Plums are probably Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most famous and popular fruit. Each year, tons of them are exported all over Europe and even as far as Russia. My wife and I recently had the pleasure to visit the 38th annual “Plum Festival,” otherwise known as the Gradacac Agriculture and Food Products Fair. Dozens of farmers, agricultural product enterprises, and many others exhibited their products and competed for prizes. Gradacac is a beautiful, historic city in the rolling hills of northern Bosnia. USAID has supported many agricultural projects in this region including a project to help disabled farmers and a microcredit program for women farmers.
Every mayor I have met in Bosnia and Herzegovina has made clear the serious economic challenges they face, especially insufficient funding, high unemployment, and the lack of economic activity. The best of these mayors turn these challenges into opportunities. USAID’s GAP program has worked with participating municipalities to improve government facilities. The municipalities must provide matching funding to construct or restore government facilities that improve services to local citizens and respond to the needs of the communities.
We also met with the leaders of several NGOs, who like many others I have met, are working hard to serve their communities. We are pleased to assist such organizations, which – in the case of this trip – support the needs of Roma women, provide microcredit to women farmers, offer psychological and other support to women traumatized by horrific events during the war, provide essential assistance to land mine victims and other community activities. I salute these and the many other dedicated citizens who work hard every day with little or no compensation to serve their fellow citizens.
Finally, we met with five young residents of Tuzla who had participated in U.S. Embassy-sponsored academic programs for professors at American universities or had lived for a year with American families and attended high schools. The professors told us how their experiences were helping them to improve teaching methods and approaches. The two high school students described how their experiences had changed their lives. One of them told us she now planned to run for president of BiH one day!
From high school students to elected city mayors, it’s wonderful to meet people like this who are passionate about using their skills to build a brighter future here. I’m eager to learn from others in BiH who are working creatively to solve problems in their own communities. Feel free to share examples in the comments section of this blog.