Loza Foundation speaks up for the women that survived the rape camps

Sabina Grubbeson, founder of the Loza Foundation, meets one of the women who survived several rape camps during the war in Bosnia.

Project in Bosnia for female war victims:

For more than 20 years, the female survivors of the Bosnian war have been silenced, been told to keep quiet, all alone with their traumatic experiences from rape camps, sexual assaults, torture and humiliating degradation. Loza Foundation feels that this is the time to break down the silence culture and support these women; a project they are starting as a joint venture with the organisation The Power of Women.

“By giving them psychological support as well as providing legal aid at the trials, we will seek redress the grievances and crimes they have suffered”, says Sabina Grubbeson.

Their lives were ruined by the horrors of war. The women that survived the rape and concentration camps during the Bosnian war have suffered in silence mostly due to the shame and guilt that were unjustly put upon them. Many of them have isolated themselves with their traumatic memories or even take their own life.

“Almost 25 years have passed and many of these women are in desperate need of medical and psychological aid, the majority are unemployed and live in poverty. Many have given up hope and their depression is passed on to children and grandchildren. Patterns need to be broken and society putting the lid on things certainly won’t help”, Sabina Grubbeson explains.

A report presented in 2017 by Amnesty International estimates that approximately 20,000 women were subjected to rape and sexual assaults during the Bosnian war, 1992-1995. The report, based on two years of research, shows that the victims are still denied justice. Less than 800 survivors have been given a certain monthly income. And since the war crime trials begun in Bosnia 2004, less than one percent of the total number of sexual assault victims have made it to court.

“Loza Foundation is in the process of developing a joint venture with The Power of Women in order to help the women that have had to endure terrible hardships. Not only by giving mental and financial support, but also by providing legal aid at the trials.”

In her research about survivors of the war, there was one life story that really touched Sabina, and that was the story of Leila, who was 16 when the war broke out. Her life changed dramatically overnight and suddenly not worth more than the packets of cigarettes she was sold for to various military brothels. She was raped day in and day out, was tortured and put through mock executions. Leila survived, but today, two decades later, she is still suffering greatly from her ordeals during the war.

“For some people, the war is over. For us, it has only just begun.” This is the start of the book about Leila and it describes to the reader what happens to a woman, who loses the right to her own body and is put through starvation, torture and degradation. But it also brings up how many women managed to survive the most atrocious crimes against humanity.

Leila has by now turned 42 and lives in a house with her husband and their three children. The memories from the war are still haunting her, but thanks to The Power of Women, she has regained hope and faith in the future. The organisation has helped Leila to get by. She started growing lavender and a donation gave her five beehives. So far she has managed to make a living on lavender soap and selling honey.

“In August 2018, I got to meet Leila and she told me about her experiences. Leila is one of the few, who have stood up for her rights while others have remained silent, paralysed by the emotional traumas they have had to endure. But now, twenty years after the war ended, it seems as though some of these women are ready to speak up, to break the years of silence. Perhaps a certain period of silence is required before the blockages can crack, or perhaps it is just time for action.” Sabina Grubbeson deliberates.

More opportunities are now being made available through Loza Foundation and The Power of Women for private individuals and companies to make donations to the various projects for female war victims in Bosnia.

“We ask for help so that we can support these women and give them the chance of a brighter future. For every year that passes, they lose the hope of ever having their grievances redressed, but they cannot forget what they have been put through. We shouldn’t either”, says Sabina Grubbeson.

”I want to give people a wake-up call”

Photographer Joakim Roos’ thoughts of his work with Loza Foundation:

He has been a professional photographer for 30 years and has visited the Balkans many times. Through his work with Loza Foundation, Joakim Roos is hoping to give his audience an insight into these countries and to document, as candidly as possible, what the situation is really like for some of the most vulnerable women, children and disabled people in Bosnia and Macedonia.

“I hope that my images will touch people, make them engage and give them something to think about.”

How come you started working with Loza Foundation?

“Sabina Grubbeson contacted me regarding the project for disabled people in Demir Kapija, Macedonia. She knew I had spent lots of time photographing in the Balkans and she liked my photos.”

What made you interested in this particular charity organisation?

“Loza is extremely dedicated to their projects and a commitment is there with strong roots in the Balkan region. The projects are relevant and credible. I like that.”

How did this collaboration start?

“We made an outline of how Loza Foundation wants to communicate. I am largely a ‘black and white’ photographer and I shoot mostly documentary images. To my mind, this suits the foundation’s desire to depict a most honest view of what the situation is like on the Balkan Peninsula.”

How many times have you been to the Balkans?

“My first visit to Bosnia was back in 1995 and then I have returned several times in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2004, 2005 and 2013. Apart from those Bosnia visits, I have possibly done 20 trips or so to the other Balkan countries; Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Albania, Romania and Bulgaria. The Balkans is a truly amazing, exciting region. There is constant progression, which is interesting to follow, actively participate in and contribute to through Loza Foundation.”

What was it like to visit the Special Institution at Demir Kapija for the first time?

“It was a real eye-opener and tragic to witness the poor living conditions the disabled people had to cope with. Hidden away from the rest of society. Deficiencies and shortcomings on all levels. I remember thinking this is neither humane nor dignified. The people living here have disabilities that differ vastly and yet they are shoved together in no particular order. It must be very difficult to get to grips with individual needs and to also understand which abilities could benefit the rest of society. Many of the residents should be able to have a meaningful existence in the real world, outside the walls of the institution.”

What message do you want your images from Demir Kapija to convey?

“A sense of vulnerability, but at the same time describe that everyone living there is a part of the human race and ought to have his/her needs taken care of. These people should be seen, accepted, respected and be allowed to participate in society based on each individual’s unique ability.”

What are you working on right now?

“The Bosnia projects are being launched this autumn, 2018. They are primarily linked to people with disabilities, but also include women that were victims of rape during the war (1992-1995). To rebuild your life after a war is a long and difficult process. There are still IDPs (internally displaced people) in Bosnia, people that have ended up in a refugee camp and remained there for more than 20 years. Time is literally standing still and I can see people finding it tough that they cannot return to where they came from or to not be given the opportunity of building a new life for themselves. Many have developed chronic stress symptoms, but with the right form of aid, they can be helped.”

How do you think these meetings with people going through tremendous hardships affect you?

“As I am taking photos, I generally come up close and personal, which makes it harder for me to remain neutral and unaffected. It is tough to meet so many individuals that suffer, but I also feel touched in a positive sense when I see each person’s ability and warmth.”

What happens next?

“Right now I am studying social anthropology and global development at Gothenburg University. To briefly summarize, these courses are aimed at raising cultural awareness and understanding, as well as analysing where the world is heading and what would be a desirable development. Combining photography with the knowledge of what great aid work should look like is exciting.

”We want to give the women left behind in Bosnia the chance of a future”

Dr Branka Antić Štauber (to the left) in one of the 156 refugee camps that still exist in Bosnia.

Loza Foundation has partnered up with an organisation called “Snaga Zene” (The Power of Women):

They have been called “the women that were left behind”. Thousands of widows, mothers, sisters and daughters lost everything in the Bosnian war and still, to this day, live in refugee camps; stuck without the power or possibility to make it back to their home again. 

“We want to help these women to integrate back into society and to be able to support themselves financially. Regain their lives again”, says Sabina Grubbeson, founder of Loza Foundation.

More than 20 years have passed since the Bosnia-Herzegovina war, but the women who were forced to leave their homes, subjected to systematic rapes and who lost their nearest and dearest, are still plagued by horrible memories. During the war, a great number of women and children gathered in refugee camps and many of them are still there today, socially rejected and often extremely poor. The majority are suffering from post-traumatic stress and illnesses as a result of the abuse and experiences during the war. The children, who have grown up in these circumstances, are also deeply affected by the life in these camps where depression and grief are rife.

“The cause of this situation is their fear of returning to their old towns and villages, the fear of meeting their neighbours and villagers that killed their relatives during the war and this fear has turned into them refugees in their own country. Today they live outside the realms of society and have lost their faith in the future”, says Sabina Grubbeson.

Loza Foundation has now ventured into a joint project with Snaga Zene, the Power of Women, an association founded in 1999 in Tuzla a couple of years after the Bosnian war ended and is run by Dr Branka Antić Štauber. The aim is to help the 7,000 thousand women and children that still live in the 156 refugee camps left in Bosnia.

“The Power of Women has developed a successful model that incorporates psychological rehabilitation, legal advice, medical support as well as economic and social support. They, for instance, buy greenhouses for the families and educate them on how to grow their own vegetables and plants. This is so that they can make a living, but also to aid their mental healing.”

Thanks to The Power of Women, so far 300 women from the refugee camps have been able to return to their former home in Srebrenica. The infamous town where more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men were killed in a mass execution in July 1995. An unforgettable, insurmountable trauma one might think, but with the support from this organisation the women have reintegrated into society and made peace with their neighbours.

“One of the women in Srebrenica told us about the fabulous work Dr Branka does and that she, with the help of The Power of Women and her efforts in the greenhouse, has healed her wounds and reconciled with the hardship of her past. Today she can support herself financially by selling her crops and she has regained her faith in the future, which is just amazing to witness”, says Sabina Grubbeson.

The Power of Women is established in 14 towns and cities across Bosnia and their purpose is to help victims from concentration camps, sexual abuse and systematic rapes. By working with the Bosnian organisation, Loza Foundation hopes that more women will be given an opportunity to pursue some form of education and find a way out of the vacuum they have ended up in.

“We hope that these refugee camps will be emptied eventually. Social rejection and discrimination bring hatred, hostility and divergence. Children that grow up in circumstances such as these risk getting off on the wrong foot straight from the start or end up with a skewed view of life. We want to be behind all the women that need help to put their life back together, to give them a chance to succeed and this, in turn, will give the children the chance of a better future.

Through their collaboration with The Power of Women, Loza Foundation has been given access to vulnerable, exposed women in Bosnia, which enables the foundation to support and give them strength in a professional and successful way.

“Now we need private individuals and companies in Sweden to support our work and donate money to the project so that these women and their children, who have already had to endure so much suffering and hardship, can be given a better life.

“For many of these people, the war is still carrying on. We want an end to this.

Suhra standing in front of one of the Snaga Zena greenhouses. She lost 43 members of her family during the Bosnian war and today Suhra has the life of a single mother with four children.
“I have lost my eyesight and nothing matters anymore. It is hard to function properly and run the household once the children have gone to school as I can’t get around on my own.”
One of Suhra’s children is called Amela. She is 18 years old and she dreams of becoming a police officer.
During the war, Devleta stayed at several different detention centers and refugee camps, for instance, one at the airport in Dubrave near Tuzla and another one in the gymnasium of a local school. For the last 14 years, Devleta has lived in a refugee camp with her two sons, who are both unemployed.
“It is hard to forget. I wish these terrible things had never happened and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, not even the people who did this. To be caught in PTSD is something like having a horrendous headache and the pain feels like it could cause the whole world to collapse.”
The children that have grown up in a refugee camp. Many of them have lost their dad or other relatives in the war. They now live in poverty, rejected by society.
Mirsada Gušić next to a flowering aronia bush. “At first, the flowers would not grow, but after a few years they started to flower and I could smile again. Working with the flowers helped me heal and I started to feel better.
Today the women that have returned to Srebrenica work, cook and eat together. You can tell just by looking at us that we are doing well, we’re not skinny anymore”, says Mirsada with a giggle.

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