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Joshua  T.

 Irby,  American  Protestant  activist  and  humanitarian,  moved  to  Bosnia  and   Hercegovina  two  years  ago  with  his  family  and  discovered  his  interesting   connection  with  Adeline  Paulina  Irby,  an  English  educator  and  humanitarian  who,  in   the  19th  century,  opened  schools  throughout  Bosnia  and  advocated  for  literacy  and   education  for  young  girls;  Joshua  has  written  a  book  “Meeting  Miss  Irby”  in  which  he   speaks  about  his  distant  cousin  and  how  she  inspired  him  with  her  noble  work;  the   book  will  be  published  in  September,  on  the  100th  anniversary  of  Miss  Irby’s  death.    

 

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF MISS IRBY
Adeline taught me to ask myself what I can do for others, not seeking anything in return.

   

Written  by:  Adisa  Basic   Photo:  Milutin  Stojcevic  

Adeline  Paulina  Irby  was  born  just  before  Christmas  1831  to  a  wealthy  family  in  east   England.    She  grew  up  on  the  property  of  Boyland  Hall,  an  Elizabethan  palace  built  in  the   16th  century,  full  of  servants  and  luxury.    In  front  of  her  was  the  secure  and  beaten  path  of   social  gatherings,  dances,  courting,  and  then  a  good  marriage.    This  daughter  of  a  British   Rear-­‐Admiral  Frederick  Paul  Irby  chose,  however,  another  path.    The  suitors  were  not   interesting  to  her,  although  she  could  be  to  them:  if  they  were  not  interested  in  her  slightly   rough  exterior  and  brusque  nature,  they  were  certainly  attracted  to  her  great  family  wealth.   Instead  of  trendy  resorts  and  villas,  she  chose  to  set  out  on  an  adventure,  with  her  friend   Georgina  Mackenzie  and  one  maid,  in  two  carts  and  with  four  horses,  through  the  little   known  and  impassible  region  inhabited  by  an  unknown  (to  her)  people—the  Slavs.  

 

ON AN ADVENTURE WITH SOUP, TEA, AND AN UMBRELLA
“Despite  these  challenges,  Adeline  and  Georgina  left  Vienna  in  early  June  1859.    They   were  experienced  travelers,  fluent  in  German,  and  decided  they  could  make  the  trek   without  a  guide  or  translator.    Wanting  to  travel  light  and  to  avoid  delays  and   breakdowns,  they  brought  along  only  a  supply  of  dried  soup,  tea  and  a  green   umbrella  to  shade  themselves  from  the  sun.    They  had  been  delighted  at  how  little   information  they  could  find  in  preparation  for  the  trip.  They  were  searching  for  an   adventure,  not  a  vacation”,  wrote  Joshua  Irby,  author  of  the  book  Meeting  Miss  Irby,  about   the  first  serious  journey  of  the  two  young  women.    Adeline  Paulina  Irby  remained  always   connected  with  the  Balkans  (especially  Sarajevo  and  Bosnia)  where  she  spent  the  majority   of  her  life  in  educational  and  humanitarian  work.    Here  life  was  an  inspiration  to  one  young   American,  her  namesake  and  distant  cousin,  who  asked  himself  how  he  can  make  his  life   meaningful  and  how  he  can  help  other  people.     Joshua  Irby  was  involved  in  humanitarian  work  as  a  student  and  came  often  to   Croatia.    For  some  time  he  lived  in  Split  and,  out  of  curiosity,  visited  Bosnia  for  the  first  time   in  1999,  not  realizing  that  ten  years  later  it  would  be  his  home.    In  a  conversation  with  our   paper  Joshua  said:  “My  first  trip  to  Bosnia  was  during  the  winter,  it  was  cold  and  dark,  I   thought  that  this  was  a  great  place  to  visit,  but  not  somewhere  to  live.    Later,  life  led  

me  here;  you  can  never  actually  know  for  sure  where  you  will  be  in  five  years.”    After   finishing  school  for  engineering,  Joshua  married  and  settled  down  in  Atlanta,  but  was  not   interested  in  a  career  in  that  field.    In  the  book,  he  writes  of  one  experience  from  his  first   day  at  his  university  in  America.    The  dean  warned  the  freshmen  to  take  a  good  look  at  the   people  sitting  on  their  left  and  right  sides,  because  only  one  of  them  would  make  it  to   graduation.      The  ruthless  struggle  for  survival  and  the  beaten  path  that  was  waiting  for  him   (house  in  the  suburbs,  two  cars,  children,  a  wife,  and  a  good  job)  didn’t  look  attractive  to   Joshua.    He  says:  “When  I  decided  to  move  to  Bosnia  two  years  ago,  I  wasn’t  running   away  from  anything.    I  had  students  in  Atlanta,  I  worked  for  an  organization  similar   to  what  I  do  here,  I  was  happy,  successful,  in  a  well-­‐known  environment  .  .  .  My  wife   and  I  love  to  live  abroad,  for  years  we  spoke  about  moving  to  Bosnia,  and  one  day  we   agreed  that  we  needed  to  quit  daydreaming  and  simply  pack  and  move.    It  took  us  a   number  of  months  to  do  everything,  but  at  last  we  succeeded  and,  with  our  two   children,  moved  to  Sarajevo.    Today  we  have  a  happy  and  full  life.”     A  special  surprise  for  him  was  when  he  discovered  that  one  of  his  favorite  streets  in   Sarajevo  (behind  the  national  Presidency)  that  he  walked  daily,  was  named  for  a  woman   with  his  same  last  name  —  Irby.    Even  more  interestingly,  the  road  kept  its  name  in  spite  of   all  the  historical  storms  and  societal  changes.    He  decided  to  research  Miss  Irby’s  life  and   soon  knew  enough  about  her  to  want  to  write  a  book.     “I  had  a  dilemma  at  the  beginning,  I  asked  myself,  who  am  I  to  write  a  book   about  some  woman  from  Bosnian  history.    I  didn’t  want  to  be  just  one  more  in  a  line   of  foreigners  who  write  books  about  BiH  explaining  to  Bosnians  and  Hercegovins  how   they  should  live.    That’s  why  it  was  important  for  to  me  to  write  my  own  story,  and   how  Miss  Irby’s  life  and  work  affected  me  and  my  connection  to  Bosnia,”  Joshua  said   candidly.    In  the  book,  he  writes  about  the  dilemmas  he  faced  before  his  departure,  about   the  anxiety  that  this  life  decision  could  grieve  his  family.     Joshua  works  with  the  organization  Hope  and  Life  which  has  been  in  Bosnia  7  years   and  organizes  social  events  for  students,  discussions  about  spiritual  questions,  and  free   English  language  workshops.    Although  they  work  with  other  organizations  and   congregations,  the  organization  is  protestant  and  the  spiritual  life  of  young  people  is  their   primary  focus.    Miss  Irby  was  also  a  protestant  to  whom  spiritual  life  was  important  and  for   whom  one  of  the  greatest  obstacles  was  the  distrust  of  people  who  thought  that  the  primary   goal  of  her  mission  work  was  to  convert  children  to  her  faith.    Although  Adeline  lived  and   worked  in  completely  different  conditions,  the  way  in  which  she  overcame  obstacles  is  an   inspiration  and  encouragement  for  Joshua.     “Her  biography  encouraged  me  because  I  saw  that  it  took  her  three  years  see   results  from  her  work.    What  fascinates  me  about  Miss  Irby  and  what  I  learned  from   her  story  is  to  ask  myself,  what  can  I  do  for  other  people,  how  can  I  make  myself   available  to  them,  how  can  I  help  them  and  make  their  life  easier.    She  intrigued  me,   both  privately  and  professionally,  and  inspired  me  to  be  better,  to  think  about  others,   to  think  about  the  purpose  of  my  life.”     To  the  question  of  whether  unconditional  love—which  he  mentions  in  many  parts  of   the  book—is  really  possible,  and  whether  the  profit  humanitarians  receive  is  really  from  the   appreciation  of  those  they  help,  Joshua  says  that  unconditional  love  and  philanthropy  are   very  visible  in  the  example  of  Miss  Irby:  “During  the  period  of  the  Uprising  in  Bosnia  in   the  second  half  of  the  19th  century  she  collected  money  for  the  refugees,  around  three   million  euro  in  today’s  value,  after  that,  she  spent  around  four  million  KM  in  today’s   value  on  Bosnian  children  and  the  schools.    She  fed  the  hungry,  clothed  the  naked,   gave  education  to  the  children  .  .  .  She  didn’t  do  this  to  get  rich,  she  raised  the  money   and  spent  it  to  help  others.    If  you  do  what  God  created  you  to  do  and  what  fulfills  you,  

happiness  and  satisfaction  come  on  the  end  like  a  reward,  but  you  don’t  do  it  for  the   reward.    That  kind  of  love  isn’t  selfish.”     Joshua  thought  that  the  writing  of  the  book  would  take  many  years,  however,  in  the   end,  he  decided  to  finish  the  work  in  a  little  less  than  two  years  so  that  the  book  would  be   published  in  September  of  this  year,  in  connection  with  the  100th  anniversary  of  Miss  Irby’s   death.    His  idea  is  that  in  cooperation  with  his  publisher,  Sahinpasic,  with  The  Serbian   Educational  Society  Prosvjeta  and  other  organizations  and  individuals  to  organize  a   commemoration  of  this  woman  in  whose  schools  thousands  of  children  were  taught  to   write,  fed,  and  clothed  against  the  cold  and  dozens  of  teachers  were  trained.    “The  15th  of   September  we  want  to  gather  various  representatives  of  the  Bosnian  government  to   honor  her,  just  like  they  all  did  at  her  funeral  a  hundred  years  ago,  also  the  orthodox   community,  who  most  openly  accepted  her  and  whom  she  helped  the  most,  but  also   the  Catholics  and  Muslims…”,  explained  Joshua  Irby.     In  his  research  about  the  life  of  Adeline  Paulina  Irby,  which  he  describes  as  a  kind  of   detective  work,  Joshua  used  the  internet,  local  and  foreign  archives,  photographs,  also   books  and  texts  that  Miss  Irby  wrote  (for  example,  Travels  in  the  Slavonic  Provinces  of   Turkey-­‐in-­‐Europe)  and  a  number  of  old  London  Times  in  which  she  published  appeals  to   help  the  poor  Bosnian  refugees  and  thanks  to  her  wealthy  friends  who  gave  donations.    

WE WILL NAME OUR DAUGHTER ADELINE
His  plan  is  to  compile  the  material  that  he  did  not  use  in  the  book  and  present  it  on  a   website  about  his  distant  cousin.    “It  isn’t  important  to  be  related  to  someone  in  order   for  them  to  be  close  to  you,  you  don’t  chose  your  family,  it  is  important  to  recognize   that  we  have  the  same  goal.    Still,  I  investigated  my  family—the  poor  American   Irbys—who  were  related  to  her  wealthy  family,  but  moved  to  America  before  she  was   born”,  says  Joshua  who  is  so  excited  about  the  selfless  life  and  mission  of  Miss  Irby  that  he   and  his  wife  plan  to  name  their  daughter,  who  will  be  born  in  October,  Adeline.     Miss  Irby  is  remembered  today  as  a  Serbian  benefactress  because  she  mainly   worked  with  the  Orthodox  population,  but  she  was  sensitive  to  all  people  in  trouble.  At  the   same  time,  she  was  also  aware  of  her  own  origins,  sometimes  calling  Bosnians  half-­‐ barbarians.     “She  definitely  wasn’t  a  saint,”  says  Joshua  Irby,  referring  to  the  headstrong   nature  of  his  role  model.    “Reading  her  book  you  can  see  her  personal  prejudices  and   the  bias  of  England  at  that  time.    But,  some  of  those  weaknesses  reveal  her  strengths.     She  was  not  a  great  lover  of  Catholicism  and,  keeping  in  mind  her  protestant   background  and  the  historical  relations  of  that  time,  it  is  somewhat  understandable.     The  Anglican  Church  has  traditionally  had  a  better  relationship  with  the  Orthodox.   There  was  certainly  an  historical  context  with  the  Catholic  Church  that  caused  here  to   have  a  closer  relationship  from  the  beginning  with  the  Serbian  community.    But,  at   the  same  time,  she  gathered  money  for  the  Catholic  poor,  helped  the  Catholic  nuns,   cooperated  with  those  nuns  who  also  were  also  leading  schools.  In  that  way,  she   overcame  her  initial  prejudices.    Adeline  also  wasn’t  a  big  supporter  of  the  Ottoman   Empire,  and  her  position  was  opposed  to  the  prevailing  mood  in  England  at  that  time.   That  prevented  her  from  having  a  full  picture  of  some  of  the  positive  aspects  of  the   Ottoman  administration.    She  was  hardheaded,  she  didn’t  mince  words,  often,   because  of  that,  she  found  herself  in  unpleasant  situations.    But,  she  reacted   instinctively  to  other’s  misery  and  misfortune;  she  sacrificed  herself  for  others.         Often  I  wonder  how  much  we  would  agree  with  each  other  today,  whether  we  would   argue,  but,  in  any  case,  her  undertaking  in  Bosnia  is  a  timeless  inspiration  to  me.”