Juniors collaborate on a proposal to help survivors of wartime sexual trauma in Bosnia
Juniors and Posse Scholars Melanie Romero and Hana Memisevic have won a 2021 Projects for Peace award for their collaborative project, “Healing for Peace,” to support wartime sexual trauma survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Projects for Peace program invites undergraduates to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer. The objective is to encourage and support today’s motivated youth to create and try out their own ideas for building peace.
According to the Bosnian Interior Ministry, as a result of the Bosnian War (1992–1995), there are approximately 50,000 women and men surviving sexual trauma, Romero and Memisevic wrote in their proposal. Yet, the associated trauma goes untreated for many reasons, ranging from stigma around talking about the issue to lack of knowledge in navigating the legal system.
“Healing for Peace, our healing center for wartime sexual trauma survivors, will kick-start the process of finding inner peace for community members who are impacted by sexual violence, while simultaneously destigmatizing conversations around sexual violence,” Romero and Memisevic wrote. “Inner peace and healing are crucial for the safety and well-being of communities and families who will, in turn, begin to unpack and break the cycles of intergenerational trauma.”
The juniors plan to use space at the United World College (UWC) campus in Mostar, Bosnia. Partnering with UWC Mostar, community organizations and a variety of therapists, including psychotherapists and music therapists, they will provide a place for conversation, self-care, education and other support participants might need to lead healthier lives. They also will train volunteers on the program structure and curriculum.
Romero is double majoring in political science and sociology, for which she is a teaching assistant. Memisevic is a secondary education and Hispanic studies double major. They first met as Posse 19 Scholars, further bonded during Wheaton’s domestic study away program in Miami in fall 2019 and are now inseparable best friends.
Their project will give Memisevic a chance to put her language skills into practice in the service of others.
“I speak Bosnian fluently. I also have worked closely with several nonprofit organizations aimed at closing opportunity and achievement gaps,” she noted. “Through this work, I have gained great communication skills and been trained on how to navigate conversations on healing from trauma.”
Romero, a first-generation student, said her education and experiences will provide a multi-dimensional perspective on the work ahead. “Double majoring in political science and sociology allows me to understand how stigmas could disadvantage communities and societies for generations,” she said.
Their shared interests led them to want to collaborate on the project proposal.
“My parents and family were in Bosnia during the war and though we are so far from the country itself, the impact of the war is still felt in tremendous ways,” Memisevic said. “There are a lot of ways that we could have chosen to go about constructing a project in Bosnia, but we believed combining our goal of addressing wartime issues with something we were passionate about— healing from sexual violence—was the best route to choose.”
“We wanted to work on this together because we learned that we work together really well and that our combined skills and passions could result in a project that could make real change. We get along, know how to hold each other accountable and we really inspire each other in various ways,” Memisevic said.
The Projects for Peace grant is possible thanks to funding from the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by committing $1 million toward projects that promote peace around the world. She was the mother of alumna Diana Davis Spencer ’60 and received an honorary degree from Wheaton in 2008. The program is open to undergraduate students who are enrolled at a Davis United World College Scholars Program partner school, such as Wheaton, as well as a few other participating institutions.
Romero and Memisevic were nominated for the award by Wheaton and have been supported by the college’s Scholar Development Team, a group of staff members made up of individuals from the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services and the Global Center for Education.
As travel restrictions allow, Romero and Memisevic plan to carry out their project this summer.
Romero, who is treasurer for Queer and Trans People of Color, said the experience will help support her with her post-Wheaton goal of working to influence policy or with an organization to make a difference in the lives of those who are targets of oppression and have limited opportunities.
Memisevic, who lives in Emerson House, a theme residence for a diverse group of students who have a passion for social justice, also said the Projects for Peace work will help her achieve her career goals.
“I have always wanted to be a teacher, which is such a multifaceted career. Sexual assault and sexual violence are so prevalent in our society and being able to immerse myself in a program focused on healing from this trauma will allow me to learn how to address students’ trauma while in the classroom and outside the classroom,” Memisevic said. “Knowing what resources to direct my future students to and knowing how to help them in ways that they need will be so crucial to providing the healthiest education for them that I can.”