By Kaleena McKell

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina was destroyed during the war in the 1990s. The bridge formerly connecting the East and West sides of the city was shelled to bits and represented the increasing divide in society. Today, the bridge stands restored as an iconic symbol of the city, its history and its future. (Photo by Kaleena McKell)

I first visited Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during a summer backpacking trip in 2017. The main goal of the trip was to hike and visit beaches and historical sites. I first felt the desire to explore the Balkan region after reading online about some national parks in Croatia. From there I read about BiH. The beautiful pictures and interesting history of the country captivated me; I decided I needed to go. The few days spent in  the city of Mostar were the highlight of the 10-week trip. I knew I needed to come back. This summer I finally had the opportunity to return to the country.

Last year when I returned home and resumed school, I began searching online for communications-related internship opportunities in BiH. I eventually came across a peacebuilding non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) located in Sarajevo, BiH.

After applying, all I could think about was moving to BiH and immersing myself in the culture, the history and the present way of life. I was ecstatic upon receiving the news that I had been offered the internship.

Living and working in Sarajevo this summer gave me an intense appreciation of the culture and the generous people. I learned first hand what it takes to work in the NGO sector and saw the immense effort, love and hard work the founders of PCRC put into their organization.

PCRC seemed to be involved in everything – from producing their own documentaries about ordinary heroes and running their own media outlet to curating photo exhibitions on marginalized groups and running social media campaigns combating violent extremism. The group also provided youth training and education throughout the nation.

Intern Kaleena McKell works alongside Emina Horić and other Bosnian Youth creating social media and offline campaigns countering violent extremism in cities all over the country. (Photo by Joanna Burleigh)

As an intern I also got to be a part of a variety of projects. I participated in photographing events and worked on a landscape photography project. I also had the opportunity to edit a report on “The Real Voice of Journalism,” detailing the struggles and obstacles of being a journalist in present-day BiH. I designed social media visuals and drafted posts for various campaigns.

A highlight of my internship and one of my favorite and most rewarding projects to date was

was working on an in-depth article about hiking trails in the Balkans and how it relates to peacebuilding and reconciliation in the region.

The immense power of storytelling across all these mediums and platforms became evident to me throughout my internship. I saw how one picture can truly tell a unique story. I saw how social media posts can influence people’s opinions and perceptions. I saw how the media platform Balkan Diskurs and its focus on stories of courage, change and reconciliation demonstrated the morale and resilience of a people who’ve endured such great pain.

My experiences this summer have propelled me into choosing a career path that will allow me to blend peacebuilding and storytelling in the beautiful way I witnessed in Sarajevo this summer. I’m excited to apply these experiences to a master’s program in risk communication and crisis journalism that I will begin this fall at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

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