The Jusičić family from Doboj lives on the disability allowance of the father of the family, Amir, and the funds he earns by selling the trinkets he makes in his small carpentry workshop.
Amir is disabled as a consequence of being wounded during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lasting from 1992 to 1995, this bloody conflict was characterized by ethnic conflict between Bosniaks (Muslim), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholic). Ten days before the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord that ended the war, Amir lost his leg to a mine. Though a Bosniak, he was wounded while digging trenches for the Serbian army as a conscripted laborer.
As a consequence of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains deeply ethnically divided, and though Amir was forced to dig trenches, many see him as a collaborator in a conflict that still hurts like an open wound. For instance, just after the war, as a refugee in the mainly Bosniak municipality of Tešanj, Amir tried to attain membership in a disability group. "While I was a refugee, they would say, ‘what are you looking for, go to your own people (Serbs), go to Doboj.’"
Such comments discouraged Amir and he gave up his attempts to be included in the ranks of officially disabled persons. As a result, he gave up the right to health care as well as a state-supplied prosthesis.
The situation was not much better once Amir returned to his home town, Doboj, now mainly populated by the people of Serb ethnicity.
As an ethnic Bosniak, Amir didn’t belong there.
He ended up isolated; he was neither accepted by the Serbs nor by the Bosniaks. That struggle to find a place where he belonged was exacerbated by his injury and its lingering consequences, especially since he lacked the basic care which membership in a disability group would guarantee.
Fortunately, not everyone has given-in to the power of ethnic labels.
Like Amir, Zoran had lost a leg, too, and he saw Amir struggling in Doboj. He didn’t care that he was a Serb and Amir was a Bosniak—all that mattered was that he could help a man who needed it.
Working for a non-governmental organization Landmine Survivors Network, in 2003, Zoran visited Amir in the apartment where he lived with his mother and brother.
"I saw a young man who did not have a prosthetic leg, who did not belong to any of the war-disabled persons groups, and who no one knew existed," says Zoran.
Zoran began to explore how to solve Amir's problem. To attain legal status as a person disabled during the war, the law required witnesses to the mine incident that wounded Amir. Zoran assisted Amir in finding them, and later, they collected all the necessary documentation, filing a request for the membership in a war-disability group.
Zoran’s help reminded Amir that not everyone’s heart was filled with hate.
"I cannot thank Zoran enough for some things. But there are still many people in need in the world, we just forget that they exist," says Amir. "We, the common people, we are not divided.”
The two friends spent a great deal of time together preparing Amir’s paperwork. Their work bore fruit in 2003, when Amir received a certificate of disability, enabling him to access healthcare and get a prosthetic.
"After that, we started to socialize more and we became friends, we understand each other and we can rely on each other," added Zoran. “He is now familiar with his rights and we are both included in the peer support program through the “Socio-economic support to landmine victims in BiH” project.” This project is implemented by World Vision BiH and the Association of Amputees UDAS, and is funded by the European Union.
It aims to unite people like Zoran and Amir, creating support and solidarity through peer workshops with professionals and persons with disabilities. It also helps disabled persons gain independence by supporting entrepreneurship.
Amir has managed to make a small business crafting wood products in a carpentry workshop. Door tiles, jewelry boxes, wine boxes, coasters—Amir crafts them all.
Business is slow, and it doesn’t allow Amir’s family to earn a living. And that’s where the economic support provided through “Integrated Socio-Economic Support to Mine Victims in BiH” project helps. The project provided Amir with the opportunity to expand the business and improve the quality of his products. The carpentry computer numeric control (CNS) machine he received makes complex patterns on the wooden surface, according to Amir’s prototypes. The process of making wood objects is now much faster, which is why Amir hopes for more orders.
Life isn’t easy for Amir and his family, but Zoran has restored his faith in humanity. "My parents raised me not to divide people by nationality,” he says. "There is confusion in the minds of people. For me there is no confusion, for me there are good and there are bad people.”