Edna and Sabina Šunjić:Gold medal dedicated to children with Down Syndrome in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The best school is an inclusive school

Kristina Ljevak for UNICEF
Edna i Sabina Šunjić ispred treće gimnazije
16 November 2018

We knew that Edna Šunjić is a champion, that she is a member of the representative team in the Alpine skiing at the Special Olympics, where she was one of the youngest competitors in Austria last year and won two gold medals. We know of her success in skiing, table tennis, and swimming …

We are also aware of her outstanding school results. But we did not know that in the meantime she started playing the guitar. She mastered the chords in a few hours. And now she knows how to play two songs perfectly. She tells us that she likes the song “Piši mi brate” and we thought that, given the overall environment in which we live, we are talking about some new hit. But when Edna began to sing the old good Fratello, about the ship waiting in the harbor, except for winning us again, she made the whole month more beautiful for us, reminding us of our youth and the big hit of the group Aerodrom.

She equally proudly shows us her medals and photos from her junior prom. She explains how sad it was when they were saying goodbye. She went to elementary school “Skender Kulenović”, which is one of the great examples of respecting inclusion.


The principles of champions


She initially should have been enrolled to school in Hrasno, where she lives. They did not want to enroll a girl with Down Syndrome in the first grade. And that is why traveling from one part of the city to another on a daily basis was a precondition for Edna’s successful education. However, it was worth it. In addition to achieving extraordinary results, she gained a friendly environment and had the support of her teachers. 

Accustomed to achieving good results, Edna will never be satisfied with the third place in a competition or getting a grade lower than four. These are the principles of champions and the organization of their family and working discipline are reminiscent of a perfectly organized company that has assumed all the system’s obligations.

In the spirit of achieving high goals, Edna decided to enroll in Third Gymnasium in Sarajevo attended by her sister. She is the first girl with Down Syndrome, who is enrolled in the Third Gymnasium. Adaptation of the curriculum was carried out in cooperation between professors and parents. Today, mom Sabina within the school’s Viber Groups only receives praise due to Edna’s efforts and the unusual virtues that adorn this girl. And Edna with the greatest smile and pride, says that her biggest support is her mother, Sabina Šunjić. Mum adds that she is the coordinator of the family distribution of responsibilities and that also dad and Edna’s older sister Erna share them equally. Edna loves her sister and shares room with her.

Edna Šunjić na klupi

The best school is an inclusive school

“A few days ago, we received information from the class teacher that they had a department council and that everyone was very satisfied with Edna’s results. We managed to harmonize everything in two months, Edna’s behavior, adequate work, adapt the materials and achieve results. The school never had a child with disabilities, they did not have such kind of education. The class teacher, a professor of mathematics and a professor of Bosnian that came from Edna’s primary school in order to talk to other professors and share their experiences, were of great help,” said mom Sabina, who finds it hard to describe how much the support of Senada Salihovic, the Director of the Third Gymnasium, and the overall atmosphere that awaited them meant to her. “Being used of non-acceptance, especially because of the experience when Edna was not enrolled in the primary school, we were used to a burden. And now we entered a school with a high rating and where we are kindly welcomed. Most importantly, I did not feel any negation at any moment with the director. She just told us that they do not have the experience, but that that is no reason not to cooperate.”

Edna was in primary school, where 900 students were enrolled, proclaimed as one of the most prominent students.

She received this award from the teaching council. Afterward, she received the same award from the parents’ council. “I do not think that such thing has ever happened in the region for a child with disabilities to receive such an award,” said mom Sabina, adding that when they came to the high school, the main words of the director were the following: “We want Edna to be happy and unconcerned in this school.”

The plan for Edna’s future education, as Sabina says, was not only that Edna “walks into” the school. She needed points, and 93 points were the lowest limit.

“Edna was a very good student. She got used to teachers and was keen to work. All the professors gave assignments to her. She never was happy with lower grades. It was necessary for her to do an external matura, for which she was not prepared according to the adjusted program. She got 10 points from English and Bosnian, and she got 9.5 points from Math.”


Welcome for the champion

With grades and points she earned on external matura we arrived at the Third Gymnasium and they welcomed us with words – welcome the champion. After that, I knew that there will be no problems. “Edna is accepted,” recalls mom Sabina the beginning of the current school year, adding that out of 150 enrolled students in the first grade, Edna was in the twentieth place.

One of the key reasons for Edna’s success is the lack of improvisation. Mom Sabina explains that working with children with disabilities must exclude every attempt of improvisation.

She won her two gold Olympic medals not being in a club. Today they often say “it is easy for Edna”, and then mom Sabina recalls the collective family effort that has led to this outcome. They created their own system in their family because the system in the society very often does not work. However, there are positive examples and in the case of Edna’s mother, the positive example is Elektroprivreda, where she works for four hours, where the internal decision has been made that after the third year of the child the mother does not need to work full-time.

Realizing that after school, the system offers nothing to children with disabilities, mom Sabina concluded that sport is the best option. First, she started swimming, and then she got involved in table tennis.

They decided for skiing after they acknowledged that Edna does not like sledding, when in the mountains. Meeting the coach Ado was crucial for Edna’s skiing success. “When Edna falls, the coach also falls. He never said that it was difficult for him, and there were days when it was difficult. When Edna started skiing, the coach, who is a huge man, started crying. Then she was registered for the Special Olympics. We did not even think about medals,” tells us Sabina, and Edna adds that her mother’s joy was crucial for her success. The first gold medal was won on 21 March on the World’s Down Syndrome Day. The first Edna’s gold medal was dedicated to children with Down Syndrome in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I have to emphasize that when we returned, Minister Kurić welcomed us, and the same night there was the soccer match in Zenica, and he arranged that Edna goes out to the field. Then she opened a skiing season with other children with disabilities. And it is important to note that he supported the Youth Theatre to be adapted to children with disabilities. She also acted in the play “Svirala”. Edna has now the status of a prominent athlete, which she got from the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Sarajevo Canton.”


Edna Šunjić i pas

Without tiredness towards success

When asked if she sometimes gets tired, Edna resolutely answered with “no”. The equal satisfaction for her represents sport, music, and acting. She likes to remember her work on the play “Svirala”. Although the separation from friends and peers from her primary school was hard for her, she is happy in her new school environment.

And Edna, like her peers, enjoys her spare time watching youtubers and her greatest wish is to meet “Džumbus”.

She asked us to greet her coach Adnan, coach Lejla and her best friend Aldina.

We are saying hello to them, and we hope that she will meet “Džumbus” one day.

Alongside her numerous activities, Edna likes football, especially Zlatan Ibrahimović. When we asked her whether she likes him because of the resemblance between them, as they are both fierce and have good results, she said that we were right.

When it comes to the songs, about which we talked at the beginning, the other song she likes is “Sarajevo, ljubavi moja.” And when Edna sings it, also those who are irritated by the song will start to like it again.

With Edna Šunjić and her mother Sabina we met due to the project “Protecting children from violence and promoting social inclusion of children with disabilities in the countries of Western Balkans and Turkey, implemented by UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina with the financial support of the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We knew that another story about the golden girl would motivate others. And during our meeting came a beautiful Labrador, unannounced. It is a therapeutic dog, who went to Zagreb a day after our photo session, as a therapist for children with leukemia.

“With Edna is always like this, positive things are always happening around her, regardless of whether we are talking about people or animals,” says mother of the champion.