[wzslider]By: Maja Tuljković
‘’I think that anyone who gets an education has better access to everything, has better understanding of life and there is less of a chance to hate and to not understand someone. Students often ask me: How will I repay you? And I answer them, that the best way to repay me is to help someone tomorrow’’, says Senita.
Senita Slipac returned to B&H one year ago from Los Angeles. The reason was Bosana Foundation, which she founded four years ago in order to help children and youth, to improve their economic and social position through education, and to help them find employment. The establishment of the Foundation was not difficult, but needed good organization so that everything would make sense and be professional.
Can you tell us how it all began? How did you come to the idea of starting a foundation?
I have a group of friends in Los Angeles and five years ago we were thinking of how we could do something constructive for B&H and so we put on a party where we gathered money so that we could bring it to the Children’s Home in Zenica. Around New Year’s, I went home and we planned to use the money some basic things and to distribute to the children clothes, toys, sweets… However, when I arrived at the Children’s Home and spoke with the children, I asked them what they wanted us to do for them if we were to gather money again. They told me that the problem was education, and that very few people invest in their education. This encouraged me to do something for them because many children from the orphanage end up with only high school or they finish something that they do not want to study. So, we started with after school programs with them in order to improve their chances for the future, for a better education, because when they reach 18 years of age they have to leave the orphanage and they have nowhere to go. Then, we started with the scholarships. And that is how it started. I was lucky because I had a large group of friends who, like me, wanted to help but they did not have the time nor the knowledge how to organize, so I somehow led and directed it all.
What are the goals of Bosana Foundation? How many people are included in its work?
There are four people who are actively involved in the work of the Foundation, and otherwise everyone else who works in the Foundation is a volunteer. We all have our jobs from which we earn a living. The essence is that everyone has a role and works. The main objective of the Foundation is to offer young people in B&H higher chances for life through education, and this is a global objective. I think that everyone who gets an education has better access to everything, has a better understanding of life, there is less of a chance to hate and to not understand someone. So, with this we are preventing what happened before, or we at least try to reduce the chance of it happening. This is kind of a big goal, and the other side is that some of the children that we finance, the economically disadvantaged and children without parents, to change this cycle where it is expected that since their parents had nothing, then their children will also have nothing and they will stay in in their position. We wish to break this rut.
How many students currently receive scholarships?
Bosana Foundation currently gives scholarships to 32 students, but four of them did not provide a condition for the next year. However, they are still part of the Foundation because they are our scholarship recipients. It is only for this year that their scholarships are frozen.
How are scholarships awarded?
We have a very specific process of awarding scholarships. Children without parents or children whose parents do not have a source of income and do not have employment have an advantage to receive scholarships. They first fill out the application, and then we look at their grades, whether they volunteered somewhere, whether they are active in the community. Then, we look over the essay that they are supposed to write to show us that they truly want a scholarship. Then in the end, we have an interview where we have a chance to speak with each student and to see get to know their interests, their desires in life, for success…
You mentioned that you conduct interviews with all those who are interested? What are students from B&H like?
We had 112 applications, of which I personally interviewed 50 throughout B&H. We mostly interviewed students who grew up in poverty and where their chances for success are very small. What was surprising to me was to see such positivity in them and desire for success, to create something out of nothing. I do not know whether this is because I am in contact with people who are the most vulnerable, but in them there is a wish and desire towards education, learning and helping. When they speak, they always say that they want their parents to be proud of them. Nearly all of our students are the first in their families to attend college. This is a huge step for them, and at the same time a big motivation for success.
The Ambassador of the Foundation is B&H model Amra Silajdžić, and football player Edin Džeko is occasionally involved. How many well-known people from B&H help the Foundation?
As Ambassador, Amra Silajdžić is maximally involved in the work of the Foundation. Whenever she has the chance to promote the Foundation, she is directly involved. She knows what is going on with the students, and she speaks with them whenever she can. She is informed of all of their problems. I wanted Amra to feel as part of a family with the students, to know what each student studies and their problems, and how she could additionally help. Edin Dzeko also became involved in the Foundation along with Amra, and he is also well informed. One of our students stayed in Los Angeles as part of a two-month internship program, and during our event he met with and hung out with Edin, and even today they still hear from one another occasionally. This shows me that he is very interested to help, not only through the Foundation, but also privately.
You often have events in Los Angeles where you gather money for the Foundation. Do you plan to do something similar here in Sarajevo?
Our plan is to do one event in December. These days, we are working on the organization. In the USA there is a different way to gather money than in B&H. I am still trying to get used to it, to learn how things function here, and what is the correct way. During the first six months of my stay in B&H, we focused on the promotion of the Foundation. Then we wrote projects and found partners with whom we could work. We did not focus too much on fundraising here in B&H. With the help of Martina Saira Konaković I teamed up with a successful businessperson in this country, and with companies that could eventually support our students. For example, a company could offer a scholarship to one student or serve as a mentor.
Is there a difference between students in B&H and students in the USA?
The difference is huge. The difference is not in knowledge or the difference in who is smarter or better capable. There is a difference in the education that prepares students for tomorrow, for the future. Education in the USA encourages students to think how to best sell themselves, such as how to put on the best impression whtn they go to a job interview. When you apply to college, you are taught how to sell yourself in the essay, on how to be different and leave the best impression than the, lets say, 100 who apply. From clothing choices, hand shaking and looking into eyes. These are some o the things that are not done here with students. Then, in B&H students learn by memorization, in order to learn something simply because a writer or philosopher said that it is correct. In the USA, students are encouraged to think as to why something is so, and to question whether it is correct. Not one professor can tell a student that he or she is not correct or is not allowed to say something. The purpose of education is to learn on your own, and not for the professor to do that. And this is the difference that I see. The education system in B&H teaches students to be lethargic, to not ask, to not research. Through scholarships, our students have to volunteer on a monthly basis, to help someone, and when they finish college tomorrow they will have work experience. We try to find them a job so that they would be responsible. They must provide reports and receipts, because if they do not, they will not receive scholarships next month. We teach them to be responsible, to demonstrate why they deserve the scholarships and how to justify it. Recently it has been a year since I returned to B&H, and I can say that this was a sweet and sour experience. But I still feel the need to be here because a lot can be done here to make things better. People have to take responsibility for why something in their life is the way it is, and they have the responsibility to change it, to be the entrepreneurs of their own life.
On the Foundation’s website bracelets can be bought, which also helps the work of the Foundation. How were they designed?
In addition to the website, bracelets can also be bought in the Ruka Concept Store and Gallery Sehar in Sarajevo. My friend Tomislav Palić designed the Bosana logo. My friend Fedra Nuci and Elmedina Grobović designed the trendy bracelets. Since everything is tied to children and youth, we tried to convey the principle ‘one depends on the other and if it is not good for everyone, then it will not be good for anyone’ through the bracelet. Students often ask me: How can I repay you for this? And I answer, that the best way to repay me is to help someone tomorrow’’. This is the essence of hand holding, of making a common circle that will not be interrupted.