In Bosnia and Herzegovina, improving rural lives with essential services
By Selena Bajraktarevic
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 16 February 2012 – Rasema lives with her husband and two boys, aged 3 and 6, in the rural community of Gornja Tuzla, some 10 km from the industrial town of Tuzla.
Rasema has been unemployed since completing secondary school 12 years ago. Her husband, who only completed primary school, works intermittently. Three years ago, they lived in a one-room house with no running water or bathroom.
When her father-in-law, with his seven children, was allowed to build a small house on state land, they built the home themselves using loans and their parents’ savings. Now the family survives on credit, periodically taking a larger loan to repay the previous one.
A clear urban-rural divide
Within the country, a clear urban-rural divide exists; according to government reports, rural families have significantly higher rates of poverty than urban families. Many poor, rural families also lack access to basic services such as medical facilities.
In Gornja Tuzla, many families face situations similar to Rasema’s. In some cases, whole families have lost their jobs. Mothers, in particular, lack support structures such as kindergartens, which are often non-existent in rural areas. Most children are cared for by their mothers, preventing them from seeking employment, or by older women within the family.
Like many rural communities, the population of Gornja Tuzla is ageing; the 100-year-old primary school currently has 200 pupils, a decline from previous years. Rasema fears that the shrinking number of students will eventually lead to the school’s closure.
Improving rural lives
A UNICEF project – ‘Equal Opportunities for Early Childhood Development in Rural Areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ – aims to improve the lives of women and children living in rural communities with limited or no access to social, health and educational services.
The project brings important educational services to young children and empowers women through income generation programmes. Gornja Tuzla – one of two pilot locations selected to field-test the project – is slated to receive an integrated early childhood development (IECD) centre and a plant nursery.
A team of experts visited Gornja Tuzla, meeting Rasema and her family, during the project’s planning stages. “It was the first time anyone had come to see us,” Rasema said. “It was a great experience, someone taking an interest in our lives.”
She is especially excited for her sons to attend the IECD centre. UNICEF will equip the centre and train a local health, education and social professional in early childhood development and early childhood intervention – the detection of developmental delays. The professional will help mothers understand the importance of early childhood education and how to recognize developmental delays, and will eventually offer preschool services as well. The centre will also help mothers make better use of existing services and, to promote gender equity, will help them better understand their rights.
“If we get the IECD centre, it will be a great resource for us. I try to educate my boys, but it is not enough. They need to socialize and develop properly,” Rasema said.
UNICEF’s implementing partner, the agricultural association Zadruzni Savez Federacije BiH (Cooperatives Association of the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina), will run the plant nursery, which will train 50 local women to grow cash crops. Eight of these women will be selected to work part-time in the nursery, with employment rotating annually to maximize the benefit to the community. The others will develop the skills to grow crops for personal use and sale, enabling them to contribute to their household income.
The plant nursery will also contribute financially to the sustainability of the IECD centre, providing an annual donation from the revenue generated through the women’s efforts; it will also increase the women’s independence within their family and community.
Maida Mehmedovic, the local project coordinator, sees the centre as a vital resource for women.
“We have children with special needs, and the centre will help them and discover, in time, delayed development. Previously, they attended a separate school, but now children with disabilities are integrated into standard school. We are trying to improve life in our community and reduce the sense of difference between life in a rural and urban community, especially so the children do not to feel this difference,” she said.
“By offering integrated services to young children and their families in isolated areas, this programme contributes to reducing rural-urban inequities and to address the underlying causes of poverty,” said Florence Bauer, UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “This is why UNICEF has already been supporting the establishment of seven IECD centers and six satellites centers in local municipalities – to contribute to equal access to services to all children.”