Then I remember us, remember our stories, our conversations, us being together, our songs, our laughter. I realize that I have changed. I am more aware of my strength, my possibilities, my skills - and I have 16 friends more now. These encounters in kuca SEKA have changed my life, have made me richer and more filled - as a woman, a mother, a wife.

Therefore I would like to say THANK YOU TO EVERYONE! And there's a thing to add: This is difficult to write down, you have to be part of it!

Another participant, Semsa B., who survived the 11 months lasting encirclement and blockade of Stari Vitez in a cellar with her children, writes:

Dear Gabi,
I am no authoress, but I tried to write down what I really feel about all of you with all my heart and soul. In my mind, I am often on Brac, when here in my birthplace Stari Vitez it snows and hard winters are reigning. Please understand if I don't find the right words to describe my feelings: All this beauty I have lived to see every time I came to you to kuca SEKA. But I will try now:
After the 11 months lasting blockade of my birthplace Stari Vitez, which we survived what is almost a miracle, the women of the therapy centre Medica have begun to come to Stari Vitez to offer us help on initiative of the psychiatrist Dr. Sabic. Due to this, we women realized that we are not alone and not totally forgotten. Inspired by the meetings with the Medica staff, we finally founded our organisation "Starevitezanke" (=women of Stari Vitez). Via Dr. Sabic we came into contact with kuca SEKA on Brac. Women and children from Stari Vitez could go to kuca SEKA for recreation in summer 1998. The children and we women will never forget this recreational stay for our entire life.
After my returning home, unfortunately my life and my family's changed again: It is very hard to survive, my husband was unemployed and then I lost my job as well. Apart from this, we have a strongly handicapped son. Already during the war, I had lost all hope. Even after the war as well, I was unable to sleep for many nights. I was in a very bad state.
Then we received an invitation for a new seminar in SEKA. The others said I should go, that I needed it most badly. I had doubts whether I should go and leave my family alone. But my colleagues from Starevitezanke encouraged me, and my children were really pushing me to go. Therefore I did go - for the first time in my 44 years long lifetime travelling on my own. That was on October 31 of 1999, and the invitation said there will be another eleven women and that two therapists would lead the group.
After a long journey, I arrived in the afternoon at this magic place kuca SEKA with its "good fairies" who receive any woman like a close relative.
I can hardly believe - as lost as I feel - that I am really at this place again. The five days with the group and our common work go by flying.
We say good-bye with tears in our eyes, but hoping to see each other again in February 2000. The following three months I keep thinking of all the beauty and the warmth of these women who accepted me so openly. Being together with them felt as if the same mother had born us.
Then the next seminar came, our being together again, the exercises we had worked out together to get to know each other and ourselves better.
Every single story, every painful experience we had hidden deep in our soul, was brought to daylight by everyone's empathy.
All shattering experience I have had I my life and about which I could not talk as a woman in the surroundings I live in, came floating out just like that, and I put them in order inside of me, one after the other, every time I came into the seminar. They didn't hurt so much anymore, they were part of my life, but didn't torture me any longer. It all goes by itself, the soul talks without being asked to.
The women of my group - the group instructors, the SEKA-women, they all are so close to me, like relative souls, I will never forget them. They have brought me back to life. Every time the date for another seminar came closer, my children were more than happy. Especially my younger son who had been to kuca SEKA himself kept on talking about the beauty he had lived to see there.
My children are always more than happy when I come back from seminars. Then they keep on telling me what a different kind of Mom I am and that I am not so broody anymore and that laughter has returned to my face.
And believe me, I see life different now, because of the pure thought that, if it's hard on you, then there are these dear people on Brac in kuca SEKA you can call and tell them what hurts you and tortures you, and they will comfort you, just like your mother.

therapy group 2 (2000), training: "to overcome the wall"

Therefore I thank first God and then Gabi, Mirjana, Edita, Nurka and the best group of women that made up the wonderful song: "The sea surges - you know that you know".
Every time my heart is full of sorrow, I withdraw, take the photos from Brac and look at them for hours and hours. Afterwards all my duties in the family are easy to fulfil, because those memories bring me back to life, support me to go on fighting to keep the children on the right path, so that they get a good school degree and become honourable citizens.
And every thought of kuca SEKA and the women who work there, encourages me to live and gives me hope to go on, hope that things will get better and that not everything is dark.
After these seminars, I'm a strong, self-conscious woman. And therefore I will be grateful as long as I live to the women in kuca SEKA - this magic place, in Splitska, on Brac.
My dearest: Gabi, Mirjana, Goga, Zeljana, Marija, and Fani Many regards from Semsa and her family!!!

A third participant, Fatima O. from Donji Vakuf, writes:

I live in a small town, Donji Vakuf in central Bosnia-Herzegovina, where I used to work as a nurse in the local health centre.
At the beginning of 1992, I had to leave my house and my town and flee with my children. Until the ends of 1993, I was in Croatia. During this period, I received no news about my husband or the rest of my family, I didn't know what had happened to them, whether they were still alive.
Almost all Moslems had been expelled from Donji Vakuf by then. (Before the war the town had a population of 24000 people, among them 14000 Moslems.) In 1992, only 59 Moslems had stayed in town (either because they were very old or ill or because they belonged to mixed families), all the others were either expelled or murdered.
Life in Croatia - alone with my three children, 16, 12, and 8 years old - was very difficult for me, not having the financial means for the most basic needs. The children weren't allowed to go to school, because they didn't have "Domovnice". That was psychically hard to bear for me, because all three of them had been very good students in Bosnia. In autumn 1993, we had to leave Croatia, no matter where to, because in Bosnia it had come to fights between Croats and Moslems, and we weren't safe in Croatia anymore.
I didn't care about life at all during that time and I sometimes thought that death would be the only salvation for my children and me, but ... in the end, the fight for maintaining my children was stronger than all suffering.
We then began our way into the unknown, and after three days finally ended up in Switzerland. We were safe there for the time being. But the pain and sorrow caused by the uncertainty about what might have happened to my husband, my sister, my brother and his family became worse every day. I was psychically in a very bad state and had severe crises several times.
As the Dayton treaty was signed and it became possible to return to Bosnia, I went back with my two daughters, whilst my son stayed with a Suisse family to finish school. In Bosnia, a destroyed house in a destroyed town was waiting for us, and nothing was like it used to be. It was a new shock, a life without hope for a better future - how long would it take to build up something again?
At this time, the Moslem and Croatian pre-war population began to return to my town, whereas the Serbs were leaving. Everything was different. They wouldn't give me my job back, because I had not stayed during the war, but had tried to save my children's and my own life.
I then tried to find other women who think like me. We quickly got organized and started to clean the town from rubble and trash and to beautify it in order to put up resistance to destruction and depression. Then we founded a women's organisation and called it "Anima", that means "soul". This name is a symbol for "human being", because in my town, there are not many things done for people's souls, better put, nothing is done. We therefore aimed to support especially women and children.
As we received the invitation from kuca SEKA from Brac that one of us could come to Brac to participate in a group seminar for psychological support, I signed up for the group. I saw that as a chance to "throw out" all the negativity that had piled up inside of me during the years, and to again become the person I used to be before the war: cheerful, happy, full of self-confidence, committed to community, and able to appreciate little things. These expectations already fulfilled by my first stay on Brac.
These four days of our first seminar in May on the island of Brac, together with eleven other women from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina and two therapists from Medica Visoko, were exactly what I had been looking for for so long, but had never known that I would find it there.
We intensively worked for six hours every day in the group. After the first group seminar (of altogether three) I recognized in myself the person I had been looking for: my dream had become true, my self-confidence and my faith in me and in other people have returned.
Until then, I had not managed to carry out a single project, because I always said to myself, "well, this isn't going anywhere anyway and I'm probably wasting my time".
After coming back from Brac, I wrote and handed in the project "computer course for women" and committed myself to fundraising for it. And we got it funded, as well as three other projects we will carry out in 2001.
I have learnt and personally gained so much from my stays on Brac and in kuca SEKA. As I came back for the second seminar in SEKA, I was so glad to see my friends again I had got to know here and to whom I had opened my heart. Until then, I had never done that anytime or anywhere, it was totally new to me, and that's why I was so happy! I have learnt to share with friends the difficult things and the bad experience, too.
The November seminar (the third and last one) was connected with grief and joy, because I don't like separations and good-byes, they are really difficult for me. I have experienced the work in the group and the work on myself as a cleaning of my soul, liberating from all that has hindered me to move forward and to realize that I don't need to work as a nurse my whole life, that there are other things I can do even better. I'm very happy that I walk into our organisation's office with greater élan now after having attended a computer course and create new activities together with 30 other women.

The Therapy Group 3 (2001)

I'm grateful to all those who made it possible for me to attend these seminars, and I would wish that every woman could participate in such a seminar to find a cure for her hurt soul so it can heal.
I would like to emphasize how important it was to me to meet the SEKA-staff who have a very positive influence on the participants' psyche: Gabriela, Mirjana, Gordana, Marija, and Fani. They are creators of all the positive things we receive in kuca SEKA, too.

I thank you all.
Fatima O.


Donji Vakuf is a small town in central Bosnia that was conquered and re-captured by changing war parties several times during the war and finally got totally destroyed. Only after the Dayton treaty, parts of the original population began to return.

Domovnica = A certificate introduced under Tudman, certifying "ethnic belonging to the Croatian people". Without this certificate, no rights were granted whatsoever.