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NOW Newsletter Interview

Categorized in these topics: Interviews and Other Works about Danica Anderson Refugees


International Women's Day 2003

Q (Linda Malanchuk-Finnan): You have been working with Bosnian Muslim refugees for several years
now. What is it you have developed that is making a difference there?

A (Danica Borkovich Anderson): I developed a trauma treatment program that was inclusive of female human rights, female culture-especially the Slavic/Serbian/Bosnian and the natural inherent fact that females are the main caregivers of the community thus healers/therapists.

With so little funding going to mental health, to trauma treatment or 'feminine valued' humanitarian and psychological concerns I wanted to activate a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating program of self-help. I worked with the "throw aways" or the "invisible peoples" meaning women over the ages of 35 and up. Incorporating and centering around their daily cups of coffee, and the Bosnian "kolo" (circle or to dance) the women have continued to be in kolos effortlessly whether or not I am there. Since March 1999, the Sumejja Kolo of Novi Travnik, has gone to other cities and worked with other former Yugoslav women such as the Sebrenica women, and the Amijica women who are war crimes victims teaching trauma healing methods.

Q: How did you come to take your work to Sri Lanka?

A: My kolo trauma treatment program slowly got recognition with the Helsinki Human Rights in Sarajevo, and with other International NGO such as Italy's GVC and EU (European Union) who in April-October 2000 funded my kolo work to do training in Psychoeducational Conflict Resolution. The Field Manager from GVC is now stationed in Sri Lanka and wanted my work to be instituted there.

Q: Where did you go and what were the conditions of the people you worked with?

A: I was in the central part of Sri Lanka, in the ancient capital Anuradhapura about a week or so after the peace/truce was elaborated. I also worked in Vavunija, about 1 hour or so from Anuradhapura, a border town to the North and Tamil area. Most of the refugee camps or what they now term as IDP- Internally Displaced Peoples- are housed near there. After 20 years of civil war, the trauma is deep and violent. One IDP camp housed 7,000 people (mostly women and children- interesting how they mask this by titling it 'peoples', internally displaced peoples or uprooted peoples) in living conditions that were worse than how the dogs live. I did field work with the Sri Lankans whom I trained, especially those that worked with this population and saw the inhuman living conditions that they themselves did not see. Militants swaggering with their guns and check points still in place but not checking still added to an explosive warrior ready mentality. Only this year did some of the rice farmers near Vavunija plant their fields after 10 years of being threatened if they did so. Most are so war weary and poverty stricken. Poverty is what kills the spirit, females and invites the incessant wars. Trauma is intergenerational and the youth unrest here is what is at play with the Sri Lanka political situation and war games. Living in refugee camps for over 20 years breeds youth that kill and will kill again.

Q: Were there difficulties particular to that setting?

A: Yes, the roads going anywhere were grilled from bombs, rains or droughts and not repaired making any journey over 30 minutes bone jarring. Pure water is nonexistent and precious. Polluted ocean and inability to fish off its rich shoreline due to the gunboats and war increase the poverty and any promise of economic self-sustainability. No jobs and a collapsed economy with no promise of a future does not ensure peace or peace treaties. The men only know militant and army skills having nowhere to go if war is not present in their lives. Often their warrior skills are rained upon their families in lethal methods.

Q: How did the women and men respond to your training? To your Feminism?

A: Usually the women defended their men and due to their upbringing in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christian faiths that taught submission and inferiority of females my training was woven with many conflicts and gnashing of teeth. The caste system is loosely in place and underlying much of the struggle. I was armed with literature from their own women such as Kamalini Wijayatilake author of "Unraveling Herstories," who works for CENWOR-- a women's studies and women's center in Colombo, Sri Lanka and author Sesenke Perers, "Political Violence in Sri Lanka" who offered indisputable proof of female dire status. Julie Mertus's critical study of the Balkans and suitcase refugees also added in how humanitarian agencies are so sexist that the aid moneys never reach the women and the children and when it does, how little it may be goes so far and deeper then the current mode of operating. One trainee was a Buddhist priest and our social discourses were shocking to the other trainees but encouraged a wide lens to their situation that included females.

Feminism is often labeled, devalued and tossed away by females more then males. Often many women speak of how they are not feminist and prefer not to use the "F" word in the states, in Bosnia and in Sri Lanka. I am stunned at how they shun feminism. I believe it is their fear of becoming real targets of real violence.

One young man, a social mobilizer voiced what other men did with the dire statistics to include the birth statistics that showed the female infanticide practices. He stated that he didn't know. It is incredible that men feign ignorance and I ask how is it that they do not notice the mass murder of females, female infants, the catastrophic rape statistics, the molest on their buses where women are not safe to venture alone? How is it that the men do not notice? And I asked the women how is it that they pretend to not notice in their defense of men?

Unicef, Mr. Hameed, field officer was so intimated by my advocation of the trainees due to one of the male managers in Vavunija who wanted me to change my list of selected funded kolo lay therapists so that he can get the money/budget did not read my project outline or handout. The same with Movimondo staff who still made decisions that affected the very IDPs and uprooted peoples direly without nary a concern or notice. Uprooted peoples were not in the room with them and they were more concerned about their budgets and their money.

I find this to be so in Bosnia as well.

Q: What do you think will be the response of the refugees to your newly trained therapists, counselors?

A: In the field there the response was heartfelt and deep. I wept and they wept. So far the monthly reports are very favorable. Mostly, the IDPs state relief that someone is listening to their first person story and that it is healing for them.

Q: What was different (if any) here than in Bosnia?

A: Not much different, just poorer, and the females are dead not just physically and statistically but in their eyes. They are exhausted from all the incessant violence and seemed resigned to death as a welcoming relief from their poverty and low status as a female.

Q: What did you learn/appreciate/feel here of yourself since you put so much of yourself into the Kolo training work?

A: I appreciate that I do this for myself. That I can go to sleep at night and look at my children in the eye and say: "I am working to make this world a place of peace and inclusive of females and the feminine by my own small acts." At 48, I can be aware and able to see how whatever we have been doing up until this point has not worked and has been the most violent reign in the herstory of the Mother Earth. To face this and know that I cannot change the world only myself has been an incredible gifting. The other gifting is feeling the sister kinship with the women and their families. Witnessing their lives is sacred to me and fills me with awe, wonder and love.

Q: What can women here do to help?

A: Stop being passive. Stop waiting for permission to do something or that what they feel or do is not important. The small act of housekeeping, sweeping the ash from the street in war torn countries is great activism. Rising children with love is another great act of activism. Knowing female culture and female humanity is critical to ecology and for peace. Voting, membership in sister kinship organizations such as NOW are all helpful. It is us 'average' women who change the world. Not the powers that be.





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