Three wise men

What do you get when two pensioners and a 65-year-old start thinking about the building they and their neighbors have almost given up hope on?

Inspiration.

Former mine workers Meho Mehinovich and Ahmet Begovicha, and the 'youngster' Milenko Lukich, who still works in the mines, decided the state was never going to sort out the problems with their condominium in Bonivici. The three realized it was up to them. Now they needed a catalyst.

The spark came in the shape of Esad Smajlovich. Smajlovich, an energy efficiency manager, was doing a series of home improvement seminars throughout the Tuzla canton of Bosnia. Engaged by Habitat for Humanity, the seminar in Banovici, a small mining town in the north of the county with 23,000 inhabitants, was just the impulse they needed. They finally saw a way of refurbishing their building.

Their tasks were split into two 'easy' lists, they joked. On one was finding a bank that would give them a loan considering their ages, deciding on the repayment rate, choosing the builders, and selecting the materials, start date, and on who would supervise. The second list, however, was just as tough and had only item—convince the other five tenants that they should join the venture to improve their building.

Meho, Ahmet, and Milenko realized the state was never going to sort out the problems with their condominium. So the three decided to take on this task.

Help from all sides

The first step was getting advice. Enova, an energy audit company, stepped up. They advised Meho, Ahmet and Milenko on the best materials and ways to install insulation and replace the roof. Enova also advised on the benefits and savings the occupants could get from the building when work was completed.

What really surprised the three was that every tenant agreed—even 88-year-old Katica Kordic, who is not only the oldest tenant in the building, but probably the oldest in Banovici. When asked why she agreed to a loan she might not be able to repay, because of her age, she said her late husband said she was so stubborn she would probably live to be a hundred! Plus, she said she had a caring son abroad. But what sealed the deal was that she didn't want to disappoint her neighbors.

As for the loan, they got 18% of what they needed from the canton, 38% from the municipality, and took out a personal loan from the bank, with everyone serving as each other's guarantor, for the rest.

The oldest tenant in the building, 88-year-old Katica Kordic, also agreed to take out a loan to renovate the building.

Working together

The tenants are an interesting mix—all the nationalities and religions of the former Yugoslavia live here. And they say they get on well with each other and there has never been a dispute. "If it was up to us," says Meho, the second oldest resident after Katica, "there never would have been any war in Bosnia. But, eh, the politicians, they didn't listen to us ordinary people. All we want is to live together in peace."

“Because of the war,” Milutin adds, “we couldn't start the refurbishment sooner. As soon as the peace came and the situation was normalized, the only thing we wanted to do was to transform it from a crumbling building to one that looks and feels good.”

Under the watchful and excited eyes of Meho, Ahmet and Milenko, worked started in April 2015. First, the walls of the two-story building were completed and the entrance door replaced. Then the builders started to replace the roof. As it changed from grey and dilapidated in the morning, to bright red with new tiles by mid-afternoon, the happiest of all seemed to be Meho. He kept on smiling. Is this how he imagined it would be? “No”, he said. ”It is thousand times better, a thousand times…”

Inspired and working together and making the three wise men and their fellow residents the best of friends.

before and after
Left: The roof of the condominium before the renovations. Right: Some residents has been watching their homes slowly deteriorating for the past fifty years. For the first time in its history this apartment block is being renovated.

To learn more about this project in Bosnia, visit Bosnia's profile on Habitat for Humanity EMEA website.