In Stolac, a small town located in the heart of Herzegovina, an Association “Orhideja/Orchid” has been established almost 20 years ago. Its mission is to help women realize their potential, through education and skill development, and developing collective awareness of joint work and development of the local community.
Association „Orhideja“ was established in 2004, and one of the founders was Minva Hasic, the devoted president of the Association for the last 12 years. Thanks to her, Orhideja has become a place where women, but also children and young people living in Stolac can always get support.
“The Association was born out of the need to help women who returned to Stolac after the war. At that time, they did not have any perspective, there was no employment, no activities, nothing that would help them improve the quality of their lives”, president Minva Hasic points out for Local Works.
However, regardless of the good will and dedication, working in the Association over the years was not easy. Local authorities were not supportive, funding was scarce, and many were skeptical of their work. However, Minva and the Orhideja members did not let this discourage them. For almost 20 years, they have been persistently working to improve the living conditions of all citizens of Stolac, and through lobbying foreign donors, implement projects that are important for the entire city.
Over 100 projects have been implemented so far. Among them are numerous projects focused on education for skill development, souvenir workshops, sewing, agricultural education, marketing, environmental workshops, then seminars on gender equality, women’s rights, violence against women… Orhideja has dedicated a large part of its work to areas that are threatened by landmines.
However, one of the biggest projects is the renovation of the Stolac sports hall, which was done in cooperation with Italian organizations from Sardinia, the Norwegian Embassy in Sarajevo and the Stolac Sports Association.
“The renovation costs of the hall were 150,000 BAM. It was about to be closed, and now it is used by 4 schools and all sports clubs in the city of Stolac,” says Minva.
Although the women from Orhideja did not have the support of the local authorities, many international organizations recognized their work, such as: CCFD from France, the US Embassy in Sarajevo, the Global Fund for Women from the USA, UNDP and Handicap International.
“For years, we also cooperated with the French Cultural Center “Andre Malraux” from Sarajevo and Paris on the project “Gardens of Stolac, Gardens of Europe”. During the summer period students from the University of Versailles, Sarajevo and Mostar worked on arranging the bed of the Bregava river, ecological workshops and improving the appearance of the city”, says Minva.
The Association worked not only with women, but also with young people and children, especially on reconciliation projects.
Day Center “Gnijezdo”
As part of the Association, the “Gnijezdo/Nest” day center operated for almost eight years, helping to improve and socialize children in need from elementary schools in Stolac.
“Mostly children from the Roma population came there. Every year, we had 30 children who did their homework at the Center, had creative workshops, and went on school trips,” explains Minva.
Dozens of children have passed through the Center over the years, ten volunteers have worked with them, as well as a medical worker, a psychologist and four teachers.
When the building in which the Center was located was sold last year, the local authorities did not provide an alternative space, nor any other support, so the Center eventually stopped working.
Hostel VODOPAD and cooperative HERCEGOVKA
Minva and her colleagues are not sitting idly by and waiting for help from donors to be able to do something.
In order to finance their projects, they came up with the idea of opening a hostel in Stolac. At that time, there was no other accommodation in Stolac, and tourism began to develop in the city. They saw an opportunity for themselves. Today, the hostel is a place where guests can get an authentic experience of Herzegovinian culture. The facility is located near the famous waterfall “Provalija” – right next to the road that leads from Stolac to Berkovici and Bileca. It is precisely because of the “Provalija” that the hostel is named “Vodopad/Waterfall”.
“We have 6 rooms. 15 to 20 children can stay in them, so today the hostel is mostly used by children. “Different associations organize schools and camps for children, because the space is suitable for children, and our prices are affordable,” Minva points out.
The opening of the hostel was not the end of their entrepreneurial efforts. Soon, the “Hercegovka” cooperative was opened, which promotes traditional Herzegovinian products. Women from the area of Stolac and Berkovici prepare jams, juices and dried fruits, which they place on the market in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We do not produce classic jams, but we make combinations that are recognizable on the market, such as strawberry and mint, fruit and herbs, peach and lavender. We make jam from peppers, from green tomatoes… After 10 years of work, people recognize these flavors and start using them in their kitchen,” explains Minva.
More and more people began to recognize the value of these authentic products, buy them and thus support the work of women. The products can be bought in Stolac in the premises of “Orhideja”, and in Sarajevo and Mostar in health food stores with which the Association works.
The cooperative itself is open and all farmers can join and become its members after filling out the application form.
Children tourist guides
The departure of citizens from Bosnia and Herzegovina is increasingly noticeable in Stolac as well, so there are fewer and fewer young people who have the desire to volunteer or work with the Association. That is why now most of the activities are aimed at children. Photography and German language workshops are currently underway. The photography workshop is a project realized in cooperation with the Telemach Foundation, and 30 children from elementary schools participate in it.
“At the end of the workshop, which will last the whole summer, a small tourist guide of Stolac with pictures of the city made by children will be published. There are more and more tourists in Stolac, children often meet them, so it is something that can be a perspective for them as well,” says Minva.
The entrepreneurial spirit still does not leave Minva. The new plan is to take advantage of the arrival of tourists and open a shop in Stolac that would sell all the products made by women from Orhideja. Preparations are underway, and the shop should open its doors at the beginning of the next tourist season.
All this shows that, despite all the difficulties, the Association „Orhideja“ is still flourishing. Minva and her team continue to help women in Stolac develop their talents and realize their dreams. Their story is a reminder that passion, persistence and solidarity can create great change, even when all hope seems lost.
Because, regardless of the obstacles, if we believe in what we’re doing and don’t give up, we can create a better world for all of us.
Author: Vedada Secerbajtarevic
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 Building Peace”. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the US Government.