Sign up here

For occasional emails with new course details

Report from Bosnia


15- 23 October, 2016


Saturday Well, here we are, Kat and I, in Sarajevo! We start work on Monday so some time to rest and explore. Megan and Emma arrive late this evening to complete our little team of ScarWorkers. A HUGE THANK YOU to all our generous donors who made this possible. What you raised paid for our flights and supports the Healing Hands Network infrastructure; the premises for the clinic, insurance, the accommodation for therapists with some money to cover the basic outgoings, the interpreters, taxis to and from the airport and the outreach clinics, etc. We pay the rest – getting to and from the UK airport, our lunches and evening meals out, etc. – ourselves.

We’re all here now – up till 1pm. chatting excitedly! Woken by the loudspeaker from the nearby minaret. Couldn’t get back to sleep so drowned it out with radio 4 – thank goodness for IPlayer! The Shipping Forecast with its predictable, rhythmic chant, backed by the fervent call to prayers, creates an interesting interplay which succeeds in lulling me back to sleep. But then the early traffic reawakens me and I’m much in need of the strong shower to get me going when I finally struggle out of bed.

Sunday First today, our lesson on how the clinic and outreach are organised, our work timetables etc. Then time to ourselves and we wander down the hill to Sarajevo’s centre, soaking up the atmosphere of somewhere so different from home. Such variety in this Moslem city; from the bazaar where we could be in an Arab souk, to the Brewery bar and restaurant with jazz and great beer. Not much sign of the predominant religion here; a few women in headscarves only……and the minaret calls, of course. Everyone seems very friendly – the young speak a bit of English, sometimes they are quite fluent. The older people rarely speak English but are patient with us as we mime to get what we need in the shops and restaurants.

Monday What a first day! Megan and I were on ‘Outreach’ which means we went to a Sarajevo suburb and set up our couches in a community Hall. Today I worked on a variety of scars including a sniper bullet wound where a ‘dumdum’ bullet had hit the shoulder. These are expanding bullets, which create a larger wound. An odd sensation, the feeling of fragmented soft tissue. I’ve never felt anything like it before. A similarly odd and very satisfying feeling as the tissue reintegrated and became more solid, more compact, more normal as I worked on it. Even more so when the client demonstrated an increased range of movement in the arm.

I’ve also worked, today, on people with:

A fractured nose, using BoneWork Back pain stemming from abdominal trauma, primarily emotional in origin Back pain stemming from an old abdominal surgery, nothing to do with the war.  Scars from a dislocated hip repair in childhood.

We came to work primarily on scars; some of these are what we would see in the UK, but the majority will be from the war. Most people back home have scars; here the frequency will be higher, naturally, and often from a violent source.

The clients are directed to HHN mainly through different associations in Sarajevo:

Women Victims of War; Concentration Camp Union; Civil War Victims, and Mothers of Srebrenica.

The people we met have a feeling of real stoicism about them. They’ve been through so much. It truly puts our own problems into perspective.

Wednesday The last three days have whizzed by! This is seriously hard work, here in Bosnia with Healing Hands Network. Although the giving of our time is often a joyful experience, I still feel like a tired workhorse tonight!

When I came out to Bosnia I was prepared to be overwhelmed by the pain and anguish the people would be holding in their bodies. What I wasn’t prepared for was being overwhelmed by their gratitude. I’ve been hugged, kissed, thanked, had my hands kissed, had my hand laid against someone’s heart to show how the energy from the treatment was flooding through them…’s had me on the verge of tears all morning. The pain we see in our clients is terrible – their bodies have been deformed by bullets, shrapnel, bombs…..but their hearts are open and their gratitude to us so humbling.  They need more therapists who can deal with the structural deformation and we hope that going as a team of ScarWorkers will inspire others with this training and the BoneWork training to go.

Friday When you are meeting people every day whose bodies and faces are scarred and deformed. Who have lost loved ones, families, old friends. Who are still shaking or who have other symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Who can hardly believe that you are happy to touch their scars, their bodies, despite their injuries. Who weep with gratitude when you help them move limbs again, when you ease some of their pain. When you laugh with them. Cry with them… because our eyes filled a lot. When you meet this daily you cannot remain unmoved, untouched. The hardest thing, as a therapist, has been trying not to take on the ‘stuff’ our clients carry. The years of locked in trauma, fear, anger, betrayal, loss……this is easy to take on board and could affect our own health. The stories we hear from these dear people, stories of rape, brutalisation, torture, starvation, would break your heart. Almost every woman who went through the three-year siege of Sarajevo has osteoporosis – it’s just a fact of life for them.

The siege went on for 44 months and 11,541 people were killed, 643 of whom were children.

What is really marked in the clients we work with is their strong desire – compulsion – not to pass the trauma onto the children. “They are the next generation”, the interpreter explains, “The people who went through the war try to protect the young people”. And so, when we ask what happened to the clients, the reply is often “Oh, it was in the war” – and that’s all we are told. Sometimes there is a whisper in the interpreter’s ear and we are given an abbreviated version of events – just as much as we need to know to help them, which was all we want really. But occasionally the whole story will emerge.

Georgie is with us making a film about HHN, and for this reason the whole stories are sometimes told, for the sake of telling the world that people are still suffering, still reliving the pain. These stories can be unbearable but they must be told. Just because the war is over doesn’t mean that it is not still there, in the people’s lives, bodies, minds; most will carry it to their graves.

When we work on the scars the emotional trauma is often released, hence the tears. We hope that for our clients the pain may lessen somewhat and the grief lose its rawness.

We lead very privileged lives in this country. We’ve had our wars, our losses, our griefs, and we remember them every year when the symbolic poppies flood our lives. But in Sarajevo the raw loss is too recent; just over 20 years is insufficient to have cleansed the nightmares.

Monday Great to be home again. We were able to help a lot of people last week – between the four of us we treated 100 people over the 5 days. I did three times the number of treatments I normally do in a week – but what a buzz! I have very happy thoughts and memories of this last week as well as a relief that the intensity of it all is over!  I’m still processing everything that happened and I feel that the experience has changed me in a subtle way. When I was working on someone’s scar the other day, in my clinic, she said that I had changed how I was working. I think this is because I had no time to waste in Bosnia; I had 1¼ hours to work with each person and then I wouldn’t normally see them again; not enough time to deal with some of those wounds. I just worked as fast and efficiently as I could. I’m an efficient worker anyway but I think that the time element, combined with the numbers of clients all with major trauma of some sort or another, and the need to think quickly and ‘out of the box’, upped my work level and ability. The experience of piecing together feet, shoulders etc. that had been smashed to smithereens was invaluable to me as a therapist. And the reward of seeing the results and the clients’ increased mobility and decreased pain was profound. I learned so much and I’m grateful to these lovely people who entrusted themselves to me with such open hearts.

ScarWork is the original creation of Sharon Wheeler, to whom I am extremely grateful. Sharon’s website.   I met Sharon four years ago, and am now her accredited UK tutor (Emma Holly, one of the Bosnia team, is also being trained as a ScarWork tutor). Sharon’s work, the ScarWork and BoneWork, have changed how I see the body and have been invaluable in developing my own clinic work.

Jan Trewartha