Balkan Bread Interview
As-salamu alaikum everyone! My name is Sanela Ovnovic and I am a founder and president of a charity organization “Helping Hearts of Bosnia and Herzegovina” based in Chicago where I also reside.
Where I’m From: Originally, I come from the beautiful city of Mostar.
Current Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Favorite Balkan Song: My favorite Balkan song has got to be anything from Dino Merlin
Favorite Balkan Dish: My favorite Balkan food is, of course, japrak! It’s a dish made of grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.
What made you want to start Helping Hearts of BIH?
In May 2014, I formed a GoFundMe fundraiser to help out families during the worst floods in Bosnia when three months’ worth of rain fell there in three days, creating the worst floods since records began 120 years ago. Many lost their lives, got injured and tens of thousands of homes were left without electricity or drinking water. That same month I personally flew to visit a family in Maglaj to distribute our donations.
How did you get started and turn your vision into a reality?
My passion to help did not stop there; this was just a start to something more special. On my way back to Chicago, I decided to form a Helping Hearts of Bosnia & Herzegovina Facebook group where I started inviting my friends, family members, collecting donations and accomplishing great results since.
What’s been one of your favorite projects or initiatives that you’ve accomplished?
Seriously, there are too many to name, Alhamdulillah, but one of our bigger achievements so far was a 2017 collaboration with a humanitarian organization “Izvor Pomoci” to build a house for a family of four in Mostar. Also, this summer we remodeled a leaking bathroom for a family in Jablanica. Right now, we are working on another remodeling home project for a single handicapped man in Mostar. Other great projects to mention are our refugee and homeless events in Chicago. Our supporters donate in goods such as gently used clothing, shoes, small furniture items, toys, and kitchen appliances. We teamed up with another local volunteer-based agency in Chicago which helps us distribute our donations to local refugee families. Our homeless events happen on a monthly basis where we prepare and distribute lunch boxes at Downtown Islamic Center who is also sponsoring the meals. My team then goes out to visit a tent city in Chicago, distributes the lunch boxes, provide them with hygiene kits, clothing/shoe donations, water, and anything else that our sisters and brothers may need. Cold days are upon us so right now we are focusing on getting them ready for winter which can be dangerously cold in Chicago.
How can diaspora get involved with this organization?
I always stress the power of people and what happens when we come together. We have been able to accomplish so much only because we receive so much love and support from our community. If anyone wants to learn more about us and our work here and overseas, please visit our website at www.helpingheartsofbih.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to hear from you! Also, we are very active on Facebook and Instagram- follow our work and show your support. Invite your friends and family – the more of us who are willing to help, the more families we can reach and that’s our goal! If you’d like to make a donation and/or arrange to pick up/drop off please contact us or visit our website. Also, I always welcome any questions, comments, feedback or ideas about future projects. We are in this together!
I’d like to end this interview by quoting our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w “Give charity out of your property, for truly it is a purifier, and be kind to your relatives and acknowledge the rights of the poor, neighbors and (those in need who seek your help).”
Thank you Emina for inviting me to present our work with your followers! I wish you the best of luck with your already so successful brand! Masha’Allah!