Who We Are

Čuvaj Se’s Executive Director, Heather Derr-Smith, is an award-winning American poet, the author of four published collections of poetry, and a tireless advocate for refugees and other victims and survivors of violence. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and her MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She writes:

“When I first discovered my vocation as a poet as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, the war in Bosnia had just broken out. I felt compelled to do something, so in the summer of 1994, I volunteered in a refugee camp in Gasinci, Croatia, delivering humanitarian aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina and teaching English and creative writing to refugees who had escaped the worst war crimes on European soil since World War II. I recognized a resistance movement in Sarajevo committed to anti-fascism, and I made a promise then to stand with the people in solidarity to build a multi-cultural, multi-confessional democratic country. It’s been more than twenty years since the war, and the work continues.

Since the 1990’s, I have spent my life writing and publishing and traveling to conflict zones and post-conflict zones to share poetry and connect with other writers and activists resisting oppression and violence. I have had the privilege to build relationships with some of the most amazing people and organizations working hard to make the world better, more just, and kind.

In September 2017 I established Čuvaj Se as a nonprofit to seek partnerships and funding for more projects that will support poets and writers, students, activists and organizations on the ground in communities affected by conflict.

I’ve been doing work in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Syria, Jordan, Estonia, and Eastern Ukraine and have projects planned in Kurdistan. Čuvaj Se does poetry and creative writing workshops at all levels and grades, English as a second language workshops, critical thinking and media literacy workshops, pro-democracy and human rights seminars and workshops, and LGBTQ+ workshops. We also seek to support translation projects, new publishing presses, and emergency relief for students and writers caught in conflict zones or the international refugee/migration crisis.

If you are interested in supporting this work or partnering with our organization please contact me at heatherderrsmith@cuvajse.org or hsmithwdm@gmail.com.”

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Čuvaj Se’s assistant managing director is teacher, scholar, and writer Tom Simpson, an instructor in religious diversity, global ethics, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy. He has taught there since 2008. From 2002 to 2004, he directed Emory University’s Journeys of Reconciliation, an interdisciplinary travel program exploring the global intersections of religion, conflict, and peacebuilding. That program brought him to Bosnia-Herzegovina for the first time. He has been there five times since, most recently in March 2017 to assist the TPO Foundation with the development of critical thinking and writing curriculum for youth in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

V. B. Borjen on Twitter: "Brava, @Hderrsmith 💛… "

V. B. Borjen (b.1987) writes in two languages and reads in four. His short stories, essays, articles and literary translations have appeared in various Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Hungarian, and Montenegrin magazines and dailies. The manuscript of his first poetry collection Priručnik za levitiranje (Levitation Manual) won the prestigious Mak Dizdar Award in 2012 and was published the following year to significant acclaim. In the same year his poem “Momento mori” was published in Hypothetical: A Review of Everything Imaginable, followed by a (still informative) interview. He is a doctoral candidate and lives in the Czech Republic, where he reads (on the trams, the trains, the street corners, in the cafes, on the toilet, between the lessons, while queuing or doing the washing up) and writes, Tumblrs his favourite literature and art and Instagrams his own ink drawings and silliness. Tweets as well, but too sporadically. He assists Cuvaj se as a writer, poet, scholar, artist, researcher, and translator.

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Adnan Kurtagic is a writer, activist, and musician based in Bihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He has a Bachelor of English Language and Literature from the University of Bihac. in 2019 Kurtagic was a volunteer with the Red Cross working directly with refugees and immigrants in a migrant camp in Bihac. He is now based in the Red Cross office as project manager, volunteer coordinator and team leader. Adnan has been translating poems from English into BCS for Čuvaj Se and is passionate about exapanding our programming in Bihac and the region. You can follow him at twitter @pretenderus Instagram @adnan.kurtagic facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adnan.kurtagic and YouTube: Adnan Kurtagic.

Dženita Purić was born on October 26, 1996 in Velika Kladuša. She has a bachelor of English
language and literature from the University of Bihac and currently taches English online at Engoo.  She is an aspiring actress and loves painting, filmmaking and photography.  She brings these gifts and more to Cuvaj se programming and is excited about leading workshops in Bihac and beyond. You can find her and some of her work at Facebook: Dzenita Puric https://www.facebook.com/dzenita.puric/ Instagram:
dzenitapuric16 https://www.instagram.com/dzenitapuric16/ and YouTube: Dzenita Puric https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn9yvF5QdWlCT5DqwybDjvQ?view_as=subscriber

Owen Smith, IT and Administrative Assistant: Owen smith is a recent graduate of Walnut Creek High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. He’s spending a gap year interning with Cuvaj se and hopes to study education at university. He traveled in 2016 to Bosnia as an assistant to the director. Owen loves VR, animals, and travel.