Stela – Banja Luka
“My friends tell me not to fight the wind, you cannot win. But I can try.”
My desire to remain in BiH sets me apart from my peers, many of whom are leaving for opportunities abroad. I think that many of them place too much focus on the challenges BiH is facing, thereby overlooking its potential. Personally, I feel strongly connected to Banja Luka; my family history is rooted in this place. My mother’s parents built their house with their own hands and my mother was raised within those walls. During the war, armed soldiers showed up on their doorstep and, based upon their Muslim identity, ordered my grandparents and mother to leave. Although she was 9 months pregnant at the time, my mother confronted the soldiers and refused to submit. My father’s family helped to defend them and their property. If my parents could endure that experience, then I can stay now.
Being a child from a mixed marriage had its challenges, especially within the educational system. Prior to my first days at school, I was not aware that my parents relationship was questioned by society – that is how committed they were to one another. On the first day of school, teachers asked each student to identify themselves by ethnicity. I never understood why this was necessary. My response – “none” – was met with confusion. The assumption was that because my father was a Serb, I must be Orthodox; however, I did not identify within any single ethnic “box.” I remember that religious studies was part of the primary school curriculum. I was required to praise one god or another, but I did not want to choose. My parents fought for two years to have me excused from that class. Out of twenty-five, I was the only student who did not attend. This made me different from my peers.
When I was bullied, my mother taught me to be honest and express myself rather than give into my aggression. I learned early that parents should teach their children to be accepting of others, and if not accept, at least tolerate difference. Children did not always learn this at home, where it had been communicated to me through my mother’s fierceness and my father’s quiet steadiness. Although I am generally positive of the educational system in BiH, I do feel that one area in which the country needs to invest more resources is early childhood education. Childhood is such a critical time in human development. If we can hope for any improvement in society, it needs to originate from what adults both teach and model to children, starting with the acceptance of diversity at home and in the classroom.