According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), over half of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population lives in pastoral, rural areas of the former Yugoslav state. Despite being far away from urbanized areas, such as Sarajevo, inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s countryside are not without access to services in their local area, with most being close to a doctors’ practice, primary school, grocery store and post office. However, rural income is low, unemployment is rife, and the overall rural poverty rate is far higher than that of city dwellers. A lack of governmental attention on the systemic issues of poverty has caused three aid organizations to take matters into their own hands and support the parents and children who are most affected by poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Idyllic Surroundings, Idle Realities
As it continues to patiently await its membership to the European Union (EU), Bosnia and Herzegovina, without the additional perks of affinity, is equally experiencing the continental rising prices of food and other household essentials, alongside the soaring fuel and electricity prices that come with having the EU as its largest trading partner.
With only 53% of rural households earning an income from employment and 50% receiving social benefits from the state, the already fragile conditions of those on or below the poverty line, most prominently in towns and villages, have worsened, leaving mothers and children, in particular, to succumb to the harsh effects of poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A survey in 2013 found that the disadvantages of rural life are felt most in education and employment, with small towns and villages being most at risk of social and political exclusion by way of the absence of economic opportunities and effective welfare programs.
In 2017, the Obraduj Nekoga Foundation was created in Sarajevo to provide support across Bosnia and Herzegovina for struggling families, focusing on delivering supplies and food for the children of the families most impacted by rural poverty. From Trebević to Vlasić, many organization members venture over mountains and travel for long hours daily to provide aid and advice to families in the countryside.
Since there are very few jobs in both the private and public sectors, many parents can only find work in summer, either picking raspberries or strawberries in the fields. Only able to work for one season out of the year, families must use their savings sparingly, and children are often left short of their necessities, such as nappies and formula, as well as toys and games.
With the help of donations and volunteers, Obraduj Nekoga has helped to feed hungry families in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s towns and villages, promoted the healthy growth and steady development of children and mitigated the effects of rural poverty.
Charity Bosnian Kids
Similarly, Charity Bosnian Kids was set up in 2018 to target the food insecurity experienced by many families across Bosnia and Herzegovina, an issue highlighted by the fact that most children “consume at least half of their meals at school” and those meals “may be the only food they regularly eat.” Many of these families are located in towns and villages where access to employment and regular income is virtually impossible, so schools become the only way children can maintain a regular, healthy diet.
In the school year 2022/2023, Charity Bosnian Kids provided 445 children a daily school lunch and a total of €51,873 was donated across 2021/2022. The organization also combats poverty through its Food at Home for Bosnian Families program, where donations are used to create and send food packages to families so that they have access to necessities.
SOS Children’s Villages
SOS Children’s Villages ensures orphaned or abandoned children are cared for. The organization primarily adopts a preventative approach by giving Bosnian families access to counseling to encourage them to stay together if it is safe to do so, thereby reducing the number of children who are abandoned by their families due to economic or social pressures that are synonymous with poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As the level of school attendance is extremely low for rural children, many young people from Bosnia’s countryside end up lacking qualifications, which makes it more challenging to break the cycle of poverty. SOS Children’s Villages aims to intercept this cycle by strengthening families through legal and psychological support and creating sponsorships for children to complete their studies. The organization currently has 8962 beneficiaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, all on the journey to a better and brighter future.
Where state welfare programs are lacking, aid organizations work hard to alleviate poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Obraduj Nekoga, Charity Bosnian Kids and SOS Children’s Villages have all sought to ensure that children and families are receiving the necessities that they cannot afford, alleviating the food insecurity dimension of poverty to the best of their ability. While this does not tackle the systemic roots of poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina, these three organizations have improved the livelihoods of thousands of citizens in a short period, making a significant impact with small sums of donations, thus pointing to the level of change that can be achieved through the selflessness and determination of charities.
– Zara Brown