Senada was born in Gorazde, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which at the time was a republic of Yugoslavia. When war broke out in 1992, her parents moved the family to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina—which had declared independence from Yugoslavia. In April 1992, the Army of Republika Srpska (comprised of Bosnian Serbs trying to create a new state) encircled and blockaded the city, the start of an almost four-year siege that would claim, by some estimates, nearly 100,000 civilian lives—and wreak untold psychological havoc. Senada’s dangerous work with a humanitarian organization during the war would catch the eye of an American military officer and lead to the offer that changed her life—a scholarship opportunity at Graceland University in Iowa.


"I was almost killed by a sniper while carrying water to my family"


“I remember my father coming home one evening with a busload of people. We had a big home. They were refugees; their homes had been taken away. There was shooting in the background. You couldn’t make sense of it; why would your own army turn on you? It would be the equivalent of the U.S. Army attacking its own citizens. There was such confusion.

Two days after the shut down, snipers started shooting at people. Mortars were being launched from the mountaintops into our valley. You’d spend your days in the basement, huddled, sitting for hours on end. Once the shooting stopped at night, people would venture outside and try to find food and water

It was like how people prepare for a hurricane. Whatever dry food you could gather, you’d bring back. After that ran out, we had to get creative. We ate a lot of rice and beans. ... Six months into [the siege], humanitarian aid started coming in. ... A lot of the different religious and caused-based organizations sent food. But even the Red Cross was stopped at checkpoints by the Serbs; they’d take half and let some come in. Their goal was to control the flow of the food. We were dealing with psychological warfare, emotional warfare—and real warfare, where your life was in danger.”



''Gunfire sounds always reverberated through the valley, like pinballs bouncing from bumper to bumper..”


"We decided to spread a blanket no more than 40 feet from the back entrance of our building. I probably had been chatting to my friend for a good 10 minutes when I heard what I can only describe as a hollow, syrupy sound to my left. I turned and saw the pool of blood forming under a lifeless body. It was my friend; he had been shot through the front of the stomach. For a few seconds, I couldn’t move, not even a finger. I was frozen, in a complete state of shock. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. … Several hours later, we heard the news: The sniper’s bullet had lodged in his spine. He would survive, but he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life.


"Ingenuity in the face of adversity''

2017-07-07 15_23_25-(8) Ingenuity in the face of adversity _ Senada Adzem _ TEDxBocaRaton - YouTube.png