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LOTOS ZENICA ASSOCIATION: “SMALL SAFE ZONE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH”

When she noticed that her daughter Selina had certain difficulties that she did not know how to cope with, her mother Ula sought help and support from the Association for the Protection of Mental Health “LOTOS” Zenica, where she got involved in workshops for children held every Saturday.

“We are very pleased both Selina and I. She had emotional problems that I as a mother did not know how to best cope with, and I approached Lotus to get support for her, but also to strengthen myself. Selina has become more open, communicative and has generally progressed,” said Ula, adding that participation in counseling work with parents, which she joined, allowed her to receive support that helped her empower herself:

Ula told us: “I go to Thursday gatherings where other parents who also need support come. We hang out, talk, exchange tips and experiences, read articles, practice fine motor skills, and occasionally volunteer for some activities such as charity bazaars. All this helped me and encouraged me to take this step towards university enrolment. I enrolled at inclusive pedagogy department and successfully completed my first year,”.

These activities are held as part of the project “Let’s Dream, Let’s Play” supported through the program “Enable and Embrace Beneficial Civil Society Environment” (EMBRACE) funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Norway and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“The project activities draw on the experience gained from the previous project “Lotos Open Club”, which was also implemented with the support of UNDP within the EMBRACE program in 2020. The idea is the same – psychosocial support for children and young people through three segments that we normally carry out, which are direct individual psychological work, work through groups and inclusive activities. All services are free and easily accessible.”, said Ms. Emina Hadžihalilović, the Project Manager of “Let’s Dream, Let’s Play” which offered the services of a multidisciplinary team to children and parents, in a friendly environment and space adequate for working with children and young people.

The project organized visits to the cinema once a month. A sports school was held in cooperation with a physical education professor and children liked it in particular, and everyone was delighted with the excursion to the Vlasic Mountain, where they also got sandwiches, chocolates and juices. Emina added that the Association was satisfied with the implementation of the project and the response of children and their parents:

“Over the past period, we have enriched our regular inclusive activities. We carry out all these activities continuously, and we will not stop doing so with the completion of EMBRACE, because that is the mission of our organization. Material resources for working with users procured through the project, educational materials and didactic resources that will remain permanently owned by the association will also help us in this,” she added.

Educator, Ms. Mirjana Puđa runs workshops for a young group, and she is also satisfied with all activities, and she especially emphasizes working on Thursdays with a group of women with Ula’s mom, mentioned above.

“They have become a team capable of accepting a new member who comes with the problem, and can fit in the group without rejections, feel that welcomed and have someone to talk to. All the people who came there because they were often alone and had no one to talk to later established a network of friendships to socialize together, go out for coffee, talk on the phone and ask about each other’s health,” said Ms. Mirjana, adding that it is great that one such support group has formed:

“I am grateful for the project because it enabled us to strengthen ourselves as well. After each workshop, when we spend some energy and experience all sorts of situations, we sit together and talk, and quality communication is something that is most lacking at this time,” she added, while a group of children slowly gathered in the rooms for the morning workshop and started with a puppet workshop.

Erin is in the fifth grade and said that she was coming for socializing, as she liked to dance, sing and draw. Selina is in the sixth grade and apart from socializing and playing she said she liked “educational things” and excursions. Meliha told us about their trip to the Vlasic Mountain – she said that it was “adventurous” and that everyone had fun, and Aja boasted about her knowledge of English, adding that she liked art the most. Aja’s mom, Sejdefa, said that since her daughter had started coming to the workshops, she noticed a lot of progress in her life, and that every time she would come to the workshops in the LOTUS it was very useful for her:

“Aja has several health problems, but she enjoys it and relaxes here, and ishe s immediately better and different at home and at school. We’ve been coming to the LOTUS for a long time, and what they’re doing here is helping her get better at school, as she finished the seventh grade, and she’s about to be in the eighth grade. They do everything through games, and that way of working suits her”.

Marina is also assisted by volunteers – a student of inclusive education, Amna and a high school student Ismail.

“On Saturdays, I can’t wait to get here, have fun, learn, helping out here helps me learn about inclusion and further work on eliminating stereotypes and stigma,” said Amna. Ismail, a sophomore, said he is here because he likes to help others, but also for fun, socializing and new acquaintances.

The workshops for the older group of children and young people are led by Ms. Ivana Vasić, who said that the group is not large, but this on the other hand gives a greater opportunity to dedicate as much time as possible to each member individually.

“We work in groups, but at the same time every member gets the opportunity to express themselves individually. Some participants have developmental difficulties and some don’t. We have volunteers like Amna who can use this to further develop their capacities needed in working with children and young people, as they meet with children of different ages,” said Ivana, adding that they were trying to enable everyone to express themselves individually and eventually discover some talents through various creative workshops such as decoupage, drawing, coloring..:

“A low level of self-confidence and self-esteem among young people in general is noticeable, which is why it is important to encourage them not to be ashamed of their work and to show what they can and know. Here is a small safe zone for our children and young people”.

Adin, a graduate professor of Turkish language and literature, was happy to join Ivana’s group.

“Socializing and working in a group with Ivana and other young people helps me in both personal and professional development. We all develop knowledge, abilities and skills together,” said Adin, showing things and objects made in workshops, and said he was especially fond of the cabinet of beautiful memories in which they planned to put all the beautiful memories they had collected.

LOTUS Association founder Aiša Hadžihalilović Smailbegović said she was pleased with the implementation of projects supported through EMBRACE.

“The project enriches both our users and those who work with them. I am a pediatrician, and I have graduated psychology and pedagogy. I have an affinity for psychological support for children and through this work I enrich myself spiritually. Every day I become more spiritually mature because I help others and through such work you become more communicative and spiritually stronger,” she said, underlining that the Association’s work required significant financial support, especially considering that they worked mainly with children and families from socially disadvantaged and marginalized groups who would not otherwise be able to afford the services they received through the project.

The project “Enable and Embrace Beneficial Civil Society Environment” (EMBRACE) was financed by the Government of the Kingdom of Norway in the amount of USD 880,000 and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), with the aim of strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to improve the quality of services provided to citizens and citizens in local communities.

Resource: LOTOS ZENICA Association: “Small Safe Zone for Children and Youth” | United Nations Development Programme (undp.org)

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