From September 2019 to August 2020, more than 80 pupils and students, and about 70 teachers and educators from Kragujevac and the surrounding area, participated in various creative educational events and outdoor workshops organized in the new space of the local Botanical Garden – the School Biology Center. Numerous experts used non-formal educational methods to improve the knowledge about biodiversity, various processes in nature, and its impact on health among youngsters. The main goal of these activities was raising awareness among children and young people on the importance of environmental protection.
Setting up of the School Biology Center in Kragujevac is one of the 38 initiatives that have been successfully implemented in Serbia as a part of the Regional Program on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD). It was an initiative of the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainable Development (Centar ze ekološko obrazovanje i održivi razvoj) from Kragujevac that wanted to expand the capacities within the Botanical Garden and increase public awareness on environmental issues. They built a summer classroom, new benches and waste bins, arranged and adapted the space that is now welcoming all nature lovers.
“The School Biology Center has significantly contributed to the popularization of the Botanical Garden. The benefits for both the City and the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Kragujevac are numerous. Now we have so many different events in the Botanical Garden, which also means more visitors. The Botanical Garden is included in the tourist offer of the City of Kragujevac, and many state and local TV stations are using this wonderful surrounding as a scene set-up for their programs”, says Ms. Snezana Brankovic, head of the Botanical Garden and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in Kragujevac.
Another initiative from Kragujevac is a fine example of a successful partnership between local governments and CSOs, working towards the same goal – better life for all in local communities.
Within the ReLOaD program, the Association for Supporting Persons with Autism (Udruženje za pomoć osobama sa autizmom), organized various activities aimed at supporting persons with autism for life in the community.
Children and adults up to 39 years of age, who suffer from autism spectrum disorder, learned how to socialize and prepare themselves for separation from their biological family, and finally – independent living with support. Experts and therapists worked directly with individuals with autism, applying different methods to develop greater independence in performing daily activities.
In the long run, initiatives like this can transform lives and change attitudes in dealing with this condition. The first step is to enable people with autism to live a more independent life, and in Kragujevac, they did it through life skills camps and activities in schools. These specially designed programs were aimed at increasing integration, self-confidence, and independence.
Ms. Danijela Nesovic, president of the Association for supporting persons with autism, says that it is important to talk about autism in public, to increase the understanding and acceptance of people with autism. She and her colleagues have been providing support, guidance, and advice, as well as campaigning for improved rights, services, and opportunities to help create a society that works for autistic people.
“Inclusive activities and creative workshops have shown that children from the general population want to socialize and support persons with autism. We also organized two classes of civic education for elementary school students. We saw that the children are accepting their friends with autism and want to interact and play with them. Children and young people enjoyed the weekends in nature, as well as the creative workshops and excursions that we arranged in agreement with therapists. This program means a lot to them and their families”, says Ms. Nesovic.
This initiative was also supported by the City of Kragujevac. Ms. Gordana Damnjanovic, member of the City Council for Health and Social Welfare Representatives of the City points out that it is important to strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations, especially those who are solving the problems of people with disabilities in the community. “The Association for supporting persons with autism has strengthened and built its capacities, and now it can successfully help families who turn to them for support. They have also developed a new, innovative social service – a life skills camp. Young people were trained for independent living outside the biological family. Services like life skills camp, weekend programs, and workshops, enable families to stay strong .” says Ms. Damnjanovic.
She also hopes that the City will develop housing institutions for individuals that need support, so that persons with autism could live more independent and fulfilled lives.
The program “Support to persons with autism for life in the community” was implemented during 2019 and 2020 and involved 36 beneficiaries. The Association for supporting persons with autism in Kragujevac is hoping that the partnership with the local government will continue in the future, so they can further develop their services, and help those who need their support.
Both initiatives in Kragujevac were funded with the support of the EU and the City of Kragujevac, and through these activities, both organizations strengthened their capacities and improved cooperation with local authorities, which were one of the main goals of the ReLOaD initiative.
Kragujevac was also chosen as a champion of good practice in financing civil society organizations in a transparent manner, among five local governments that took part in the ReLOaD. This means that Kragujevac has advanced the most in applying the appropriate procedure when announcing public calls, using the criteria for evaluation of project proposals prescribed by ReLOaD, and in ensuring participation of CSO representatives in the evaluation commission.
From the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2020 civil society organizations and local governments in Dimitrovgrad, Kragujevac, Kuršumlija, Paraćin, and Šabac improved their cooperation and dialogue, which resulted in the implementation of projects contributing to social and environmental protection, women empowerment, and strengthening of youth and socially marginalized groups.
The ReLOaD will continue in 2021, when seven new local governments will be selected through a public competition to participate in this program.
The Regional Program on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD) is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
* For the European Union, all references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with Resolution 1244 (1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For the United Nations, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).