It’s a young museum much like the people at the heart of its exhibits. The exhibit of War Childhood Museum in Washington DC, features the personal belongings, documents and the stories of children who grew up at a time of war. Among them Melina Selimbegovic who arrived in the US with little more than the clothes on her back.
“We are refugees from Bosnia, we came here in 1993 and I also holds very dear an item that I will never let go. It’s a blanket that I brought with me. I brought to this country a plastic bag and a blanket and a really ugly teddy bear that I give to my daughter. But those things are still precious.
The museum gives the youngest survivors of war a chance to share their stories with the world.
“We heard about the story of the children who used to experience the war, I think it’s really impressed and people should know more about it.”
“See? You are learning such a different side of stories. You don’t really hear the child’s experience very often and you hear a lot of negativity related to war. And this really does emphasize an experience of hope and resilience and survival.”
Phally Budok, who escaped the genocide in Cambodia, was born to a large extended family, but only 4 members of her family survived, Polly, her two sisters and their mother.
“I brought all history report that my nieces founded in her high school and it’s important to bring it and share with everyone here.Because it’s so important to raise awareness about childhood, war. And I’m one of those people who had experienced through war during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia back in the mid 1970s, I was about 5 years old.”
Since its opening in Sarajevo, the museum has collected objects owned by the children of wars from Syria to Ukraine, and has maintained close contact with Bosnian and Cambodian survivors in the US. The museum’s founder wants to collaborate with other American museums to establish a more permanent presence in the US.
“I hope this event will be one of may that will enhance our presence in the United States. Wherever we go, people recognize it’s a universal project, that should not be limited only to Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Survivors say their experiences are universal and so is their message to visitors.
“Maybe they can’t read the what’s written or the emotions that are spoken on these words, but they can see the ballet shoes and they can see the toy and the sticks and their mom can tell them children go through war. We should know this and be mindful of this. And we shouldn’t go to war.”
And while it’s important to share their stories about war, survivors say it’s even more important to shield children from having to live through them.
Azra Dolberry for VOA News Washington.