Build a house for the future

Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina

A project that gives employees the opportunity to involve themselves directly in Srebrenica. The house-building week in Bosnia is an integral part of the education for trainees from the Hilti facility in Thüringen.

Srebrenica is a magically beautiful valley in the east of Bosnia, and pushes on into the mountains over a distance of 50 kilometers. The softly rolling landscape is watered by the Drina and numerous small rivers, which are splendid for swimming and fishing in during the summer. In the evening at twilight, the meadows shimmer by the river and the fruit trees glimmer in an apricot light, which resonates with the songs and poems of the area. One can understand why, over the course of a hundred years, numerous tourists from Austria and the former Yugoslavia have found their way to this valley. Srebrenica was famous for its 47 mineral springs. The spa guests came to cure their iron deficiency and rheumatism and otherwise to delight in the magnificent gardens. Every summer, the municipality presented an award for the most beautiful garden in the little town of Srebrenica, which bears the same name as the entire district. Over many summers, the main topic of conversation among the neighbors was the question: who will get the prize this year?

Traces of war

Meanwhile, life in Srebrenica has become difficult, very difficult. The traces of war are still visible everywhere: Destroyed houses without windows and doors, industrial ruins rusting away and towering into the heavens. No investor strays here. People are only seen walking on broken pavement; hardly anyone can afford a car. «One has to imagine», says Namir Porič from Famers Helping Farmers (Bauern helfen Bauern) «that before the war, everyone had a job. One was a carpenter, the other an engineer or physiotherapist. Many worked in the factory. There was no unemployment. Today, everyone is a farmer. Not because they want to, but quite simply because they could not otherwise survive».

Worse than the economic collapse is the emotional distress of the survivors. Srebrenica reaches like a finger into Serbia’s state territory and thus became the theater of the cruel mania of the Greater Serbian realm. In April 1995, the valley was surrounded by the Serbian armed forces. The orthodox Serbians who, until then had lived in mutual accord with their Bosnian- Muslim neighbors, were evacuated – after which began the horror that split time in Srebrenica into a «before and after». In the hottest summer of the decade, the people were shelled, pelted with grenades and systematically starved out. Older people died; babies died. The wounded could not be operated on, because there were no medications and no anesthetics and the hospital was destroyed. The people shriveled up. The City of Srebrenica, which once had 8000 inhabitants, now had 40 000 refugees, because the people left their villages to seek protection in the valley. The Serbian soldiers stormed through the villages, set fire to the houses and waited until they had burned down, together with the people in them. On the 11th of July 1995, while the international community was debating about an air strike, men and women were herded into an empty battery factory in Potočari and separated. After three days, 8000 men were dead, murdered by the Serbian armed forces and flung into mass graves. «It’s 20 years ago», says Namir Porič, «but it’s as if it were yesterday».


New existence
The global public is aware of conflicts, but it seldom accompanies the desperately slow, long road to reconstruction and forgiveness. The Austrian organization Farmers Helping Farmers keeps firmly away from politics and, since 1997, has helped the people in Srebrenica with tangible support. Thus, to date, more than 400 wooden cottages have been built to give those returning a decent abode. The accommodations allow the survivors to reconstruct their stillstanding ruins and to cultivate the land that belongs to them, without long access routes. «We are straightforward», says Namir Porič. «If someone has a good idea, then we help. With seeding materials, agricultural machines. We also helped in the reconstruction of a large garden center. And just recently, we were offered disused machines from a bakery. That helps several people here towards building an existence. Altogether, we try to create an atmosphere in which it pays to live». The two wooden cottages, which were built by the Hilti apprentices with help from Famers Helping Farmers, may be but a small contribution to the region’s development. But for the families who are meanwhile living in them, they signify great joy and invaluable help.

Day 1: The journey
Saturday, 03 May, four o’clock in the morning. Here we go! Still a little bit sleepy after the short night, we load the luggage, the small presents and several Hilti machines into two small buses. Shortly after seven o’clock, we’ve covered the first 300 kilometers. In Anif, a municipality south of Salzburg, we meet up with the people from Farmers Helping Farmers («Bauern helfen Bauern»). What a pleasure! Not only are Heinz, Landolf and Edith waiting for us in the «Hubertushof». No, Doraja – the founder of BhB – as well as Susi and Michaela are also there. Mmmmm, there are Chelsea buns to eat. But we must leave again immediately. There are still more than 800 kilometers ahead of us. Heinz, Landolf and Edith join us, and we begin the journey towards Srebrenica. Across Austria, through Slovenia and Croatia. It’s raining, we arrive at seven thirty in the evening. Guesthouse «Misirlije». We are silent and reflective. Destroyed houses, minefields, and traces of destruction everywhere. At supper, we get to know Namir Porič, the good soul of Farmers Helping Farmers in Bosnia. Well, then good night!


Day 2: The memorial
Sunday, 04 May. After breakfast, we set off for Potočari one of the neigh-boring villages of Srebrenica. There, we find the memorial site dedicated to the people who were massacred by the Serbian troops in July 1995. We stand in the hall in which so many Bosnian women, children, ill and elderly people sought refuge in vain. Horrified, we watch the films and visit the graveyard in which the dead – most of them men – have been laid to rest. Here, we get an idea of the horrific events in Srebrenica. At lunch, we get to know the «Potonica» (Forget-me-not) cooperative. It involves women of all ethnicities who have banded together to cook for others, in return for payment. For visitors, firms or travelers like us. We have brought kitchen furnishings for them. There’s great joy on both sides! The lunch tastes good and each one of us even gets a present: a glass of Pek-Mez, homemade grape jam! Wet and chilled, we reach the guesthouse in Srebrenica.

Day 3: The families
Monday, 05 May. Hardly believable, but it’s stopped raining! Ideal for our work. We leave at seven for the two building sites. The first cottage, which the Hilti apprentices built with the help of local workmen, is earmarked for Hajra Mujic. Mrs. Mujic lost everything during the war. For a long time, she lived in exile in Holland, where her husband died. Now, she has returned to Bosnia, but she no longer has her own place to live. She either lives with her sister, 250 kilometers from Srebrenica, or with her nephew. We’re building the second cottage, close to the Drina, for the Harbas family. Hasida Harbas lost her first husband during the war. She is now married to Nevres, who was badly wounded during the war and lost an arm. Together with their five-year-old son, Namil, the Harbas family want to make a fresh start.
We study plans, sort the delivered wood. Understanding one another is not so easy, and we help ourselves along with mime and gestures. «Slowly, please», that’s «polako». «Hvala», many thanks! We’ve already learned a few words. We’re exhausted by the evening, but the outer walls are standing, and we’ve already begun with the roof truss.


Day 4: The work
Tuesday, 06 May. Start early and work till late in the evening. Today, we got the windows and doors in, the roof and all the insulation. The Bosnian carpenters cut everything with chain saws – amazing. The men get by with folding meter sticks, hammer and nails, a level and a jack saw. Astounding!

Day 5: Two building sites
Wednesday, 07 May. Work, work. By evening, we had completed the ground floor and almost everything on the first floor. One side of the roof will be covered with tiles. Inbetween times, there’s coffee and cake from the future inhabitants of the wooden cottage. We’re also well supplied with food at lunchtime. At the mid-day break, there’s a particularly fine place to sit on building site No. 2. There’s a small pavilion by the side of the river Drina. Since the Hiltis came, it’s now also been fitted out with a flight of steps, table and chairs!

Day 6: The handover

Thursday, 08 May. The first cottage is completed at 3 p.m. A wonderful filing! The apprentices from building site No. 1 go over to site No. 2 to lend a hand. By 5 p.m. the second wooden cottage is also finished. We raise a toast with a «pivo», a beer. Keys are handed over and indescribable joy of the new homeowner. We too, are happy and thankful for the many positive experiences we have had. The affability of the people in Srebrenica deeply impressed us.

Day 7 and 8: The trip home
Friday, 09 May and Saturday, 10 May. We leave Srebrenica at eight o’clock to begin our journey home. A long drive, overnight at the Wörthersee. We linger a little in the bar. The next morning, we travel on further west. At 2 p.m., we’re home again in Vorarlberg.