Working to make a difference in Bosnia

We have returned from Srebrenica, tired but elated, after an amazing week. The whole experience has made me feel very humble.

Srebrenica still bears the scars of the ethnic cleansing, both physically and emotionally, and the atmosphere in the town is very tense.

It was a harrowing and physically demanding week; the time we spent listening to the terrible stories of the returning refugees and the mothers of Srebrenica left us all feeling angry and desolate.

We were grateful to be able to channel our feelings into positive social action and between us managed to deliver a football pitch for a community in the hills, an IT suite for the young people studying at Srebrenica High School team, donations of toys to the kindergarten and special needs school and a new home for a Bozniak family who have been refugees for the past fifteen years. All of our projects were facilitated brilliantly by Lady Nott’s charity, Fund for Refugees, who do such fantastic work in the region.

Our experiences and interaction with the local people have left a lasting impression; it cemented my belief that social action is not just about the structures you build and the walls you paint, it is about the time you spend talking, understanding and building relationships.

Time and again, the local people stressed that the way in which we, as foreigners, could help the most was to tell the story of the horrors of Srebrenica, to remind the world of the genocide, to keep the memories fresh in order to prevent anything like it ever happening again. The situation in Bosnian Herzegovenia is by no means resolved, tension remains and discrimination against the Bosniak people continues: the Grand Mufti of Bosnia Herzegovenia summed it up beautifully; the last thing he said in our meeting with him was ‘Please don’t forget us’.

Thankfully, the mothers of Srebrenica and the local people involved in our projects were reassured to hear William Hague stressing that the Conservative Party recognised the difficulties facing Bosnia Herzegovenia and promising that we would remain focussed on helping to resolve Bosnia’s future both for the benefit of the Bosnian people and the European Union.

Social action projects like Project Maja are invaluable both to the Conservatives involved and to the local communities; they break down barriers, build trust and allow politicians to leave Westminster behind and rediscover why politics matters and what drives them to create change. However, none of these projects would be possible without the help and support of so many different organisations and individuals. Project Maja is indebted to Landrover Jaguar, Microsoft, Mothercare, Woking Football Club, McDonalds, the Co-operative Bank, the FA and RH Freight to name but a few. The generous individuals in Glasgow and London know who they are!

I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to participate in a social action project like Project Maja to seize it, you certainly won’t regret it. (August 10th 2009)