Bosnia & Herzegovina
– 26 February 2019
Someone to count on for help
A young couple from Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, struggled to meet their children’s basic needs. Unemployment, illnesses and social exclusion brought them to the brink of despair. Together with the SOS Children's Villages team, the family is fighting to create a better future for their children.
When Aleksandra*, 28, and her family settled in Mostar, a city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, they had to fend for themselves. Over 20 years after the Bosnian War ended, Mostar is still marked by ethnic divisions in the population. Aleksandra and Nikola are a couple that has found each other despite their different nationalities.
“Before we got support from SOS Children’s Villages, it was terrible,” Aleksandra recalls. “We had just settled in, we had no work.”
Nikola, her husband, was unable to find work for seven months.
Then Aleksandra was diagnosed with a serious health condition. Her eight-year-old daughter Sanja was struggling in school because of persistent hearing problems, and both Sanja and her five-year-old sister Ivana have speech difficulties.
“Everything turned against us,” Aleksandra says. “I didn’t believe there was anything else for us.”
Sanja and Ivana attend speech therapy and educational support activities to foster their development.
The SOS Children's Villages team in Mostar started working with the family in 2016.
“If we look at different areas of need families might face, this family has them all,” says Edita Pajic, SOS social worker and psychotherapist. “Aleksandra and her two daughters have health problems, the girls need help to learn as well as speech therapy. We also provide psychological and social support for the parents and the children, including individual counselling, and gave them material support to cover the most basic needs.”
The family’s situation started to improve slightly when Nikola found work. Another turning point came when a church let the family move into their current home rent-free. It is a modest house, the toilet is in an outhouse and part of the roof has fallen off.
Without a stable income, the family cannot afford a better home. Aleksandra is grateful to be able to live in this house rent-free.
“It’s the best they can offer right now,” says Aleksandra. “But even here it was not easy. We had nothing to cook. We depended on SOS Children’s Villages for food.”
Although Nikola is now working at a shopping centre, he does not have a stable employment contract and money continues to be tight.
To help the family increase the household income, Aleksandra occasionally cleans houses. She has also begun to rear chickens. SOS Children’s Villages provided the family with the livestock. The eggs are both a source of income and complement the family’s diet. SOS Children’s Villages also supplied Aleksandra with the materials she needed for a knitting class, which has allowed her to sell some products at local fairs.
Focus on children’s development
Sanja and Ivana participate in a range of educational, creative and music activities in the children’s club of SOS Children's Villages, which helps them develop skills and make friends. Edita also connected them with a Big Brother/Big Sister project, in which volunteers take children from disadvantaged backgrounds on outings and trips.
In addition, Edita supports Aleksandra in finding solutions for Sanja’s learning difficulties. Her daughter is already one year behind in her education.
The SOS team works with schools to jointly find ways to support children in their development.
“Our family strengthening team communicates with the schools of the children we support, we work together with the teachers to find solutions,” Edita says. SOS Children’s Villages Bosnia and Herzegovina works in close cooperation with public institutions and other organisations to ensure that children get the best possible support for their individual needs and their development.
Fighting for the children’s future
Aleksandra is grateful for the support she has received. She was faced with setbacks in life early on. Her father was an alcoholic who beat her and her siblings. She had to drop out of school after the first grade of high school and started working when she was 14.
“The situation we are in right now is nothing compared to what I went through,” Aleksandra says. “I know how to fight and ask for help. I don’t want my children to have the childhood I had. I want something better for them.”
Edita knows that it takes time to find solutions to the many challenges the family is facing.
“The family has made progress, but there are still needs that have to be addressed, especially in terms of educational, psychological and social work with the children,” she says.
“SOS Children’s Villages was there for us,” Aleksandra concludes. “We could count on them in every situation. When I got sick, they would come and help us get medicine. When there was no food, not even bread for the children, they were the place we could go to ask for help. And the greatest support I got during my pregnancy was from SOS Children’s Villages.”
Aleksandra had a high-risk pregnancy because of her health problems. Fortunately, she gave birth to a healthy boy.
Aleksandra had a baby boy a year ago. At first, she worried about the pregnancy given her health problems, but fortunately she gave birth to a healthy boy and did not suffer any complications.
“I’m here to listen, to connect and to support the family in their growth and development,” Edita says. “This family’s situation is special because the parents are from different nationalities. They have found themselves in a difficult economic situation and were rejected by everybody. That’s why we were there to give support.”
*All names changed for privacy protection
Photos by Katerina Ilievska