A woman hands loaves of bread through a hatch to a man.
Matthew Sawatzky

Bernada Hinović passes loaves of bread and containers of soup to Sulejmen Mahmić, one of many people struggling to meet basic daily needs.

MCC partners help to meet basic needs of families and seniors in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a small beige building near high-rise apartments that dot the city of Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bernada Hinović lifts her ladle from a pot of soup and carefully fills a container. Adding a loaf of fresh bread, she reaches through a small door in the wall and passes food to Sulejmen Mahmić, who will take the package back home to nourish himself, his wife, two sons and an elderly neighbour.

Hinović is one of dozens of cooks and servers helping to prepare the 8,000 hot meals that Merhamet, a long-term MCC partner, provides daily. The organization, whose name means mercy in Arabic, also gives an additional 1,000 food packages monthly to people in remote locations.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, MCC supports the soup kitchens and food banks of partners like Merhamet with funding and shipments of canned meat and dried soup mix. MCC relief, school and hygiene kits and comforters and blankets also help to meet basic needs that are out of reach for many.

“. . . They come to us because they have no other option.”

– Sakib Osmanbegovič

“These are the poorest ones, the marginalized ones,” Merhamet’s Sakib Osmanbegovič says of those who come to the soup kitchens or receive food packages. “They come to us because they have no other option.”

For Mahmić, that’s certainly the case. Sometimes, as he walks to the soup kitchen in Zenica each weekday, people ask him where he’s going and he’s too ashamed to say. Other times he tells them the truth. Mahmić’s voice breaks and his eyes fill with tears as he talks about the food he will take home to his family and neighbour.

“I would do anything to feed them, but this is very difficult,” he says.

Mahmić worked in a mine for 33 years, but was injured there and also during wars in the 1990s. He is unable to work and barely survives on a monthly pension of less than $100.

A volunteer stirs a huge pot of simmering sauce.In Sarajevo, Jela Medić, volunteer at a Bread of Saint Anthony soup kitchen, stirs a huge pot of simmering sauce, part of 1,200 meals provided each day.

In an economy still reeling from war, many families cannot make ends meet on meager pensions or small salaries. Others can’t find work at all. Unemployment runs 40 per cent, among the highest in Europe. Government assistance is not nearly large enough to meet the needs of the people, and those who are injured, ill or too old to work often have few options.

“Within East Europe most people have been making hard choices about how to prioritize their basic needs for decades,” says Krystan Pawlikowski, an MCC representative for East Europe. “Our longstanding partners’ work has been to build up local relationships and support volunteering to help the most impoverished in holistic ways. MCC food assistance helps to support these local initiatives, such as soup kitchens, so that people will have to make fewer difficult choices for their families.”

In Sarajevo, Jela Medić stirs a huge pot of simmering sauce. She works with Bread of Saint Anthony (BSA), which feeds 1,200 people daily from its three soup kitchens in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Medić has been a volunteer with BSA, an MCC partner, for 12 years.

“It’s not easy work, but I do it with love and compassion,” she says. “I prepare the food as if it was in my own home. These people are really suffering.”

Both BSA and Merhamet stress that the people who come to them for help need more than food.

“Each of them has his or her own story,” says Sidik Aždahić, general secretary for Merhamet. “To approach them, to help them, you have to talk to them about what they deal with every day.”

For many people, reliable health care is a challenge. They live in rural areas or are unable to travel to health care facilities because they are ill or have no transport.

In response, BSA and Merhamet, in partnership with MCC, provide inhome care, especially for the elderly.

Adisa Skopljak sits with Ćatiba Alić an array of medication spread out on a table. Adisa Skopljak, left, health care worker with MCC partner Merhamet, visits with Ćatiba Alić in her home in Kakanj, offering much-needed basic health care, advice, encouragement and help with household tasks.

In the village of Kakanj, 70-yearold Ćatiba Alić, who has diabetes, sits on a couch in her home as a health care worker, Adisa Skopljak, from Merhamet tests her blood sugar. Alić, her husband and son receive food packages from Merhamet, but she says the home visits are especially valuable.

“I am grateful because they’ve been doing this for four years,” Alić says, explaining that health care workers not only bring medicine but also help with housekeeping tasks.

Merhamet sends teams — which can include a doctor or other medical worker, a social worker and a volunteer — to about 80 homes a month. The teams deliver medication and other health care supplies and offer advice on medical and hygiene issues.

BSA provides ongoing medical care to about 45 people. In some cases, a doctor visits weekly. A nurse may bathe or dress a person’s wounds. A social worker keeps track of the patient’s general health and lobbies for additional support from other institutions when needed. Volunteers do everything from cleaning a home to accompanying people to a grocery store or pharmacy.

A view of Sarajevo with a bridge in the foreground.Sarajevo, along with the rest of Bosnia and Herezegovina, continues to deal with the economic and social consequences of brutal conflicts in the 1990s.

Davor Majstorvić is a coordinator with BSA. He says many of the people who come to the soup kitchens or receive home care are still struggling with the trauma of the 1990s wars. They have physical challenges and disabilities. Some live with drug and alcohol addictions, domestic violence and family breakdown.

“This is the struggle of our country, the painful situation,” he says. “But as a humanitarian organization, we know that God won’t let us down and we are trying to share that love. It is our mission.”