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1999 NCC News Archives

Multi-Ethnic, Interfaith Staff, Partnerships Mark CWS Bosnia Work
Stories from CWS Executive Director’s Recent Visit to Refugee Camps, Rebuilding Projects

July 2, 1999, NEW YORK – Church World Service work in Bosnia models cooperation across ethnic and religious differences at the same time as it wrestles with the deep divisions in the region. So reported the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, CWS Executive Director, following a mid-June visit, during which he kept an eye on how the Bosnia experience might soon inform rebuilding and reconciliation efforts in Kosovo.

Church World Service – the humanitarian response ministry of the National Council of Churches, with 35 U.S. Protestant and Orthodox member communions – works cooperatively in Bosnia with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim groups along with the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Swiss Labor Federation and Bosnian ministries of Agriculture and of Labor and Social Care.

Its Bosnia program is part of a multi-faceted, region-wide CWS response anticipated to reach $3.4 million by late summer.

The CWS Bosnia staff includes Muslim and Christian, Serb and Croat, who "work together and even pray together. Our staff represent the diversity of the region and are working for building up of the whole region," said Dr. Page, who traveled with Dr. Rhonnie Hemphill, Director of the CWS Community Education and Fund-Raising Program, Elkhart, Ind., and two CWS donors: the Trull Foundation, Palacios, Texas, represented by Colleen Claybourn, a Presbyterian who chairs the foundation’s board, and Dr. S. Huw Anwyl, Senior Minister and Chief Executive Officer, Shepherd of the Hills, a partnership of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Laguna Niguel, Calif.

They visited three refugee camps, each accommodating between 1,000 and 1,500 people, near Sarajevo. The camps house recent refugees from Kosovo along with other refugees from the region, including long-term refugees from the Bosnia/Herzegovina conflict.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) carries primary responsibility, and Church World Service has provided bedding, health and school kits, and baby food to the crowded but "clean and well-ordered" camps and to "collection centers" that offer more permanent housing for Bosnians awaiting reintegration.

The group continued on to witness several reintegration "success stories" – people who have benefited from CWS micro-enterprise loans. "We were heartened to see how these projects are bringing hope, life and new beginnings for people," Dr. Hemphill said.

Loan recipients repay in-kind, not in cash. The group met:

The CWS group also delivered "Tools of Hope" to a village – half Croat, half Muslim – outside of Mostar. The scythes, axes, sickles and wheelbarrows "allow them to begin farming again."

While at the village, the CWS group heard the story of two neighbors, a Serb and a Muslim. When as part of another micro-enterprise project a hog was offered to the Serb, "he declined, because he thought it was disrespectful of his Muslim neighbor," Dr. Hemphill recounted.

Added Dr. Page, "We heard that Muslims and Serbs who were together in one refugee camp had to be separated when tensions flared. On the other hand, we heard stories of Serbs protecting Muslims and of Muslims protecting Serbs. There is bridge-building going on between religious and ethnic groups. Many of our projects help in that work because they aim not only to restore self-worth and economic success, but to restore community."

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