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Swiss doctor committed to Bosnia war victims

Horsch says the war has left deep psychological scars

(Keystone)

Ten years after the start of the conflict in Bosnia, one Swiss woman is continuing to help war victims in the region.

In 1992 Alexandra Horsch was taking time out from university in Germany to study medicine in Sarajevo. When the conflict began, she was able to leave Bosnia, but she took with her an overriding desire to help the people who remained.

Today, Horsch is a busy woman; she's a doctor at Bern's Insel Hospital, and the mother of a two year old boy. But her commitment to helping the people of Bosnia, in particular women and children, remains.

"When I got back to Germany from Sarajevo I really felt I had to do something to help," she told swissinfo. "It was weird to be back in normal life after coming from an area where a war had started."

"I heard of a little group called CWA (Committee for Women's Aid) and I just walked in and offered my help."

Emergency medical aid

Horsch's medical training and her knowledge of Bosnia made her extremely useful, and before long the first aid projects were underway.

"Our first project was a medical evacuation of women who could not be treated in the crisis region," Horsch explained. "They were evacuated by Rega Swiss to hospitals in Germany and the Netherlands."

"After that we set up emergency medical stations in areas close to the conflict zone, where we knew there were a lot of refugees. We had stations in Croatia, and on the Hungarian border."

Horsch herself even transferred her medical studies to a university in Budapest, and wrote her final examinations in English, in order to be close to her work with CWA.

Huge amount of destruction

"I have an overwhelming memory of the forces that play a role when so many peoples' lives are destroyed," remembered Horsch. "It was terrible to see the huge amount of destruction that was going on."

Horsch continued her work with CWA throughout the time of the conflict in Bosnia, and did not stop when the Dayton peace accord was signed at the end of 1995.

"Our work has changed," she explained, "but the consequences of the war continue. Now we are concentrating on psychosocial intervention instead of acute medical intervention. We cannot exclude the difficult social situations in Bosnia; they are really a major problem now."

Today CWA runs an income generation project for women in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka. The women get regular work and regular income from producing knitwear that is sold in Switzerland. The project helps women who have been traumatised by war to regain some semblance of normal life.

But Horsch is not content with just one project; she is now turning her attention to other regions that could benefit from CWA's help.

"Unfortunately there continue to be conflicts all over the world; at the moment we have a medical support project in Kosovo," she said. "And we are planning to set up an income generation project in rural areas."

Despite all the time her work for CWA takes, Horsch said she has no problems with motivation.

"When a war starts," she explained, "it is very common to feel helpless when confronted with the violence which is going on. And for me it really helped to try and do something constructive, that is an important source of my motivation."

And despite ten long years of witnessing the atrocities of the Bosnian conflict, and the tragic consequences of those atrocities, Horsch retains her faith in the strength of the human spirit, which has been reinforced by the women she came to know in Bosnia.

"I am always amazed by the people I meet, especially women," she says, "who although they have suffered unimaginable torture, are still able to differentiate. They don't see a member of a particular ethnic group as a murderer or a rapist, but as a human being. And that is very important for the future of Bosnia."

By Imogen Foulkes

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