Founded in in 1998 by Ellie Maxwell, Firefly Youth Project (which later became Svitac and Firefly International) began in Brčko, after the Bosnian conflict (1992‐ 1995). During the conflict, Ellie was an aid worker and through her experiences,she came to believe that shared creative activities and contact with the outside world play an important part in reducing tensions linked to sectarian violence.
After the war Ellie worked on music and arts projects for children in refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia, meeting local youth worker Gordana Varcakovic along the way and visiting her hometown of Brčko in Northeastern Bosnia. A town which later became the home of Firefly Youth Project, with Ellie and Gordana recognising that Brčko’s mixed population provided a unique setting for reconciliatory youth work.
(After the war, the Dayton agreement divided Bosnia into regions separated by ethnicity—the Bosnian Federation and the Serbian Republic, but Brčko District was given special status, with the UN remaining in control of a multi‐ethnic local government. Despite attempts at “ethnic cleansing”, Brčko’s population remained a mix of Bosnians, Serbs and Croatians—a vestige of the old, multicultural Yugoslavia.)
The founding of Firefly was encouraged by the OSCE with multiethnic youth work in Brčko being considered an important part of the post‐war reconstruction of its society. In 1998 Firefly Youth Project began to run community strengthening creative and language workshops, events, and annual summer camps for the children of Brčko which still continue today. Although years have passed since the conflict, tensions under the surface still remain, reduced in part by these ongoing community activities.
In 2003, Firefly Youth Project in Brčko became Svitac (Bosnian for “Firefly,” pronounced “Svee‐tatz”) and Firefly’s operations in the UK became Firefly International. Svitac became a locally managed and registered organisation with Gordana as its director. Svitac is now one of Firefly International’s key partners, with Firefly International raising its core funding and sending international volunteers to this day.
Over the next few years Firefly International worked closely with Svitac to build up international volunteer exchanges, as well as working with other international partners, including Project Hope in Nablus, Palestine.
In 2007 Firefly International began to co‐ordinate Reel Festivals (now Highlight Arts), arts festivals designed to bring people from around the world together, break down barriers and increase communication. Since then Reel Festivals has continued to grow in scale, with increased participation and funding. Reel Festivals events have taken place in Iraq and Lebanon, with considerable programmes of events in the UK focusing on Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. For more about Reel Festivals, please see its website.
Sadly Ellie Maxwell passed away in 2009, and her long‐time friend, collaborator and Firefly volunteer Dan Gorman took over as director of Firefly International. He successfully navigated the charity through a difficult period, with our projects not only surviving but thriving as they continued to develop. In 2010 we supported Svitac in securing its own permanent space for activities, a flat purchased and outfitted through the generosity of UK donors, christened “The Ellie Maxwell Youth Centre.” As Director, in 2010 Dan helped Firefly International form a Board of Trustees, ensuring its healthy future in the absence of its original founder .
More recently in 2013, after years of successful collaboration with Project Hope, Firefly International have started to work with Project Hope in partnership, providing UK based support and fundraising for this peace and education organisation in Palestine. Project Hope work with young people in Palestine and many parallels can be drawn between their work and Svitac’s. With an organisation whose aims so clearly complement those of Firefly International, we’re optimistic that this new partnership will be mutually enriching.
Over the last fifteen years, with the hard work of our founders, trustees, staff and volunteers and the on-going generosity of our supporters, Firefly International has grown from strength to strength, supporting community dialogue through arts and education projects worldwide. We sincerely hope these great projects will continue to blossom.