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TALES TO TELL: Fika Ibrahimefendic explains the role of psychotherapy in healing Bosnian refugees.
Afzal Huda/The Gauntlet

The aftermath of horror

Bosnian psychotherapist shares stories of recovery

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For those who survived the horrific tragedy and unbearable torment of Yugoslavia's recent conflict, there is a possibility for hope and rejuvenation.

Fika Ibrahimefendic, Director of the Vive Zene Psychotherapy Centre in Tulza, Bosnia came to the University of Calgary on Fri., Sept. 28 to share her experiences in counselling traumatized Bosnian women. The presentation, sponsored by the Faculty of Social Work, the Institute for Gender Research, and the Calgary International Film Festival, was a moving account of how these women, through psychotherapeutic treatment, came to terms with themselves and the world after living through the murder of their men and the destruction of their homes.

"[After the war] in Tulza, there was about 100,000 refugees [who came to live there], mostly women and children," explained Ibrahimefendic. "Before the war, Tulza had about 100,000 inhabitants. In 1994, [psychotherapists] went to the refugee camps. All of these women were traumatized and stressed, so we chose about 10 to come to our centre so we could help them out. At that time, the centre could accept only 20 [women]."

In July 1995, during the war in Yugoslavia, Serb nationalists invaded an area near Srebrenica, a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina previously declared a safe-zone by the United Nations. Over five days, an estimated 10,000 men and boys were systematically massacred. The surviving women and children were forcibly relocated into the city and now live in refugee camps.

The Vive Zene Center has been operating for seven years and has helped over 200 women and 400 children begin to re-establish their lives. During their stay, women and children lived in dormitories for 10 months, each family occupying their own room. The holistic therapy used by the centre applies a community approach, where women gain support from not only the therapists, but also from each other through singing, dancing, cooking and socializing. Ibrahimefendic also emphasized the importance of "Talking Medicine" in the healing process.

"There is a conspiracy of silence," she explained. "The women do not want to share their pain and experiences. The silence is poisonous."

Ibrahimefendic added that women are reluctant to talk about their experiences because they have been traditionally discouraged from being outspoken and believe the trauma is a burden they must carry and live with.

"The intent is not to wipe away pain, feelings and memory," said Ibrahimefendic. "It is to work together to find [the] inner strength to move on, the will to live. Once they free themselves, they can take care of themselves. They can talk to their children and families and start thinking about the present, not the future and the past."

Ms. Ibrahimefendic's work at the Vive Zene Centre is portrayed in the award-winning film documentary That the Women Live, directed by Laurent Becue-Renard. The film, presented by the Calgary International Film Festival, documents the 10 month recovery of three women in the centre. Ibrahimefendic introduced the film during a screening in Calgary on Sat., Sept. 29.

"Human pain is universal," she explained. "When something happens suddenly to break apart one's life, it breaks down feelings. One does not feel secure anymore; there is panic, fear, and heartbreak. They must share the pain and move on."

That the Women Live is no longer playing in Calgary.

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