Mobilizing the Power of Women in Times of Need

March 3, 2015


Established by JDC in 1995, the Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP) has been improving the lives of women living with breast cancer in places where screening is scarce and giving a generation of women the tools to reach out to help others in difficult straits.

Those places include towns throughout northern Bosnia, where local infrastructure was destroyed by deadly floods that struck last May. In Orasje, at the epicenter of the flooding, many members of the local Narcisa organization — a WHEP partner NGO — were among those whose families and homes were affected. But instead of turning inward, these newly empowered women mobilized to help “give back” to the local community.

In November, Narcisa members organized a health day at a newly rebuilt local clinic that had been totally destroyed by the floods. Among other health interventions, the event offered free mammogram checkups, blood pressure and glucose tests, consultations with a family doctor and a gynecologist, educational lectures on healthy lifestyles, and hygiene packages for women.

And for at least one woman, the day may have meant the difference between life and death — she was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now undergoing treatment, with ongoing support from Narcisa’s network of breast cancer survivors.

Most touching was the participation and support of the women of Narcisa’s sister organization — Narcis — some six hours away in Siroki Brijeg. Ten brave Narcis members traveled nearly 220 miles to join their comrades-in-arms at the clinic in Orasje, bringing with them scores of beautifully wrapped packages of supplies lovingly prepared for their friends in need.

“It was (the) minimum that we could do to support our ‘sisters’ who suffered during the flooding,” said Radica Lasic, president of the Siroki Narcis. “Our friendships are beyond fighting breast cancer.”

Working in partnership with Susan G. Komen since 2005, WHEP has become a global initiative that encourages the early detection of breast cancer while supporting women who are living with this disease in societies with few health care resources and strong taboos against discussing this illness. It has a network today of 25 support groups, and some 32 partner organizations and communities.

The program provides psycho-social support and educational outreach activities for survivors and healthy women; delivers lifesaving health services such as free mammogram exams and strengthens doctor-patient communications; and fosters the empowerment of women and their assumption of leadership responsibilities as agents of social development and change.

Pointing to the recent activities in northern Bosnia, WHEP Regional Director Nela Hasic called this “a perfect example of what JDC and its partners have done in Bosnia, and a true testament to the power of women who quickly came together from all over the country to help in times of need.”

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