Monday November 7, 2005

Peacemakers

Former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and a retired music teacher will be honored for their role in sustaining peace in the former Yugoslavia — as part of events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

Former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been called the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords for his highly visible role in brokering the treaty that ended the war in the former Yugoslavia a decade ago. For that, he's receiving the Dayton Peace Prize on Thursday, Nov. 17, at a 6:30 p.m. Dayton Peace Prize Awards dinner at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center.

For the seeds of peace to take root, people working quietly and often anonymously at the grassroots level must be peacemakers. For that, retired piano teacher Farida Musanovic will receive the first Dayton Peacemaker Prize for her role in helping the founder of Women for Women International -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women survivors of war -- establish a humanitarian program in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Musanovic was the organization's first field representative and continues to serve on its board today.

The awards will be presented by Dayton: A Peace Process, a community collaboration operating under the Dayton Council on World Affairs that's organizing a series of high-profile events this fall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

"I'm very surprised to receive this award because there are so many women in my country who should be honored," said Musanovic in a telephone interview from Sarajevo. "I did what I thought I should do."

Zainab Salbi founded Women for Women International in 1993 after learning of the plight of women in rape camps in the former Yugoslavia and of the slow response from the international community. Salbi asked Musanovic to help her create "sister-to-sister" connections between sponsors in the United States and women survivors of war in the country.

"When Zainab came here, I helped her visit our refugee camps and meet other women's organizations. Months later, she started the program by matching one woman from Bosnia with one woman from the U.S. That moral support was of great importance," Musanovic said. "We helped 14 women in the first month. By 1997, we were helping more than 600 women with financial and moral support."

Initially, Musanovic translated letters and delivered funds. Later, she helped administer a program that helped women develop marketable skills and offered small loans for start-up businesses.

"Through all the horrors the war brought to Bosnia and Herzegovina, there turned out to be a lot of people in this world who want to help those in need - persons who through their actions restore our trust in other people and our faith in humanity as a whole," said Musanovic, who's hosted a number of Daytonians in her home over the last decade. "These American women gave their Bosnian sisters not only financial aid, but also emotional support, reassuring Bosnian refugee women that they are not abandoned."

From its humble beginnings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women for Women International has expanded to serve 52,000 women survivors of war and to distribute $21 million in direct aid and microcredit loans.

"It serves women in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigera and Rwanda," Musanovic said. "I'm really, really proud that in a small way in the beginning I helped them. Every individual should do something for peace and for a better life for all mankind."

During the war, Musanovic directed a "war school" that educated students from different parts of the city that were under shelling and sniper fire. "I tried to resist the barbarians by music," she said. "It's no wonder that many journalists visiting Sarajevo at that time, expecting that the life of the city would be completely dead, were astonished to hear the music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin or some other composer from the damaged building of the Music High School, whose windows had plastic sheets instead of glass."

Today, a decade after the Dayton Peace Accords, Musanovic said "post-war recovery remains a challenge." The country, divided by the treaty, needs greater unity.

"Some people are still against unity," she observed. "That's why the country is moving forward slowly. Americans must push for unity in order for this country to become a quote unquote normal country. It's still so divided."

Musanovic has only kind words for the people of Dayton, who have organized numerous people-to-people initiatives in the past decade. "Bosnia-Herzegovina is certainly counting on the support of the citizens of Dayton, who through their many humanitarian actions, proved to be our true friends."

The Dayton Peacemaker Prize, funded by local philanthropists Charles and Ann Simms, carries a $10,000 monetary award. A limited number of tickets are still available for the Dayton Peace Prize Awards dinner. The cost is $125. Call (937) 438-3336.

Dayton: A Peace Process is a community collaboration involving the Dayton Council on World Affairs, Central State University, city of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton, Wright State University, Wright Memorial Chapter of the Air Force Association, Dayton Daily News, Friendship Force and Sister Cities, as well as other regional organizations. For more information, click here.

Contact Doris Ponitz at (937) 434-6713 or Thomas Lasley at (937) 229-3557. They serve as co-chairs of DAPP.