Lean In Moments: Dilia Zwart

A view of Tuzla from my house in the green hills
A view of Tuzla from my house in the green hills

 Dilia Zwart- Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD) in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina

I am working for Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD), a non-profit based in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. BILD is, in many ways, a one-man show run by its founder, who came at the end of the Bosnian war. In the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia and in the name of a Serbian Republic in Bosnia, Bosnian Serbs ethnically cleansed Bosniaks and Croats. The war is often depicted in Western media as a muddle of ethnic and religious tensions inherent in the Balkan region. One girl I interviewed here asked if I was surprised that Bosnia is not just a photograph of war and destruction.

Even as Bosnians are moving beyond the years of war, its legacies linger. Not every building has been rebuilt, not every family has been healed by loss, many former refugees still live away perhaps visiting in the summer, and unemployment is at 40%. To establish peace and balance political and regional aspirations, the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords set up the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina as the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (RS). Here, BILD aims to foster leadership and community among all Bosnians. Since 2008, BILD has been organizing the Tuzla Summer Institute (TSI) in the Federation to teach English and practical skills to young people in Tuzla. For the last 3 years, BILD has also organized the Doboj Summer Institute (DSI) in the RS, linking two cities that haven’t completely resolved wartime tension.

Setting up to interview 300 applicants for the summer institute!
Setting up to interview 300 applicants for the summer institute!

My job as an intern? Recruit applicants from top high schools and universities, interview them, process them, place each student into appropriate classes, maintain the volunteer community that embodies BILD, teach three classes. If you asked me a year ago if I would ever go to a foreign country to teach English, the immediate answer would be no. And somehow I find myself here, compelled by BILD’s respect for multiculturalism and its subtle approach to post-conflict reconciliation.

At Harvard, I am a student interested in the intersection of culture and international law, politics and religion, conflict and reconciliation. These academic interests give me a foundation for the real world, only a beginning. Here, I learn how the games of politics can affect a whole country from the top down. Just being driven by goodwill and sacrifice is not enough. Pleasing donors, prominent community leaders, and the community itself is not enough. I see how these endeavors can lead to disillusionment, embittering even the most kind-hearted and well-meaning among us.

This internship is all about personal initiative. One example of when I “leaned in” was when it came down to extracurricular program. I’d been in Tuzla for over two weeks preparing for the summer institute, and we had vaguely mentioned excursions and afternoon programs to engage students in after classes. Since I think it is important for students to participate in such a program, to practice English outside of classes and get to know each other, I decided to take charge of this project. Together with two other interns, I am planning and choreographing everything from speakers and announcements during lunch, to tennis tournaments and British high tea in the afternoon.

The nature of this internship is highly unstructured, which can be frustrating but also gives me the freedom to get things done when I see that they need organization and execution. There is no manual to tell me what needs to get done and how to do it. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to take the initiative, especially when you have a boss who is passionate but intimidating (and quite challenging to work with). Often I feel as if I cannot question or challenge how certain things are done here, while other aspects are left entirely to my own devises. I have learned a great deal about working together with difficult people, effective communication, and how to value myself even when I do not feel valued by others.

Us having fun after driving back and forth to Doboj for a week, recruiting applicants!
Us having fun after driving back and forth to Doboj for a week, recruiting applicants! (I’m on the far left)

High hopes, high goals. There is no time or patience for inefficiency. Compassion is the first step, action and cooperation follow. I hope to emerge from this experience knowing that I have what it takes to take charge of my own passions, and share them with others with both empathy and determination.


3 thoughts on “Lean In Moments: Dilia Zwart”

  1. I love your passion, Dilia Zwart. It makes me so beyond happy to have you close and realize how we were, indeed, not just strangers in that freshman seminar. Keep up the good work! Rooted here, I can’t even tell you how much it means to the students you are working with. I would have loved to have such an opportunity while I was still here. <3

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