Disadvantaged children in Bosnia are being given the chance of a better future, thanks to a UK-based charity that makes a lasting difference to the lives of disabled, orphaned and less fortunate young people.
Our Kids works with education experts, volunteers and over-stretched families to ensure that vulnerable children with special needs receive sustainable care, a tailored education and community support to avoid them being lost in Bosnia’s under-resourced and poorly funded care system.
Amira sings for Bosnia’s children in need
Support is hard to come by for families living with poverty across the divided state and, among those families already struggling to make ends meet, institutional care for their disabled or special needs children is sometimes seen as the only option for survival.
“Life in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not easy, with fragmented communities and an economically challenged environment,’ said Our Kids spokesperson Silva Memic. “There is more than 40% unemployment and as many as 50% of people live below the poverty line.
“Of the 4,000 children estimated to be in care in Bosnia, as many as 40% are thought to be learning disabled.”
That be a rotten start in life and young people in Bosnia, including those with disabilities, must leave social care at 18 years of age. Often without support from the authorities or family, these vulnerable young adults can find themselves homeless, jobless and hopeless.
Many end up on the streets or in large, grim asylum-like institutions with little hope of release.
“Life is hard enough for all young people leaving care at 18, but those with special needs can often look forward to a life in large asylum-like institutions, which are not the best places for anyone,’ said Silva.
Our Kids works to change Bosnian law
Our Kids is working with partners to change the law so that there is statutory social provision for supported living for adults with special needs, outside of large institutions.
But by lobbying policymakers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to explore alternatives to institutional care, Our Kids aims to create a more caring society where self-reliant young people can live a near-normal life in their community.
As part of a drive to address the immediate needs of young adults when they leave care, while also inspiring long term changes in policy and practice, the Foundation is pioneering Our House, a group housing scheme, where young people with disabilities and complex needs can begin to live more independently while still having an appropriate level of support.
“At Our Kids we aim to promote and test ways of working for children in care and their families that are different to current institutional practices,’ said Silva.
Bosnia’s Halfway House
This year Our Kids will also start running the Halfway House project in Mostar. This residential, business and commercial development, funded by the Italian-based NGO Luciano Lama, will be run as a facility for vocational training and other activities designed to help young adults out of institutional care and into employment.
Active in the UK (Our Kids), Sweden (Våra Barn) and Bosnia (Naša Djeca), the Our Kids Foundation has raised more than €430,000 over the last six years, enabling them to make a difference by providing social care to vulnerable children.
“Our successful projects have already transformed the lives of children and young adults struggling within the country’s severely under-funded care system,’ said Silva. “But there is so much more to be done.
Six years ago, founding members of the Foundation were touched by what they saw at the city-run Egipatsko Selo orphanage in Mostar. Seeing an urgent need for long-term change at this home to more than 45 children, many with learning difficulties, they were moved to create the Our Kids Foundation.
“The orphanage is run with very limited funds and does not address the complex needs of these children,’ said Silva. “With just two employees on shift there are no structured activities and no focus on the children’s long term future.”
Our Kids Foundation After School Club
Their first step was to set up an after school club where children from the Mostar orphanage could learn social skills, explore relationships, enjoy creative play, and have a sense of belonging, as well as developing skills for independent living.
The club has grown from strength to strength with local students, professors and musicians giving their time to run workshops and weekly activities, providing the children with much needed structure at the end of a school day and at weekends.
“The enjoyment the children get from these activities is apparent for all to see as they come back week after week,’ said Silva.
Our Kids has also transformed the lives of children at an under-funded institution in Pazarić, which provides a vital home for about 400 children and young people with severe learning disabilities. The Foundation has funded personal carers for severely disabled children, improved nutrition, donated toys and clothing, organised birthday celebrations and built a playground.
Mostar Summer Youth Programme
Last year, Our Kids also launched the Mostar Summer Youth Programme for children aged 14-18. This venture run by international and local volunteers that creates a friendly environment in which young people can enjoy learning and social experiences based on multiculturalism, creativity, discussion, debate, and critical thinking, as well as learning English and being connected with local organisations and businesses.
These are just a few of the valuable projects being undertaken by Our Kids. But there are many more children in need throughout Bosnia and Republike Srpska and the Our Kids Foundation needs to raise money to help as many as possible.
Bosnian singing sensation Amira Medunjanin is such a strong advocate of the work done by this care-giving charity that she will return to London in May for a special charity concert at St Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, on Saturday, 9 May.
With a mesmerisingly crystal clear voice that lifts Bosnia’s traditional sevdah singing style to soaring heights, Amira is attracting ever-increasing audiences across the Balkans and abroad.
Amira’s latest album Silk & Stone has received excellent reviews in British media. The Guardian awarded four stars to Amira’s “intimate, pained and gently compelling voice” and Uncut magazine described Silk & Stone as a “career-defining third album from Bosnia’s finest export”.
• To attend the Amira concert on 9 May and support the work of Our Kids, a minimum donation of £20 per person can be made via Our Kids’ JustGiving page: (http://www.justgiving.com/ourkids/). Please state the names on whose behalf the donation is being made.
• For this donation, guests will enjoy canapés and a complimentary drink. For further modest donations, additional drinks will be available before and after the concert. Anyone unable to make the concert is also welcome to make a donation via the same site.
note: All photography courtesy of the Our Kids Foundation and used with permission.