Local Works: Association “Eho” for a beautiful Bileca

Association “Eho” from Bileca, established two years ago, strives to improve the life of young people in this Herzegovinian municipality with its activities. Read more about how the slogan “Love your city” encouraged environmental actions, a music and drama club and other activities for young people.

Author: Mladen Lakic

Under the slogan “Love your city“, volunteers and activists of Bileca organized cleaning actions, setting up benches and garbage cans during 2022. All this was organized precisely in the municipality, which for a long time has been facing a series of problems in the field of communal activities.

“Love your city” perhaps best describes the idea from which the citizens’ association “Eho” from Bileca developed. The Network for Building Peace spoke with Lazar Gnjato, who is today the president of the assembly of that Association, which acquired its formal status a little over two years ago.

“Eho Association gathered a small team of people who were already established in some way, as public and cultural workers of Bileca, they are mainly educators, first of all, but also businesspersons who wanted to support the work of the Association”, says Gnjato.

The various problems facing Bileca were an opportunity for this group of enthusiasts to try to act in a way that would be of general benefit. Their efforts and energy are focused primarily on young people in order to make their time meaningful and of better quality.

“Due to the difficult socioeconomic situation in the last ten years in Bileca, all the resources that should be directed towards the organization of quality and creative free time for young people have been exhausted. There we saw a space for us to try to do something in that direction,” says our interviewee.

“Eho” offers the youth of Bileca a place for education, a place to socialize, but also a place where they will develop a sense of the common good. The project “Love your city” is such activity, where young people are given the chance to recognize a community problem and work together to solve it.

When it comes to education, our interviewee explains that through discussions they concluded that there is a lack of educational staff in Bileca who would teach young people how to play a musical instrument.

“Then we hired three music professors and thus started an informal music school, but also a campaign to re-open a music school department in Bileca after it was closed for 30 years,” says Gnjato.

He notes that significant funds have been collected for equipping the premises of the future department and that negotiations are underway with the competent ministry.

“These days, we are eagerly awaiting the response of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Republika Srpska on our initiative, which was implemented through a public advocacy campaign and actions to renovate the premises, to re-open the primary music school department in Bileca after more than 30 years. We are convinced that this political decision will in the best way encourage young parents to build their families’ lives in Bileca, that it will contribute to the policies of strengthening the birth rate, that it will make Bileca a more convenient place to live, and thus strengthen the economy of the Municipality and the Herzegovina region. This is the least we can do together for our city – to regain at least part of the dignity we had before the last war,” says Gnjato.

While waiting for the formal realization of the reopening of the music school department, the world of musical notes and musical culture in Bileca, is available for young people within the “Musical Youth Club”, another idea of the Eho Association, which is supported through the Telemach Foundation’s Regional Grants Program.

At the end of 2022, the Club’s concert was held at the Cultural Center in Bileca, and you can watch it at the link here.

Through the second cycle of the Regional Grants Program of the Telemach Foundation, the Eho Association managed to organize the Youth Theater in Bileca.

At the 66th Festival of Festivals, which was held in Trebinje at the end of July as a review of the best amateur theater productions from North Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, young people from Bileca presented their work with the play “A lot of noise around everything” directed by Bojan Milidragovic.

“15 young people from Bileca passed the audition and became members of the Youth Theater, and a young writer and director works with them,” says Gnjato, adding that this is another way that “Eho” loves its city by creating cultural content which, as well as numerous smaller places in our country, it is lacking.

What used to be an informal group, mainly of parents in Bileca, is today an association that has the broad support of the residents. Gnjato recalls that the Eho Association was created through a project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which was implemented in 18 municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and was aimed specifically at supporting young people in local communities.

Through that initial idea, a large percentage of high school students from Bileca have the opportunity to join the activities that Eho organizes. For the Fall, Eho prepared a project related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

These are computer science workshops that will enable schoolgirls from Bileca to acquire knowledge in this field.

Education, culture, ecology, but also healthy lifestyles, interesting hobbies and quality time spent are the main directions in which Eho wants to offer new perspectives to the youth of Bileca. In this regard, Gnjato points out the project “Let us stand together” that he is proud of, which this Association implemented with the organization “Druga priča” from Trebinje. The focus of the project is on interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

“It is a project that allowed us to visit several important cultural institutions and watch a theater performance in Sarajevo. The young people of Bileca then had the opportunity to get to know the sights of Sarajevo,” says Gnjato.

The task of the Association was to familiarize high school students with the cultural heritage of other religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to the trip to Sarajevo, with the same goal, “Eho” also organized three workshops in Bileca where the three traditional religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina were discussed.

As part of the two-day trip, the young people from Bileća also visited the Orthodox Church in Bascarsija, the Museum of Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Gazi Husrev Bey Mosque with a madrasa, and the Franciscan Monastery in Fojnica.

They ended their visit to Sarajevo with a trip to the National Museum, where the students visited, among other things, the archeology department where important artefacts found in the area of Bileca are kept.

Connecting young people from different areas is undeniably important, and it is important to mention that some of the young people from this group saw the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the first time. Details of the visit to Sarajevo can be found at the link here.

Since Bileca is a Municipality with slightly less than 12,000 inhabitants, according to the results of the last census, we asked our interviewee what it looks like to be an activist in a small community and what are the residents’ reactions to all these ideas.

With undisguised satisfaction, Gnjato explains that behind every idea are precisely the people who have gained trust and reputation in Bileca, through their work in professions of public importance, and the support of the entire community is not lacking.

“People know us through our jobs, we know each other, and this is exactly the core of our work: that we all work together, in accordance with our interests and qualities, to do something good for the whole of Bileca,” says Gnjato.

To our question about cooperation with the Bileca Municipality and, in general, institutional support of the Eho Association, Gnjato notes that the Electric Power Company of Republika Srpska, together with the subsidiary company in Trebinje, supported some of the activities. On the other hand, the support of the media from Bileca, the involvement of the politicians of this region is also commendable, concludes Gnjato.

This article was written thanks to the generous support of the American people through the “Local Works” program of the United States Agency for International Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina (USAID). The contents of the publication are under the exclusive liability of its author and “Network for