Pljevlja’s young volunteers transform the local community into a friendly environment for peers with disabilities
Pljevlja, Montenegro, 18 December 2012 - National campaign ‘It’s about ability’ is again experiencing its most brilliant moments in Pljevlja, the city which has often been named the leader of inclusion in Montenegro.
Since the campaign started in September 2010, the number of children with disability included in mainstream schools, as well as the number of those attending the day care centres for children with disability in Montenegro doubled.
One of the best examples of an inclusive community in Montenegro is the municipality of Pljevlja, where, on December 18, the representatives of the Municipality, local Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities ‘Zracak nade’ and UNICEF handed over certificates to the first generation of Pljevlja’s young volunteers - advocates for inclusion. During the year, more than 200 young people with and without disability regularly spent time together in the inclusive volunteers’ clubs established in Pljevlja’s schools.
“The time we spend in ‘Zracak nade’ is priceless. I invite all my peers to come to ‘Zracak nade’ and spend their free time usefully,” said volunteer Dejan Smiljanić.
“I love spending time with the volunteers, because we have many common interests and simply, I have a great time with them,” said volunteer Marko Mrdak.
“We love to hang out, to play, draw, colour and so on,” volunteer Gordana Jestrović said.
“The work with children is what I like the most. It is the most interesting work, as they are always creative and innovative. They can always make you laugh and the emotions they invoke are simply the most beautiful ones,” said volunteer Ljubica Šljukić.
At the certificate hand-over ceremony, children performed a show they had prepared together during 2012.
“Volunteerism has enormous potential to connect people. Young volunteers in Pljevlja showed us how to transform Pljevlja into a city which provides equal rights and possibilities to all children. Volunteers from elementary and high schools and university students are always there. When we face an obstacle, when we feel that we cannot go further, they give us strength, because they are young people who spend time with children with disabilities, rather than being in the cafes or at streets. They play, have fun, they are creative, and something new always comes up from their friendship,"Svetlana Dujović, the President of the Association of Parents of Children with disabilities ‘‘Zracak nade’’ said.
According to UNICEF’s surveys on knowledge, attitudes and practices of Montenegro’s citizens towards children with disability, mostly people who have never had contact with these children have prejudices against them. Therefore, during 2012, UNICEF supported parents’ associations and local schools in Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje, Bar and Herceg Novi to establish volunteers’ clubs and provide young people with and without disability with opportunities to regularly spend time together in the local community.
"We are proud of the fact that Pljevlja is leader of inclusion in Montenegro. The Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities "Zračak nade", Day Care Centre, the Centre for Social Work and the municipality of Pljevlja are doing their best to provide quality education and social integration for our children with disabilities," Mayor of Pljevlja Miloje Pupovac said.
Young volunteers throughout the country have been actively challenging discrimination and advocating for equal rights and opportunities for all children. Their number is constantly increasing.
“It is our hope that these trends will continue and a critical mass of these young change agents will successfully lead to transformation of their communities into places which fulfil the rights of all children and which are inclusive,” Benjamin Perks, UNICEF Montenegro Representative concluded.
So far, more than 600 young people with and without disabilities joined the volunteers’ clubs in Montenegro and their number is expected to grow as these activities spread across the country in future.