This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.
Nela Hasic has received two fateful phone calls from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The first likely saved her life. The second enabled her to help save the lives of countless other women.
Hasic is the director of the Women’s Health Empowerment Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The organization, a partnership between JDC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has had a major impact on breast cancer awareness and treatment in a part of the world where open discussion of the disease has traditionally been taboo. WHEP, which began in the mid-1990s and has grown significantly in the past decade, also operates in Hungary and Russia.
As might be expected, October,breast cancer awareness month, is a busy period for Hasic. Still, she spoke by phone with The Times of Israel about her organization’s work not only this month, but all year round.
We caught up with Hasic as she was making last-minute preparations for WHEP’s annual flagship event, Race for the Cure, which took place in Sarajevo’s Vilsonovo Setaliste Park on October 5. More than 5,500 people joyfully participated in the 5 kilometer walk/run, including 500 breast cancer survivors wearing pink Race for the Cure T-shirts. They traveled to Sarajevo from 42 cities and towns all over Bosnia and Herzegovina for the gathering.
The race is one of the only events organized on a national level that brings all Bosnians together — Muslim, Serbs, Croats and Jews — in a country that has not yet fully recovered from its devastating civil war, which took place between 1992 and 1995.
It was at the outbreak of the war that Hasic, now 49, received her first fateful phone call from JDC. In April 1992, she was contacted by the JDC and told that she, her family, and other Bosnian Jews would be airlifted to safety and taken to Israel.
“They told me I had one hour to get to the airport. I was surprised. I wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t believe it was really a war,” Hasic recalls. Her family has roots in Sarajevo going back 500 years to the Spanish Inquisition, and she couldn’t imagine leaving, but her father, a Holocaust survivor, convinced her to flee.
Click here to read more and to watch a video of this year’s Race For The Cure in Sarajevo.
© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.