Life Onboard
A bright future for the women of Dubrovnik: DESA and the Yugoslavian war, May 7, 2014
Participants enjoying a traditional Easter feast at a local family house. Ivan fought in the war in the 1990s, and shared stories of how his life dramatically changed after its outbreak.
Peace Boat first visited DESA 17 years ago and provided sewing machines for the organisation to start its sewing and tailoring workshops that still continue today. These workshops teach women affected by war the skills needed to make and sell clothing. This enables them to earn an income and at the same time gives them a purpose, and a way to meet new people and interact with other community members.

During the 83rd Global Voyage and almost two decades after their first visit, Peace Boat once again visited the NGO to learn more about the Yugoslavian war, the conflict in Croatia and how the country is moving forward.

Peace Boat participants also had the unique opportunity to enjoy traditional food at local community members' houses on Easter Saturday as well as to learn the traditional crafts that the women rely on to support themselves. These cultural exchanges provided participants and locals alike a chance to speak openly about their past experiences and understand more about one another.

It's hard to imagine that over 90% of the city of Dubrovnik was destroyed by constant shelling and civil war in the early 1990s.
"It was very interesting for me to take part in this program" said Ms. Hattori Michiko, one of the Peace Boat participants and a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor. "In all of the war affected areas that we've visited I'm beginning to see the negative impacts on communities that remain long after the conflict has ended. We share the same hopes, dreams and needs and we need to realise that only through this understanding and through unity can we achieve peace."

During the day in port, Peace Boat participants also had a chance to walk around the now-vibrant Dubrovnik city. The cobblestone streets and maze of small streets and alleyways give a unique charm to this now bustling world heritage site. However ruins remain scattered throughout the city as a visible trace and reminder of the war.

Peace Boat participants learn how to make sugared almonds and orange peel, both local products that the women of DESA make a living from.
"The people of Dubrovnik suffered greatly during the war. JNA (Yugoslavian People's Army) troops in bordering Bosnia and Montenegro constantly attacked the city and the "siege of Dubrovnik" raged for the duration of the five-year conflict" explained Seka Limovs, the Manager of DESA. Many people lost everything as a result. Their homes were destroyed and their families were injured, displaced or killed. Their futures were uncertain and the pain of war was all too familiar.

One day in the midst of the siege of Dubrovnik a group of refugee women were discussing their hopes for an end to the conflict. Fed up with the constant shelling, death and destruction that surrounded them, they decided to form a social group that focused on craftwork and sewing to provide an outlet that distracted their attention from the war and that provided other women with the same opportunity. "This group of women eventually became DESA and they officially registered in 1993 to help other women affected by the conflict and give them a sense of belonging and sanity during a very difficult time", Seka said. Now DESA has more than 500 participants in their education and training programmes. Their projects also focus on unemployment and developing entrepreneurship using arts and crafts and local produce.

As a refugee from a small village in Bosnia, Sasha has been given the chance to use her weaving skills to make a living and teach other women who have been affected by the war.
One of the women that DESA has provided support to for over twenty years is Sasha. Sasha joined DESA during the war when she fled from her small Bosnian village when it was occupied by the Serbian army and her home was burnt down. "Upon coming to DESA we quickly realized Sasha's unique weaving skills. Over the years she has taught hundreds of women to weave and has given them the chance to obtain a regular income as well as having a strong social support network within the organisation" Seka added. Though Sasha seems content with her life post-war, she explained, "I think about my home every single day. I still keep the key to my house and look forward to the day that I will be able to return."

Seka Limovs, the coordinator of DESA, shares her stories about the struggles of war and how DESA has re-shaped the future for many women in Dubrovnik.
Peace Boat staff member and journalist Jasna Bastic, who fled from her hometown Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Yugoslavian conflict, also joined the programme. As a refugee from the conflict and a visitor to DESA, Jasna explained that, "it's touching for me to relive the memories of my youth in a town that is now part of another country. Despite everything that happened during the war, we are creating new bridges and building new possibilities. It's nice to see the good life back in Dubrovnik and that a lot of people from all different backgrounds are coming together to share peace in the city."

One of the major themes of Peace Boat's 83rd Global Voyage is war and conflict resolution. After visiting Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, listening to first-hand testimonies of the Hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, speaking with International Students from Israel and Palestine and interacting with women displaced by the Yugoslavian war, we understand that a simple desire for peace, harmony and a life free from oppression, violence and abuse is shared by all those who have been affected by conflict.

Jasna's hope is that "through our common past and history, we can create a shared and united future in which cultural difference is embraced, borders are dissolved, and we realise that dialogue and peace through unity serve the common good far more than the wanton greed of a few powerful people."