COVID-19 pandemic affected all parts of the society – from restrictions of movement to online education, children, parents, youth and elderly all faced with a situation when staying at home is the best prevention. Staying at home, however, is not that simple.  In this case, the hardest hit have taken those who are often neglected by the system.

Civil society organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina have found themselves in a particular position during the state of emergency. Otherwise focused on solving systemic problems in their local communities, civil society organizations this time faced the task of helping the most vulnerable categories of society to overcome the fear of a pandemic, the ban on movement and the economic consequences caused by the pandemic. Within the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans – ReLOaD, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), civil society organizations have found ways for working with children with and without developmental disabilities, the elderly, people in need of psychological help, and people with limited mobility.

Physical activity at home

One of the measures introduced during March and April included a movement ban for people over 65 years of age. Association "Generacija" from the municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo works with the elderly and through the ReLOaD program carries out a series of activities to keep the elderly active. At the beginning of March, the Association suspended its regular activities and gatherings in the premises of the center, but they immediately started creating new activities, so that the elderly would not be neglected.

In cooperation with Television Sarajevo, every working day in the morning program they broadcasted exercises for the elderly that can be performed at home.

"We started recording exercises for physical health improvement, initially publishing them on our social media channels, and afterwards on Sarajevo Canton Television," said the Association's spokeswoman Emina Masic, adding that they also started recording health lectures.

In May, the exercises began to be broadcast in the morning program of BHRT over the weekend, so that all citizens can remain active by following carefully designed exercises for their age.

Ban on movement and reduced physical activity also affected the youngest, especially children with developmental disabilities. Swimming club "SPID" from Sarajevo, which through the ReLOaD program works with children with and without developmental disabilities, in the absence of opportunities for regular trainings, created a video challenge to animate children and parents in simulating exercises that are normally done in water. In a fun way, they made it possible for children to have physical activity that will help them adapt to water exercises as easily as possible, and at the same time they offered parents new forms of spending time with their children.

Working with children and youth

Online classes, lack of socializing and physical contact for many young people meant a big change in daily activities, as well as possible mood swings and feelings of insecurity.

In order to enable high school students from Banja Luka to socialize and feel a sense of belonging to a joint activity, the organization Perpetuum Mobile has prepared tools for online learning of debate skills. This organization, with the support of the European Union through the ReLOaD program, works on strengthening public speaking skills of youth. At the time of the pandemic and the closure of schools, Perpetuum Mobile conducted this activity online.

"The debate enables young people to express their views in an articulated and democratic way, to nurture a culture of dialogue and non-violent communication, as well as to seek solutions to identified issues and problems of young people. Debating on topics in the field of healthy lifestyles raises awareness among young people about the importance of change: harmful and destructive habits that contribute to basic health risk factors (tobacco and drugs, alcohol, unhealthy diet and insufficient physical activity), and rigid and retrograde attitudes when it comes to the gender equality issues", said the PR of the project, Aleksa Matić.

Online learning tools were also used by Association CROA from Vogošća, which, through the project "Art of Democracy", organized a series of lectures via Facebook with artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lecturers talked with young people about freedom of speech and expression, human rights, the society in which we live, and the role of art in change.

Art was also a tool used by the Forum Theater from East Sarajevo, which, instead of performances in schools in Pale, held a series of workshops with young people on prevention and protection from peer violence with young people.

The PIPOL Association from Tuzla focused on health, ensuring the home delivery of healthy food for the participants of their workshops, as well as interesting recipes for fruit salads that girls and boys could make at home. The aim of this activity was to raise immunity and prevent various diseases among children and young people.

Psychological support

During the two months of staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus, we were reminded once again that the house is not always a safe place for everyone. The Foundation for Local Democracy, which is implementing the project "Prevention of Domestic Violence - Mobile Psychological and Legal Support Services" within the ReLOaD program, drew attention to the fact that domestic violence is a complex problem, which is especially complicated during the COVID-19 state of emergency. In order to provide advice and psychological support, they organized three free online lectures on recognizing violence and reacting in case violence occurs.

The goal was to raise the level of general and specific knowledge on domestic violence in the Sarajevo Canton, and to provide citizens of Sarajevo Canton with access to free legal and psychological assistance and support.

The Red Cross of Tuzla Canton within the project "Let's talk about dementia" during the movement ban measure provided psycho-social support to the elderly and their families via phone.

"With intention of responding to the needs of our users in the new situation, we provided psycho-social support to the elderly and their loved ones by phone. This support had multiple outcomes, and our users did not feel isolated, lonely and scared despite the movement ban. For the elderly without family support, we have ensured the delivery of groceries, medicines and self-protection products to home addresses. We encouraged the elderly to organize into self-help groups and provide mutual support using available online tools (viber, telephone)," said Tanja Bijedić, project coordinator.

Community support

Some civil society organizations have engaged in the production of protective equipment and the procurement of resources needed for the community. Thus, the organization OKC Urban Art from Jablanica made 250 protective visors for health institutions using a 3D printer, and the Women's Association Đurđevak from Brod sewed over 2000 cloth masks for citizens.

In Maglaj, two associations, Agroliješnica and the Association of Agricultural Producers, distributed seeds and orchards to 35 people to enable them a productive spring season and food source for the upcoming period.

Volunteering and the work of civil society organizations continue even after the lifting of the state of emergency measures. Through the support of the European Union and in cooperation with 21 local governments, the ReLOaD program works to preserve transparency and enable a better quality of life for every member of the community.

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