Glenwood Springs peace fellow establishing market for Bosnian crafts
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A local college student who spent the better part of last year in Bosnia as part of a peace fellowship assisting women survivors of the July 1995 genocide is now working to set up a network to sell their handicrafts in the United States.
From May through December 2012, Claire Noone was in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina filming documentaries about the protests, genocide funerals and mass grave excavations that are still a daily part of life in the war-torn nation 18 years later.
Noone also documented weddings and parties, and gave special focus to the artistic pursuits of Bosnian women who work hard to weave a life for their families by creating intricately woven rugs, carpets, hats, socks, slippers and scarves.
Upon her return home earlier this year, in addition to continuing her law studies at the University of Denver, Noone, 24, began the process to set up a nonprofit organization to help the women sell their goods.
“These women make the most beautiful carpets and other hand-crafted works that you could imagine,” Noone said in a recent interview about her latest efforts. “But with 65 percent unemployment in their country there is no market.
“The goal is to help them establish a market so they can export their product and be able to have a sustainable business,” she said.
Through BOSFAM USA, the organization that sponsored her peace fellowship last year, Noone is setting up what will be known as “Sovereign Threads.”
Sales will be catalog- and Internet-based, although she also hopes to get some of the goods in U.S. storefronts, including locally in her home town of Glenwood Springs. Already, some of the products can be found at Mona Lisa and Luxe Boutique.
Noone will be returning to Srebrenica, Bosnia, later this month to “check and polish the operations” there, before returning to launch the new nonprofit.
Her trip last year was centered in Srebrenica, as well as Tuzla. Many of the women she worked with are widows and displaced refugees whose husbands and other family members were killed when Serbian forces slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men on July 11, 1995.
BOSFAM was set up in 1994 to support women of all ages, ethnicities, nationalities and education levels in the communities, helping them market their goods. The women Noone worked with ranged in age from their mid-20s to their 70s.
Last summer, Noone documented a commemorative march that takes place on July 11 each year between Srebrenica and Tuzla.
“I was the only American, and one of the only women on the march,” Noone said. “It’s a very intense 100 miles.”
Along the way, she met up with a woman who was going to bury her son, one of the victims of the genocide, whose body had only just been found earlier that year.
“The whole family was there to bury his body,” Noone said. “There were open displays of mourning as they made a mass announcement of all the names. Within an hour they had reburied another 520 bodies. It was pretty powerful.”
In addition to working as part of the BOSFAM effort, during her time in Bosnia Noone has also been helping to create gardens to help the different towns grow and produce their own vegetables.
She leaves for her third trip to the country on June 12, and plans to stay again through the July 11 march, at the end of which yet another 600 bodies will be reburied.
Noone, who is the daughter of Mary and Bob Noone of Glenwood Springs, first visited Srebrenica for a study abroad in 2010 when she was a student at Whitman College in Washington. She graduated from Whitman in December 2011 with a degree in politics. She is now studying international and natural resource law at DU.
The fellowship and her ongoing work for the Bosnian women is a continuation of Noone’s human rights work, which included a project to help farmers in Nicaragua while she was a student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale.
“I’m very interested in the interface between land, territory, human rights and access to resources,” she said of her law studies and how they apply to her global work. “My efforts in Bosnia are going toward that same end of advocating for people who don’t have their voices heard.”
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