BHCrafts: a three years long weekend, a war and a social business
In a Friday in April, 1992, Lejla Radoncic left Sarajevo to visit her husband in Tuzla, 122km away from the Bosnian capital. But the weekend lasted way longer than expected: three years. What might sound like heaven, was actually pure agony. The day after Lejla’s crossing, was the day the siege of Sarajevo began, and from that April to December 1995, the city turned upside down in a war that, 20 years after its ending, still shows open wounds in people who lost a relative and scars on the pavements in the city center, with its “roses”.
History goes that in the capital, even in the toughest times, no light, no water, no power, people tried to keep their normal lives. Adults kept going to work, children would go to school, theatre plays went on improvised, candle lights on, as a display of resistance. A resistance sel-attributed to Sarajevans’ resilience.
There are the ones who say that in crises lie opportunities. Lejla took it to the edge when she was working for a Norwegian foundation that helped war victims. In the refugee camps, Lejla discovered the talent of refugee women for crafts and also found out that creating a business could point to solutions for these who thought to have lost a battle they didn’t fight.
We spoke to Lejla in a café neighbouring BHCrafts’ shop, which operates in a busy corner of old Sarajevo. Although not big, the space stands out with its windows displaying toys, clothes and other handmade, colorful items, that distune from so many other souvenirs that look like ‘made in Istanbul’, for sale along the cobble-stoned alleys. Before sitting and starting, she fits a hood and a scarf in a dummy and tells the shop assistant that she’d be right back.
However, she assures that empowering these women goes beyond the finance. “They gain confidence, dignity, they start building something for their own”, she Radoncic explains. This is why each and every BHCrafts’ product comes with a signed label, identifying who made that by hand. “We receive thanking letters, addressed to the names on the labels. It is an important work of appreciation, we pass the messages forward and they get very happy. What we do is sending their names to the world”. And by doing so with labels and names, Lejla and her BHCrafts build a new happy chapter in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tough history.
You can read more about us at www.bhcrafts.org
The care towards the shop and the workers seems to be the basis for Lejla’s work, from the start to date, more than two decades later. “I didn’t know that I could be doing something social when I started, I simply followed my intuition that this could work. It was a good way to offer these women the possibility to stop only thinking about what was going on, that they were at home, losing their beloved ones and start preparing them to earn their own money, to stop relying on financial aid and donations”, she tells us.