PHILADELPHIA –When Cornelius and Shauna Frantz from Pittsburgh, Pa., came to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2013, they expected to work with people who had experienced trauma in the 1990s during the country’s civil war. They didn’t expect that a new traumatic event would help unite people across longtime ethnic and religious divides.
The year of 2014 started with a mild winter and a spring that came early. Precipitation that would have fallen during a typical winter came all at once in May, bringing three months’ worth of rain in just three days.
Creeks swelled and backyards flooded. The ground saturated, causing landslides. Some towns were cut off completely from ground transportation, accessible only by air.
More than 1 million people were affected. Many people displaced from their homes sought shelter in refugee compounds that had been closed since the war that followed Bosnia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, when tensions between the country’s ethnic groups, drawn largely along religious lines, erupted into violent conflict.
As East Europe program coordinators for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Cornelius and Shauna support partner organizations working on peacebuilding, health and education. In the days after the flooding, they worked with several of these partners to organize an emergency response.
MCC partner Bread of Saint Anthony, a Catholic humanitarian organization based in Sarajevo, distributed practical items, including food, water, relief kits that contain towels and hygiene supplies, and comforters. To families with infants, the organization also distributed supplies, such as diapers and bottles.
For some people forced to flee their homes, the experience of being displaced yet again caused old traumas to resurface.
Since Bread of Saint Anthony staff run a trauma-healing center, they were uniquely prepared to help. They organized mental health professionals to lead trauma-healing sessions for children displaced by the flooding.
The Frantzes saw countless volunteers bridge ethnic and religious divides to support one another. A Muslim man offered his vehicle to help Cornelius and Christian staff from Bread of Saint Anthony deliver aid to remote villages.
“Disasters don’t care what side you’re on,” said Shauna. “Everyone was in need.”
The Frantzes saw the ongoing peacebuilding work of MCC’s partners in the region contribute to people’s ability to bridge historic divides in the wake of the flooding.
For the past decade, MCC has worked with partners like the Center for Peacebuilding in the city of Sanski Most to foster reconciliation among people from diverse backgrounds.
This work to heal wounds from the country’s war has helped facilitate dialogue and build relationships across historic divides.
After the flooding, volunteers from the peace programs came together, providing the infrastructure needed to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe.
“Our partners’ rootedness in their communities made MCC’s disaster response possible,” said Cornelius Frantz. “This kind of unified effort would not have been possible without the peacebuilding work of the past decade.”