March 18, 2009

'Women of War' panelist Zumra Balihodzic

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. – As a child in Sierra Leone, Sowande Parkinson lived in fear of leaving his house and of losing the people closest to him.

His country was in a civil war from 1991 to 2002, from the time he was 4 years old until he was 14.

"We were in prison both physically and psychologically, stuck in one place. Hearing about the atrocities others had seen was crippling," said Parkinson, now 22. "We, our generation, never got to see the land of milk and honey our parents grew up in. We lived with a sense that any day could be your last, and we never knew what might happen to our friends and family."

A second-year civil engineering and economics double major, Parkinson will be part of a panel discussion, "Women of War," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, in Trout Auditorium at Bucknell University. The Women's Resource Center, International Student Services and the Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC) are hosting the discussion as a way to increase awareness about atrocities innocent civilians face during times of war.

Rudo Mawema, a fourth-year international relations major who works for the Women's Resource Center, came up with the idea after hearing stories from fellow students who had experienced war.

The discussion will focus on the effects of women and children, but Parkinson will share his personal experiences as well. The other panelists are Zumra Balihodzic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Class of '09 and Simin Wahdat of Afghanistan, Class of '11. Mawema will moderate.

"By sharing personal stories of how war has affected members of our own campus community, we hope to inspire people to take an active interest and join our awareness efforts," Mawema said. "We also aim to foster an understanding of the culture of violence against innocent women and children that war has perpetuated in countries worldwide."

Balihodzic, a political science major, lives every day with the painful memories of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Experiencing war meant often hearing the sounds of grenades and going without food or water. Her family read by candlelight, then burned the books for heat because they had nothing left to burn.

The most painful memory for Balihodzic was seeing her best friend shot and killed, when she was 11 years old.

"He died on me," Balihodzic, now 27, said. "The shot missed me and hit him instead, which means the person who killed him was watching us. I don't understand how a person can kill a child. He was not able to live and experience his life, because someone stopped it. I ask myself, 'How come I survived?' This is something I deal with on a daily basis. How come it was him and not me?"

Balihodzic hopes that sharing her experiences will help people understand the profound effects of war.

"I don't always talk about it," she said, noting that it's difficult to convey to people the continuous fear and uncertainty of war. "When I'm by myself, I relive it."

Contact: Division of Communications

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