Aug. 2014—Until now, children with developmental disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and their parents had no place to go for even a small respite from the extraordinary difficulties and stress in their daily lives. Now there is one place that offers them a soft, safe place to land, if only for a while.
Through a small grant to the Give Us a Chance Association, and in partnership with local government, USAID earlier this year helped establish the first service center in the country to provide daily care and assistance for families with children suffering from developmental disabilities.
“When you have a child that is developmentally challenged and hyperactive, as my son is, it is difficult to find a job, do it, and keep it. I have so much to do for him every day. It is important for me to have someone I can trust to take care of my child,” said Almedina* of Sarajevo.
The center, located in Sarajevo, offers a psychologist, speech therapist, special education teacher, social worker and 50 volunteers trained to work with such challenged children. It also provides the families with legal and other forms of assistance, while the children can spend several hours a day amongst their peers and trained professional staff who provide a safe, stimulating environment.
Almedina said the best treatment for her son Adnan, who is autistic, is spending time with other children and adults who understand.
“For my boy, children are the best therapists. He does what they do, and by copying them, he learns. We would take him to playgrounds with healthy children, but it is easier when someone with expert knowledge of his needs is present. If I can have someone take care of him even for five minutes, knowing he is having fun and playing, I am happy,” said Almedina.
And the parents, usually mothers like Almedina, can grab a couple of hours, just for themselves or to go to work and earn an income. “If there were more centers like this, our lives would be so much easier,” she added.
The project is another example of USAID/BiH partnering—with local governments, civil society and more than 20 private sector firms—for better results. The municipality of Novi Grad provided space for the center and $15,000 to refurbish it, and committed to putting it in the annual budget to ensure sustainability.
When USAID sponsored the annual Kid’s Festival in Sarajevo this year, June 7-10, a special corner for children with disabilities was staffed with volunteers and professionals from the new service center. It was full all four days with around 200 children visiting each day.
“This is the first time the Kid’s Festival has offered a space for challenged children,” said Ines Kavalec, president of the Give Us a Chance Association. “As a mother of two, with one challenged child, I have been visiting the festival over the years. But I would return home exhausted and upset because nothing was adapted to the needs of children in wheelchairs. This year it is different; challenged children have their own special corner and playground. They can spend some quality time there, and as a parent, I can finally spend some quality time with my other child.”
Vahida Fazlić from Zenica said she is delighted that the needs of disabled children—and their families—have finally been recognized in BiH.
“Services like this one are truly welcome because the children can relax and have fun, while I can rest a bit. My younger child is four and suffers from cerebral palsy. It’s different when there is someone who is trained to take care of him. There is nothing more that someone can give to parents like us,” Fazlić said.
*Last name withheld to protect privacy.
Last updated: January 16, 2015