sunlight filtering through tree calming image

Bosnia, 2010


A therapist’s story

I first heard of the charity Healing Hands Network several years ago, when a friend of mine went out to Sarajevo, Bosnia under their banner, to offer massage to those affected by the war in the 1990s. I was very touched by her experience and felt it was a good cause to support.

We flew out on Saturday 10th April, arriving in Sarajevo quite late in the evening. Sunday was spent getting acquainted with the house that we were staying in, housekeeping, the local area (old Turkish quarters), a little history of the country, client bookings, treatment records cards and so on.

The house we stayed in was great. Our own bedroom and therapist bathroom, a kitchen and another toilet downstairs and we used the office as our ‘lounge’ in the evening. There was a courtyard to sit out in, though it rained the majority of the time, so we didn’t make too much use of it. We even had our own family of cats who would hang around. We were only a short walk away from the local supermarket, fruit and veg stalls, shops, cafes and bars.

There were 2 treatment rooms in the house that we lived in and also there were 3 outreach centres: Hadizci, Vogosca and Ilijas that we would be driven out to. Hadizci and Vogosca were 20 mins drive from the centre of the city where we were and Ilijas was further north, taking about 45 mins to get there. The outreach centres were offices that we organised as best as possible to give treatments. A rota was drawn up for who would be working where and when.

We were to work Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm with an hour for lunch, so seeing 7 people a day. The middle weekend was our own time, to do with as we pleased and then week 2 followed the same pattern of hours.

Clients would be referred to the charity via the CCA (Concentration Camp Association) and the CVW (Civil Victims of War) and Mothers of Srebrenica, then they would be booked in for treatment, a consultation taken on their first visit and subsequent treatments booked in as appropriate, very much like our own businesses are run in the UK.

I was offering Reflexology, Reiki and Indian Head Massage. The treatment I gave depended on the individual and their particular areas of concern.

We saw men, women, young and old.   The youngest I saw was probably in mid 30’s and the oldest was in their 70’s.

They had a range of experiences, from loss of limbs, shrapnel still imbedded in legs and arms. Many suffered from sore backs and knees, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, sleep disturbance, anxiety and depression.

There were those men and women who had been beaten daily, burnt with cigarettes, women repeatedly raped, young women taken from their homes and made to clean for others.

Some were forced from their homes and into concentration camps, which could have been a house, school, shop or some other building. Some were held under house arrest for a few days, some for 4 years.

Some had lost a husband, wife, son or daughter. Many still have missing relations. Many are still refugees and can not return to their homes as they were destroyed.

The majority had a sense of sadness and grief about them that was at times overwhelming to be around. However, there were lighter moments too, with laughter amongst the tears.

What they also have is an amazing sense of pride and determination. They get out of bed in the morning and carry on with their lives. They are gentle and kind and so caring about each other. They help and support each other. They live for today and don’t dwell on the future.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the treatments all the therapists have given over the years have helped. Some report being able to close their eyes at night, even being able to get some sleep. Some have no pain in their back or knees. Some no longer get headaches. They were so grateful to receive the treatments, often bringing in gifts of pie, chocolate, cake or jam.

They are so touched that people would care enough to go them and offer some kind of help. That they have been given a chance to tell their story and that they are listened too. One lady spoke of her experiences for the first time in 17 years.

It was just the most awesome experience to be a part of. It was humbling that they would reveal their pain and grief to you and that in some small way, you were able to bring some peace and calm, if only for the duration of the treatment. It felt like I was in the right place, doing the right thing and has really inspired me to continue with some form of humanitarian work.


There are a handful of people I won’t forget…

Two girls a few years younger than me, who would have been in their 20s during the war. One had shrapnel in her head and right eye blown out, another had shrapnel in her legs, thumb blown off and eye damaged, but both were very happy and bubbly. I wondered what they were doing when a grenade changed their lives, going to the café, meeting a boyfriend, buying milk and bread.

There was a lady who walked in the room and even from 10 foot away, you could feel her grief. She had lost her husband and sons in the war and could just not find a way to deal with the grief.

There was a lady whose birthday it was, despite looking 10 years older than me, she was only 39. She was forced from her home in the war and her husband was missing. Only a few weeks ago, his remains were found in a mass burial site and he can now be buried properly. She was so elegant and within a few moments of the start of the treatment, started crying.

One man lost his brother last week, another brother died last year and he lost his two sons in the war. Another woman raped and beaten daily, another woman beaten and burnt with cigarettes. And so the stories go on.