Šaha Kurtović: The selfless heart of Konjic that spreads hope

The Red Cross was founded to act in accidents and has a tradition of successful and good organization in our city. Its trademark is Šaha Kurtović, who has been selflessly helping her fellow citizens for many years and thus doing everything in her power to make their everyday life as good and beautiful as possible.

She is the secretary of the Red Cross (CK) Konjic and a proven fighter for the human rights of all socially vulnerable residents of our city. She was born in 1968 and is the mother of two daughters. Before the war, she lived in Sarajevo, and during the war, she returned to Konjic.

Recently, she became the winner of a plaque in the category “Successful woman from public life” awarded by the Association of Women for Women Konjic, which recognized her significant work in the community, and in 2021, the Women’s Association “Nera” awarded her the award “Solidarity in Action”. for selfless advocacy in the field of social justice, humanitarian work and support for the citizens of Konjic.

Šaha Kurtović is an example of sacrifice and humanity. Her work in the Red Cross and her fight for human rights make Konjic a better place to live. Her story is an inspiration for all of us to be active and make the world around us better.

Can you tell us how your involvement in the Red Cross began?

KURTOVIĆ: After arriving in Konjic, I had some family problems. I got divorced and was alone with my children. The then secretary of the Konjic Red Cross, Jusuf Hondo, called me and asked if I needed food or any other help. I answered that I would prefer to do something, to be useful, so I became a volunteer of CK Konjic in 1996 and was there until 2014, when I became the secretary of this organization. In this difficult period of mine, I owe special thanks to Ismija Muratović and Jusuf Honda.

Through volunteerism, I met many wonderful people. The Red Cross means a lot to me, because it somehow helped my family, me and my children, to survive and survive.

I volunteered and worked a lot, because there were a lot of donations and projects in that post-war period. My children also went through that volunteerism. Basically, we all felt nice and useful there.

I mostly worked on the home care project, visiting the elderly, where even now I think that this population is in dire need of help. Not in the form of helping to give them something, but in the form of a conversation, a visit, so you go buy them something. During the coronavirus pandemic, when we went to visit the elderly population, we called a woman and when she opened her door to us, she said that no one had come to her for two and a half months. Then my volunteers all started crying. The pandemic united all the associations in Konjic in the noble mission of helping others.

The number of members of the Red Cross has also increased, and young people come to us every day, who want to be members, to be at our service every day, so that we can call them when we need them. We gathered without inviting anyone and now there are about 70 of us. Everyone signed up by themselves, which is commendable. At the beginning of the pandemic, we did not call them. I was afraid and we directed them to operate in their neighborhood, which they did.

Today, thanks to our engagement during the pandemic, we had the right to apply for one project, and today we are richer for one car, which is very important for the Red Cross.

Who makes up the Assembly, and who makes up the Presidency of the Red Cross? Does the Red Cross have youth representatives?

KURTOVIĆ: Both the Presidency and the Assembly have the most women. The assembly consists of people from the fields of education, health, civil protection and young people. The president of the Konjic Red Cross is Zlata Raić, and the president of the Assembly is Fatima Hero. The youth representative is Said Alić, and his deputies are Lana Kudović and Nejra Dželilović.

Who are the representatives of the Red Cross in the HNK? Do you celebrate the Red Cross Days, the Days of Voluntary Blood Donors?

KURTOVIĆ: Our delegate in the CNK is Hamdija Novalić in the Assembly, and Fatima Hero was elected to the Presidency of the Red Cross. Red Cross Days are unique for everyone, and that is May 8. We give thank-you notes to volunteers and voluntary blood donors when we hold a gathering of “Voluntary Blood Donors”, which is on June 14, when it is World Blood Donor Day.

Which activity remained special, the most memorable and which you will remember fondly?

KURTOVIĆ: That was the period when we celebrated 160 years since the idea of ​​the Red Cross. That is the famous battle of Solferino (Italy). Our two volunteers, Amina Madžak and Hana Rizvanović, and I traveled there. Everything happened in a forest that delighted us, as well as the field where the battle took place.

Jean Henry Dunant is a Swiss philanthropist and founder of the Red Cross. It is impressive how they stick to their traditions. Every house in that place has a Red Cross flag. We also went to that march, but in the opposite direction. They carried the wounded from Solferino to a church. They took us by bus to the church, so we went in the opposite direction, because we were accommodated in the camp. We walked for three or four hours in the evening with candles. There was a “sea” of people, 10,000 volunteers from all over the world. There were a total of 100 of us from our country. The next time we go, we plan to bring younger people, so that the children can see these beauties, their museum, etc. They are equipped perfectly. In our country, unfortunately, everything is quickly forgotten, and they commemorate something that lasts for so long. Everyone is out, the scene is incredible.

What activities have you done since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic?

KURTOVIĆ: We distributed around 600 donations during the pandemic. We spent a part of the funds for children, diapers, food, clothes, because during that period several children were born to us who are social cases and we should have helped them.

Red Cross Konjic has good cooperation with the Center for Social Work?

We have great cooperation with the Center for Social Work and its director, Nadira Đapo. We are also connected with representatives of local communities, who want to do their work in the best possible way. As for the president, we highlight the activists: Irfan Jazvin from Glavicin, then from the Center, Behir Balić, Emira Mešukić from Čelebić, etc. Local communities should be the biggest indicators of who, where and how they live. The Red Cross cannot know all that information about everyone. Everyone who has a small pension is in some way a socially vulnerable person. By the time they pay the bills, they don’t have any medicine left. One woman in Podorašac, if we didn’t help her and give her a package of food, we wonder how she would survive.

All our work is on a voluntary basis, but when we have the opportunity we gladly reward volunteers. They should be rewarded, especially students. Sometimes, when we have money, we also buy shoes for socially disadvantaged children.

What actions did you have in the previous period?

KURTOVIĆ: We constantly have actions of voluntary blood donors, almost every month. On average, we have about 30 donors, and new ones who want to donate blood also come forward. That time in the afternoon is a bit inconvenient for us, because people are tired. Then they have a problem with pressure, because they come from work and often return them. We don’t have space, and it would be good if people could stay there to have lunch, to socialize. Besides all the activities, that part is my favorite to do. That joke, that laugh, those are special people. 

What were the most important activities in the past year?

In the past year, we had 8 voluntary blood donation drives and collected around 340 doses. The next donation drive is planned for April.

The earthquake in Turkey is also important for the year 2023, where we sent two trucks to the Red Cross warehouse in Visoko. Special thanks to Reži Boloban, who volunteered to drive it all there himself. We had a distribution of packages from the Government of FBiH, somewhere around 1,400 packages, where I also want to thank the company GPI who helped us and did everything for free.

In the past year, we also experienced a pleasant surprise, i.e. we were delighted by two public recognitions awarded by the Association “Volunteers and Friends of the Konjic Region”, the Youth Council of the Municipality of Konjic and the City of Konjic, to our members Nejla Sultanić and Zdravka Blažević, for their long-term philanthropic engagement and support directed towards the common good at the philanthropy gala evening in Konjic.

Nejla, with her example, shows how important it is for children to get involved in humane organizations, because this way they develop a sense of helping others from an early age. She is full of love and compassion, and comes from a family of good people, her father is a voluntary blood donor and that makes us all very proud.

Our Zdravka, who always has a positive spirit and great empathy for people, has donated blood as many as 102 times and is one of the few women in BiH who has donated this precious liquid so many times. We are of the opinion that blood donors deserve to have their own street or square for the merits they contribute to saving people’s lives.

The Women for Women Association has recognized your role in society. What does the “Successful Woman in Public Life” plaque mean to you ?

KURTOVIĆ: It means a lot to me. Most people would probably do it or are doing it, but it’s especially nice when someone recognizes it. However, being a single mother is not easy. The association “Woman for Woman” recognized my true struggle and awarded me a plaque. I am the woman who spoke publicly about domestic violence for the first time, and if because of that I have inspired someone and helped someone in that regard, I am proud of myself.

I believe that violence should not be tolerated, where someone hits someone, where children suffer, we are obliged to talk about it and encourage, that a woman can do it herself. I succeeded because I didn’t keep silent, because I told all this to my friends and because we leaned on each other like a tree on a tree and then moved on.

What is your message to women who are victims of violence?

My message is that they should not be silent, that they should not suffer, that they should seek help from friends, the center, the police, the safe house. Unfortunately, our women keep silent and hide a lot.

If you go that way, the way of silence, you will fail mentally and it is better to solve everything in time. When you are well, young and healthy, you can always find a job to feed yourself and your children. Abusers should not be tolerated at any cost.

What makes you persevere in all this? What is motivation?

It’s that feeling when someone is helped, because I myself was in such a situation and from my own angle I already know all about it, because I experienced it. It is very important to have someone who makes your life easier.

What are your future plans?

I would like to organize a gathering of voluntary blood donors. We need help, so we will ask the mayor for it as part of Konjic City Day. We have about 300 voluntary blood donors and we would like some dinner and socializing, because they really deserve it.

In the previous period, we discovered that school children are quite anemic, as one of our doctors says. Before the pandemic, they had a good blood count. Last year, 60% of them had a bad blood count. This is a devastating information for us, because our youth are our future blood donors. All this points to a problem that we all need to solve together.

Your message to readers?

KURTOVIĆ: My message as secretary of the Red Cross would be to look around us, at all the people in our neighborhood, because some are shy, some are ashamed to come to ask for help and then come to us, to report them. I can also use the phone, if you need volunteers to go buy something for someone. I want to tell everyone that this life is so short for us, to be good to each other, to learn empathy and finally become like that. The Konjic Red Cross is at the service of all citizens of our municipality.

Written by: Sanela Muhibić

This story 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 content of the story is solely the responsibility of the author and the “Network for Building Peace”. The views expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.