By the end of 1992 the Yugoslav army was finally forced to retreat from Dubrovnik. Only a few months later DEŠA started its activity with the project “Psychological adjustment and help for women refugees, displaced women and local women in need”. In March 1993 the Hotel Libertas, once the flagship among Dubrovnik conference hotels and now a semi–derelict building full of refugees, became DEŠA’s operating base. Of the sixteen founder members of DEŠA, the five most active ones constituted DEŠA’s Executive Board.
DEŠA’s First Steps
DEŠA’s initial program was a considered response to the situation in which Dubrovnik found itself in 1992: a city crowded with refugees and displaced persons in an environment devastated by the war. In that scenario of general suffering DEŠA founders chose to offer help to refugee women who were wondering around aimlessly in a traumatized state, with nothing to do but queue up for humanitarian aid. At that moment in time, it was an imperative to start some kind of activity which could keep them busy and help them feel useful in order to regain their self-esteem.
DEŠA’s appeals brought the first results.
Help started trickling in.
In December 1992, a valuable donation of medicines for diabetics arrived from the Dortmund Katolisches Forum, along with German language text books which were passed on to the local Grammar School.
In January 1993 clothes and family aid parcels arrived from the American organization “Peace on Earth” through the Church of Christ – Zagreb.
March 1993 marks the beginning of the first handicraft workshop in the Libertas Hotel. A pair of old scissors and piles of old clothes were all that the workshop could offer to women who started coming in to look for company and someone to talk to. Cutting up old clothes and making new usable garments had a therapeutic effect on women.
DEŠA’s activities gradually got noticed by outside institutional and individual donors who started to provide equipment and materials for the workshops.
DEŠA received the first loom and weaving materials from the Council of the European Union Secretariat members, through the efforts of Mrs. Barbara Ryba.
The first sewing machines and a quantity of cloth were the donation of French City of Roueil Malmaison.
More sewing machines and knitting wool arrived from Zonta International of Germany through its Croatian section in Zagreb.
DEŠA took an active part in the conference “Psychological help – for the helpers” in Tučepi, organized and financed by the Evangelische Frauenarbeit of Frankfurt.
DEŠA asked and obtained funds from the German organization Evangelische Frauenarbeit for the work of the local branch of the “Our children” organization.
DEŠA took an active part in seminars organized by the School of Public Health “Andrija Štampar” of Zagreb about displaced persons.
DEŠA organized the symposium “Women War victims, their sufferings and their expectations” with the assistance of two sponsors: the German organization Evangelische Frauenarbeit and the French association Solidarité Femmes, which was attended by more than 50 participants from home and abroad. The symposium was accompanied by the first exhibition of handwork from DEŠA’s workshop.
The development of workshops
The October symposium aroused interest in DEŠA’s activities. The French organization Solidarité Femmes became DEŠA’s first promoter abroad and started collecting funds for and on behalf of DEŠA at the European Union. These funds made possible the extension of DEŠA’s activities to other places in the Dubrovnik County.
A total of seven workshops were opened during a year: in addition to the two locations in Dubrovnik at the Hotels Libertas and the Palace, in the Hotels Albatros and Epidaurus in Cavtat, in the Hotel Astarea in Mlini, the Hotel Bon Repos in Korčula and the Komodor in Orebić. By the autumn of ’93, over 350 women were working in the these workshops.
The workshops in Cavtat and Mlini concentrated on the revival of traditional embroidery of the Konavle region; in Dubrovnik the Hotel Libertas workshop offers weaving, crocheting and knitting, and the Hotel Palace one offered sewing and patchwork. The workshops in the Hotels Komodor and Riviera Orebić concentrated on stocking and sweater knitting and the Hotel Bon Repos in Korčula on sewing and medicinal herb collecting.
From the very beginning, DEŠA’s programme was aimed at helping women to face their harsh reality and to take an active part in the restoration of their shattered lives. DEŠA‘s workshops offered a place where women could learn from each other and develop their creativity in friendly surroundings.
To close the first year of DEŠA’s workshop activities were three Christmas exhibitions:
- Paris at the Palais des Congres, with the assistance of Solidarité Femmes
- Bruxelles, organized by The General Secretariat of the Council of Europe
- Dubrovnik, organized by DEŠA’s activists.
At the end of December 1993, DEŠA received financial help from the European parliamentary association Femmes d’Europe.