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Hometown Challenge scholarship winner to preserve heritage of Bosnian refugees in Boise

Hanna Suman, Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC), Student Diversity and Inclusion, photo Patrick Sweeney

During the three-year Bosnian War, an estimated two million people were displaced by violence and genocide. According to the Idaho Office for Refugees, over half of refugees resettled in Idaho during the ’90s were originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina. First-generation Boise State biology and medical studies senior Hanna Suman and her parents resettled in Boise when she was only six months old.

Now, with the help of a $1,000 Hometown Challenge Scholarship, Suman is determined to offer Bosnian refugees and diaspora in Boise the space and opportunity to speak, remember, heal and celebrate their heritage and resilience.

“There isn’t a safe place for us to talk freely about our memories, our experiences, what our Bosnian heritage means to us,” said Suman. “And I really want to be able to provide that space.”

Launched this year, the Hometown Challenge summer scholarship provided students with the financial support to develop and implement a project that will have a significant impact on their local communities.

“I’m super thankful for Boise State Career Services for starting the hometown challenge because it gave me the extra push that I needed to get this started,” she said.

Through the creation of an oral histories project, Suman is helping Bosnians find relief in speaking about their lives. Suman visits participants at their homes and conducts interviews, inviting them to speak not only about their experiences during the Bosnian war, but also about their childhoods, families, loved ones, resettlement and the lives they have created for themselves in Boise.

“I know that it’s very heartbreaking for some people to talk about it. But at the same time it can be very cathartic and healing, and a lot of people like my mom look back and she’s like, ‘If the things didn’t happen the way that they [did], then we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have our family, we wouldn’t own our home’,” said Suman.

This resilience and ability to not only survive but flourish in spite of traumatic events is one of the aspects that Suman values most about her heritage. The other aspect that brings her great pride is the empathy of her people.

“No matter what hardships we’ve gone through, no matter what hardships my parents have gone through, or any other Bosnians that I’ve ever met, they’re so welcoming, so kind. They’re willing to give their shirts off their back to a stranger, no matter what. And that’s truly what I believe. Everything that we have gone through has given our community this ability to connect with people on any level, and kind of anticipate their needs, even before they say that they need help.”

Hanna siting in garden
Hanna Suman

With an anticipated graduation date of December 2020, Suman currently is a certified nursing assistant at St. Lukes Medical Center, as well as an emergency room scribe. She has been awarded The Saint Alphonsus Health System/Trinity Health Community and Environmental Health Scholarship, the Duke Health Science Award and the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.

“I’m hoping to apply for medical school next summer,” said Suman. “I’ve always been passionate about the medical field and trying to reduce healthcare disparities.”

Suman sought assistance and guidance from the Bosnia Memory Project at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as the Boise Basque History Museum. She hopes to eventually create a non-profit organization and special collection for the oral histories in Boise.

To learn more about this project, or to participate, please contact Suman at