top of page

ROM 2022 Summer Gathering United Young Leaders in a Divided Country

9/15/22, 10:00 AM

The goal of the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) summer gathering that took place in Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina August 6-20, 2022 was to equip ROM participants to return to their communities as bridge-builders and peacemakers, seeking to bring unity to communities divided along ethnic, religious, or socio-economic lines.

The fifty participants were young leaders from 16  countries, including students and young professionals in various  spheres.

The ROM program is a journey. This year our journey  began with discussion of issues of identity, nationalism, forgiveness,  the power of narrative, reconciliation, peacebuilding, and healing, then  moved on to themes of leadership and action, exploring topics such as  integrity, how to recognize the truth, how to disagree well, and servant  leadership.

This was the first year that our summer gathering took place in  Bosnia & Herzegovina, and a highlight of the program was hearing  from two experienced Bosnian peacebuilders.

Mirela Popaja-Hadzic talked about the effects of intergenerational  trauma and toxic narratives on young potential leaders in the Balkans:  “In Yugoslavia abusive, authoritarian leadership was modeled,” Mirela  shared. “Centuries of trauma led to lost dignity, power, voice. In the  90s, after the war, nationalism arose, but not nationalism for  nationalism’s sake but nationalism for election’s sake. In order to talk  about division and toxic leadership we must talk about  intergenerational trauma. If we want to build leaders in our country we  have to teach critical thinking. When you’re subordinate for centuries,  you forget you have a brain. It is hard because we are unlearning what  we were taught for 700 years.”

Amra Pandzo shared some of her story of how surviving the Siege of  Sarajevo (and marrying a Serbian husband in the middle of the war)  motivated her to become a peace activist. “If you feel like you can’t  accept just one narrative as definitive, then you are on your way to  becoming a peacebuilder,” Amra shared. She then led us through an  engaging exercise to identity our core group values in peacebuilding.

We were grateful for the opportunity to learn general principles  and also to learn more about the history and complexity of the country  we were guests in, which is still starkly divided between the three main  ethnic and religious groups: Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and  Orthodox Serbs.

The topics presented by our team of speakers all worked together to  convey a cohesive message: we should not allow the media or society to  build bigger barriers and create larger gaps between countries, or  religious, ethnic, or social groups. Instead, we should cross divides,  listen to each other’s stories, see each other as human beings, and then  we will be able to heal divisions and have productive conversations  about the issues facing our societies and work together to find  solutions.

Feedback from participants:

Gent, Albania: “ROM teaches you that you have more  in common with other people than divisions and how to come together to  create a better society and bring our countries together and avoid war  between us. Also ROM is a place where you can learn that not everything  that you knew is as you knew it, there is not just your truth but there  are also other truths and you have to accept this and try to create a  balance between your truth and the truth of other peoples, which make it  possible to create a more peaceful world.”

Josh, USA: “What I learned is that ROM is a safe  place to express yourself. You can express your values without people  telling you that you are wrong. Its a place where different communities,  countries, and cultural values come together to express themselves in a  way that is uplifting and allows people to feel heard. In many ways I  learned more about my country. I learned about myself and how I can  apply different people’s values from different countries to my own  country. Ultimately it’s a place of building amazing relationships with  people you never expected to build a relationship with. ROM is a place  that exposes you to so many different values, and beliefs, and ideas,  only to allow you to grow your own ideas. But above all, everyone here  has a good heart, a good spirit and wants to do good in their own  communities, and that is something we can all relate to and connect on  to some degree. I’m going to be a better person when I go back, and it’s  been a great two weeks, and one of the best summers of my life.”

Noemi, team member from Spain: “ROM is a place and  a moment where you can meet people from different European countries.  Where you get to know each other on a personal level and many things  about their countries. And they become like your family. You can talk  about politics, life, many topics, and at the same time you have fun.”

Dusan, Serbia: “ROM is a great opportunity, it’s  really fantastic to be here and experience all this diversity of other  cultures and countries and learn about them and learn how we can  overcome divisions with other countries, with our stereotypes and  everything else that composes our reality. We learn how to apply the  skills we learned here in our hometowns and native regions. We learned  skills here and how to be leaders in our communities. There is much work  to be done to influence others and take what we learned here back and  try to be transformative and compassionate leaders. It’s a great  opportunity!”

bottom of page