Surprisingly quickly I got used to life in the quiet Gracanica, BiH as well as the days at the office of Zene za Zene (ZzZ), the Bosnian partner of Women for Women International. The office is a buzzing space especially towards the end of the week, and I keep being amazed at how organized my colleagues are. We regularly have breakfast and coffee in the office while still keeping high work ethic expectations. Spending time with coworkers, even if only for 15 fun minutes, is such a necessary and useful break; still, it never drags too long and people go back to work smiling, seemingly “recharged.” Taking care of each other is an important aspect of work at the office and a small example is that every branch in the ZzZ Tuzla Canton offices collects a small amount of money to give to employees who have a birthday or a baby. All colleagues celebrate together and everyone is not simply invited, but rather expected to attend.

Some Wonderful Zene za Zene Employees

Some Wonderful Zene za Zene Employees, Kiva Coordinator on the Right

The changes in the economy and the hardship microcredit foundations are facing right now have brought about a strategic change for ZzZ. Problems are to be expected here in Bosnia and Herzegovina now that the economic crisis is more noticeably affecting Eastern Europe. All of the Zene ze Zene  borrowers whom I have spoken with have shared that the macro economic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is providing obstacles for their businesses. ZzZ is experiencing hard times too and they are planning to focus on developing the International side of their organization. As a partner Women for Women (International), which has branches in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan, Zene za Zene is proud of the work they do for women survivors of war and domestic violence.

Some of the success statistics for Zene za Zene (Bosnia & Herzegovina) include:

* An astounding 22,838 women have been helped so far

* We have launched women’s human rights and leadership training programs

* Expanded to reach women in 60 communities

* 88% of women say their self confidence is greater

* 96% report their intentions to use the vocational skill learned during the program

* 66% report developing friendships and support networks

* 55% learned about their rights

The stories are amazing and despite being heart-breaking they are also filled with hope. The foundation has given so much to each woman involved in terms of knowledge, friendships, a community, empowerment, and self-confidence. The last part amazes me because in my work as a leader in high-school and college (as well as in my personal life) I have found it terribly hard to raise people’s self confidence. Through Women for Women, many victims have overcome and judging by the work I have witnessed at Zene za Zene, I do not doubt that this success stories are possible. On July 15, 2009, Zainab Salbi—founder of Women for Women International—visited the office in Sarajevo and spoke about the motivations, goals, and hardships that the organization is facing. You can read more about her talk at my personal blog.

Women for Women (Bosnia) is just one example of the amazing organizations that Kiva Microfunds partners with. I encourage you as Kiva lenders to realize that through the auditing process supplemented by formal Borrower Verification, risk management by Kiva staff, and the selection of borrowers by MFIs, your money is a safe investment in the lives of entrepreneurs throughout the world.  Although I have seen some of the obstacles of microfinance, I am encouraged by ZzZ’s determination to continue succeeding.  Despite the problematic situations, ZzZ is outstanding in terms of its work with Kiva, and the Kiva borrowers I have met are all hardworking and earnest women. I hope that my Kiva Fellowship will help ZzZ (International) gain a bigger presence on Kiva.org and that they will post more loans in the future. You could show your support by joining the Lending Team “Friends of Women for Women International”!

This post was written by Velizara Passajova, a Kiva Fellow [Class 8] who has finished her first placement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will soon head to Armenia to help Nor Horizon in their initial steps towards working with Kiva.

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