Workshops in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Cuvaj Se is a new organization, just started in September 2017. But I have been working in conflict zones and post conflict-zones since 1994. I began as a volunteer while still an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. The war in Bosnia broke out a the same time that I had found my calling as a poet in Rita Dove’s undergraduate poetry workshop.

As a young person I had never really been what’s commonly thought of as politically conscious. I had grown up in a home that was very conservative politically and religiously, and home was also a place of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. So the closest thing I had to political consciousness was rebellion against my family, and I actually believe that counts. I revolted against everything I learned there and found new learning in literature and in the hardcore punk scene originating from Washington DC at the time, in the mid-80’s and extending down into rural Virginia. I ran away from home as a teenager and found political expression in the art and literature and music I shared with my friends who became an ad hoc family.

When I finally got to college after a few years of struggle, I took poetry workshops with Rita Dove and Charles Wright and Greg Orr, and it was there that I decided on a vocation.

But at the same time the war in Bosnia was on the front pages of the New York Times and the nightly news and it really grabbed a hold of me. I couldn’t turn away from what was happening and I felt compelled to respond personally.

I saw through the propaganda and spin of the times, maybe because I had grown up with abuse, I could recognize spin and lies, but I knew then that what was happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina was genocide, the genocide of Muslims by mostly Serbian and Croat nationalists and that Sarajevo represented a true resistance movement defending a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional democratic country called Bosnia-Herzegovina. I made a commitment then to that project and I am committed to it for the rest of my life. And I believe that moment in history was a turning point and a crossroads for so much that came after,the slow dissolution of the post-WWII liberal order, 9/11 and the present era of Trump and rising nationalism and fascism around the world.

I started in a refugee camp in Gasinci, Croatia, delivering humanitarian aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina, collecting war crimes reports, teaching English and playing games with children who had fled the worst war crimes on European soil since the various catastrophes of Europe in the 1940’s.  I took the idea of “Never Again” seriously and personally and vowed to always be present, to witness and to walk beside survivors of genocide to the best of my ability.

I started Cuvaj se to partner with organizations all over the world struggling for democracy and for human rights and especially to support writers in these places to continue the work of writing as a form of resistance to fascism and oppression everywhere.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is the first place I went and continues to be the heart and soul of my work. From LGBTQ workshops, to Critical Thinking and Media Literacy, high school intro to poetry workshops, translation work, readings, advanced graduate seminars, you can find any number of projects happening in the region and expanding into other areas of the globe. Write me for more information or to coordinate new projects at hsmithwdm@gmail.com or heatherderrsmith@cuvajse.org

 

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Image: Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

 

Workshops in Sarajevo

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Poetry student at First Sarajevo Gymnasium

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Workshops in Mostar

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Workshops in Tuzla

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heather and croatian writer