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Young Muslim Girls
Lost Souls

Story and Photos by Chester King Vega

WALK INTO ANY SCHOOL in Bosnia and the children run, play, and squirm in their seats just like kids anywhere else in the world. You can't see the 3½ years of war in their soft faces, unlike the deep ridges and worry lines etched in to every adult. But just ask any child what the war was like and the laughter stops, eyes become distant, and their little voices hesitate before usually mumbling the same three words, "It was bad." They have seen family members killed or wounded, their homes destroyed, and many now live as refugees far from the life they once knew.
KidsIn a crowded elementary school in downtown Zenica, 10 year-old Armain Cecihic draws a picture to express in art what he's unable to put into words. He draws a house with a field behind it and places flowers all around. "Did the house have lots of flowers?" he's asked. "Yes," he replies. Then he begins drawing the figure of a little boy walking away from the front of the house. "It's me," he says. "I'm leaving my home, I'm going away."

"Why did you have to leave your house?"

"Because my town was under the shelling all the time and I had to leave the town."

"What does the boy in the picture feel?"

"He's very sad, scared."

"Do things turn out all right for him?"

"Yes. He goes to a safe place. Yeah, he is going to a safe place."

Playing at MourningIn the same school, a group of children perform skits and dances in ethnic costumes for the enjoyment of visiting relief-aid workers. They are a smiling, happy group—enjoying the chance to show off their skills. Yet at one point the celebration of their culture turns serious.

A young boy lays on a mat, a blanket covers him from head to toe. A girl kneeling next to him begins to talk to the hidden boy in a sad remorseful tone. She is playing the role of a mother who has lost her son in battle and is mourning the loss. The other children standing nearby are especially quiet, now.

They understand the seriousness of the moment since many have witnessed the scene in their own homes.

Above the chalkboard, the shield of Bosnia and Herzegovina is tacked up. Close by, a propaganda poster shows a Third Corps Army soldier shouting as he goes into battle.

Yet these reminders of the war pale in comparison to the children's own art scattered throughout the school building.

Images of tanks, soldiers, and guns are everywhere, as are scenes depicting what happens when an artillery shell lands in a downtown square packed with civilians.

This children's art carries no pretentions. They are accurate pictures of what the innocents of this nation have lived through in their young lives.

Ultimately it is the smiles of the children that a visitor finds most satisfying—in refreshing contrast to the devastation all around.

A Child's Art
A Child's Art A Child's Art
AK47In Mostar, in southern Bosnia, Muslim girls laugh, play, and gossip in the main cemetery where dozens of fresh graves lay covered with flowers and personal messages. Across the river on the mostly Croat side, a boy pretends to fire his wooden AK-47 rifle and later holds up his 66mm LAWS disposable rocket launcher — all in good fun.

It is a sobering reminder that the youth of Bosnia that will inherit the consequences of nearly four years of war.

Photos in this story are ©1996 by Chester King Vega. All Rights Reserved.

Additional resources
World Vision International Humanitarian Assistance
Reports on Human Rights Abuses in Bosnia Intac Access

Michael Linder, Publisher · Jim Bartlett, Editor-In-Chief
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