Following the two community music trainings delivered by Musicians without Borders, Almerisa Delic and a team of trainees began conducting workshops in September in the Potocari, Srebrenica, Visca, and Jezevac camps in collaboration with our local partner, Snaga Žene (Women Strength). I traveled to Tuzla at the beginning of October and joined the Snaga Žene team at the camps, taking part in the music activities and observing the reactions of the participating women. While the positive effects of music on the psychological well-being of the women who live in these communities are undeniable, it became obvious that attitudes towards music can differ from woman to woman. We discovered that Almerisa Delic and the young women who join her in the workshops are engaging with these different attitudes in a wonderful way.
After the workshop in Visca, Rahima, one of the participants, shared with us her thoughts on music and why some of her friends did not want to participate in the workshop: “I need music in my life, I want to sing,” she said, “but for many of us here, singing means that we’re celebrating.” For many of those living in the camps, the pain of losing dear ones is still present and the memory of the violence they’ve witnessed is still too strong. Music as an expression of joy does not have a place in their life. After all these years, they are still in mourning.
Almerisa, a long-time collaborator with Musicians without Borders, is aware of these challenges. For this reason, she’s not asking the women to sing or to listen to music. During the workshop, she gradually engaged the women in breathing exercises and simple relaxation movements that help with stress and tension release. By the end of the workshop, the women were creating their own music, using percussion instruments and simple vocal elements. The effects of this process were visible: the women were smiling and looking serene and relaxed. They were clearly enjoying being together as a group, but they weren’t singing – or at least they didn’t realize they were.
The atmosphere in the camp in Jezevac is a bit different, as more women of all ages have begun to participate. Here, some of the older women were, again, reluctant to use their voice, but the younger participants were visibly enjoying the activities. Two of the Snaga Žene team members, who are also part of a folklore group, introduced the steps of a very simple folk dance, while the women were offered the opportunity to accompany with percussion instruments. Shortly thereafter, something beautiful occurred. All the women, including the older ones, stood up and began to dance. As they danced, they sang and they smiled.
This was a wonderful thing to witness, because the transformation of a sad face into a smiling one can surely be attributed to the power of music – music used in a way that those we are working for and with are willing to accept, respecting their personal boundaries and offering it to them as a gift, and not as an imposition.
Iulia Socea is the project manager of MwB’s ‘From Woman to Woman,’ an initiative enabling Bosnian women musicians and dancers to offer their skills and compassionate support to their countrywomen. The project is a collaboration with Snaga Žene, an organization that offers psychological, social, medical, pedagogical and legal support to women, children and adolescents (refugees, returnees and displaced persons) who suffered different traumatic experiences during and after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Iulia reports on the gains that the program has made since its inception.