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Church World Service Balkans Program Helps Rebuild Lives 

August 16, 2000, NEW YORK CITY -- In 1992, Dzevad Avdagic was a soldier in the Bosnian Army, fighting in a war that pitted Bosnians, Serbs and Croats against one another and capturing the attention of the world.  But following the war, the Sarajevo-born Muslim began to perceive a new plight linking all in the former Yugoslavia. 

“The war destroyed our lives, our friendships and our very good memories,” he said. “But a new fight has started in Bosnia…a fight for survival.  We need to work together to live.”   

Avdagic's insight eventually led him to join the staff of the Church World Service Balkans Program in 1996.  Now the program's project manager, he is working to help residents rebuild their houses, their fields and their lives. 

Avdagic recently visited the New York office of Church World Service, while escorting several Bosnian children to a trauma-relief camp in Arkansas.  The camp brings young survivors of Bosnia’s war together with survivors of U.S. school shootings. 

The CWS Balkans Program distributes food and agricultural tools.  Through "Payback" programs, CWS loans agricultural equipment and materials to farmers, then the farmers donate one-third of their earnings to their community. CWS also helps returnees rebuild their houses.  “It’s a cycle,” said Avdagic. “We are supporting them step by step.”   

People returning to their homes find a whole new horror, he commented, showing a photograph of a home left with only one standing wall. “They only find bricks.  How do they survive that?  I’m afraid it will be a long-term process.” 

Avdagic, 47, is hopeful that tensions can be relieved among Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. He said this process can be easiest for his generation, who lived peacefully in an ethnically diverse society for nearly 10 years.  “We know how good life is with [ethnically] mixed people…working and living together.  We must win.  Then everyone can understand and learn to support multiethnic communities,” he said.


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