Local San Diego Nonprofit, Leah’s Pantry, recently participated through the professional fellowship program, the 2022 Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (YTILI), sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department. Leah’s Pantry hosted a YTILI fellow, Nevena Pandža, a nutritionist and entrepreneur from Bosnia and Herzegovina, this past summer. Leah’s Pantry Program Manager, Leah Quinn, then applied to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a reciprocal fellow to support Nevena’s YTILI Action Plan. We recently caught up with Leah to learn more about her experience as a YTILI host and a fellow.
What work does Leah’s Pantry do in the community?
Leah’s Pantry is a California based nonprofit centered around trauma-informed nutrition security. Our work includes curriculum development, training, capacity building, and community based work.
How did your YTILI fellow support Leah’s Pantry’s work and mission?
It was immediately clear to us that Nevena is a talented, smart, and dedicated health professional from Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a nutritionist, she is already on the cutting edge of public health, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the profession is still relatively novel. During her month in San Diego, Nevena enthusiastically dove into Leah’s Pantry’s model of community nourishment through trauma-informed programming. As a trained nutritionist, Nevena offered us a unique perspective and especially assisted us with applying an international mindset to our training and curriculum. She also supported us with new recipe creation, workshop facilitation, and helping at some of our community food distributions.
What made you want to apply as a reciprocal exchange partner in the YTILI program?
I had such a wonderful experience working with and learning from Nevena while she was on her fellowship in San Diego, and I knew that her YTILI Action Plan would have the best chance of being successful with a staff member from Leah’s Pantry on hand to support her work. Additionally, I was excited to see how our trauma-informed programming would be received in another country, and I wanted to learn more about Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was thrilled to be accepted as a YTILI reciprocal fellow and had the opportunity to travel to three cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Nevena as we hosted a series of trauma-informed nutrition workshops.
What did you find surprising about Bosnia & Herzegovina?
What I found most surprising about Bosnia and Herzegovina was the enthusiasm our workshop participants had for our nutrition program. Our participants were diverse in gender, age, and ethnicity, but what was universal was the desire to flourish, to combat misinformation around health, and to learn about food and nutrition in a manner that still reflects their culture and values.
What is one must-do/see experience in Bosnia?
I spent the majority of my time in my host’s hometown of Mostar in Herzegovina. The city itself is a beautiful relic of Ottoman and Austrian architecture with a gorgeous river running through the heart of Old Town and a large stone bridge traversing the river. Only the bravest men and women partake in one of Mostar’s oldest traditions of jumping from the very top of the bridge. The drop is almost 70 feet, and it’s thrilling to see in person! I ended up being on the bridge when a young man jumped for the first time. It probably took the poor guy ten minutes to work up the courage to finally leap and my heart was in my throat the whole time! It is certainly a must see experience.
What was the best thing you ate?
The best thing I had to eat was hands down the dinner I ate at my host’s family home. The meal started outside in the garden with local meats and cheeses, potato pies, and cherry cordial, followed by an entree of stuffed peppers and fresh bread. Nevena and her family were so warm and welcoming and I still dream of those peppers. In true Bosnian and Herzegovinian fashion, I was sent back to my hotel with a full bag of hot leftovers and fresh fruit from the garden. Eastern European hospitality is truly unmatched!
What would you say to a potential professional host that might be interested in working with a fellow in the future?
Without a doubt, I would tell an interested party to participate in the YTILI program as a host. Our participation was a great opportunity for Leah’s Pantry to collaborate cross-culturally, make new professional connections, share knowledge, and meet an emerging star in our field. If anyone has questions about what it’s like to host a fellow please contact me at Leah@LeahsPantry.org.