By Djordje Mirkovic (YES 2015-2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted by American Councils in North Easton, MA)
Animals have always been an important part of my life. Seeing the strong connection people have with their pets during my YES exchange year in Massachusetts changed my perspective even more. People in Bosnia and Herzegovina love animals as well, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the number of stray dogs we have. People are so caught up in their everyday life that they fail to pay attention to those that need it the most.
When I first started planning to apply for a YES Alumni Grant, I wanted to help in an area that really needed it, so I chose Ilidza, a neighborhood outside of Sarajevo that has a lot of stray dogs. I also wanted to target a specific age group – middle school students. Middle school students are old enough to move around from place to place on their own, but young enough to perhaps not yet have learned how to approach and deal with stray dogs.
On September 23, with the help of Dogs Trust Representative Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I implemented a workshop for 30 eighth-graders at Osma osnovna skola "Amer Cenanovic" in Ilidza. Dogs Trust one of the world’s largest dog welfare organizations and is based in Great Britain.
During the workshop, students developed an understanding of stray dogs, learned how to approach them, and discovered what Dogs Trust does and how to help the organization through volunteering and fostering dogs. At the end of the workshop, students shared that they were excited to learn that there are opportunities to volunteer with dogs and that they were eager to share what they’d learned with their family and friends.
On September 24, the project continued with a fundraiser at the promenade Vilsonovo Setaliste in Sarajevo. Together with Merima Muhic (YES 2015-2016, hosted by ACES in Apex, NC), Eldin Hozbo (YES 2018-2019, hosted by YFU in Dallas, TX), Noah Richter (YES Abroad), and two other volunteers, we spent the morning collecting donations for the Gladno Polje Dog Shelter, which is also located near Ilidza. We collected 100 BAM ($56 USD) for dog food. While collecting donations, we spoke to people about our cause. Many people didn't know the shelter existed or of the great work the shelter does considering they operate on donations only. We informed at least 20 people about what the shelter does and how citizens can help.
Following the fundraiser, our team of volunteers went to the shelter to spend the afternoon cleaning, feeding, and playing with the dogs. The volunteers among us who were visiting the shelter for the first time expressed the wish to create an informal group to volunteer there on a monthly basis.
The project had a bigger impact than I expected. The excitment the students showed at the workshop, the interest of people who donated money, and the hard work of the volunteers at the shelter proved to me that there are people who will take action and make change in their communities.
I'd like to thank my project team, the Dogs Trust Representative Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Osma osnovna skola "Amer Cenanovic", the YES program, American Councils for International Education, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for helping make this happen and for helping YES alumni all across the world make a difference.