Precious support in the game of life

“I will wear these glasses all the time I hope I won't lose them during the game"

Majda Balić for UNICEF
Dragocjena pomoć u igri života
16 September 2020

“I will wear these glasses all the time I hope I won't lose them during the game", ten-year-old Maisa*, sums up the previous failed attempts to cross the border aiming to continue her trip towards the European Union. In her world, the word "game" does not refer to play with her peers, neither is it a source of joy, it is slang for an attempt of crossing the border to step forward towards a promising future for her and her family.

We follow Maisa to an optical shop, where she is trying to decide which eyeglass frame suits her best. Trying on glasses whilst wearing protective face masks, which are mandatory indoors, is an additional challenge, making it difficult to judge how the glasses look and sit on her face. Maisa is not sure if the purple frames are better or if she should choose the pink ones that she tried on first, while her dad Zerin is very helpful in choosing. Her chocolate brown eyes sparked the moment the decision was made, glasses with purple frames resting on her tiny nose are chosen to embark on a joint adventure with her current address at the Sedra reception centre in Bihać. "I hope that I will be able to keep these in the next game," says Maisa, and after thanking the optician on his patience and time, together with her dad Zerin* leaves the optician's shop in Cazin. They were previously brought there by a team from UNICEF BiH and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) who organized and facilitated this joyous event that will surely change Maisa's "worldview", despite all obstacles.

In a game in which human lives are at stake, Maisa from Iran has been through a whole series of challenges ever since she left her native Tehran one year ago. At the time, she still had multifocal lenses that were suitable for treating her strabismus. However, the unpredictable life on the migrant route left Maisa without her lenses much earlier before her family arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet her life has changed thanks to UNICEF’s partnership with DRC: she is getting a pair of precious glasses that will allow her to continue her treatment for strabismus and help repair her damaged vision. Maisa knows how valuable it is to help others, she wants to become a doctor when she grows up, and she wonders how many more games separate her from her dreams.

Due to previous unsuccessful attempts to cross the border in search of a better life somewhere in the north of Europe, Maisa has missed an opportunity for education. Nevertheless, her English flows with such ease and eloquence that the one almost forgets she is settled in the modest, crumbly pediatric clinic of the Sedra Reception Center, instead of thinking that the girl talking to the paediatrician is doing her medical examination before enrolling in a prestigious international school. She can't explain exactly why she wants her wanderings on the European continent to end happily in England, but maybe the staff of the reception centre are partly responsible for that: "They teach me English and thanks to them, I speak better because I want to be able to express myself clearly” says Maisa to her Farsi translator.

„Nosit ću ove naočale stalno"
„Nosit ću ove naočale stalno, valjda neću ostati bez njih u igri“, dječijom jednostavnošću desetogodišnja Maisa sažima svoj prethodni neuspjeli pokušaj prelaska granice s ciljem nastavljanja daljnjeg kretanja prema EU.

Healthcare professionals cannot give an adequate estimate of how many children are currently served at the clinic, as children often go to games with family members, some return, the new ones come, they leave - the structure and age of users change. The centre is mostly occupied by families with children, so the need for pediatric services has been present for a long time. According to the team of paediatricians, children most often come to the clinic because of the usual general examinations, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, and babies are also taken care of, in addition to examinations, therapies and dressing services. If it is not possible to provide adequate service or therapy in the outpatient clinic, the children are referred to the Bihać Cantonal Hospital or the Cazin Health Center. Thanks to such a health care system, Maisa received a referral to an ophthalmologist. The total number of children who received medical care in this clinic from January to September this year is slightly higher than 750.

Fortunately, Maisa's problem was much easier to solve than many encountered by other children of migrants, refugees and unaccompanied minors. For many of them, there is no going further. And going further is what Maisa has been dreaming of since embarking on this unpredictable journey: the London rain, the British accent and the ability to use her eyes to their full potential. Because life, be it a game, or something more than that, is a basic human right that belongs to the Tehran heroine, and new glasses with purple frames give her hope for a better tomorrow - the opportunity to look again at a clearer and more beautiful future. Wherever that might be.

"Thanks to the DRC, the support of the EU, and our partners working within reception centres, since we founded the pediatric units Sedra and Borići, the quality and number of services provided to children in need of health care have increased significantly with a positive impact on individuals and families, migrant community, as well as public health. The mentioned help is also intended for unaccompanied minors who are accommodated in the reception centres Bira and Miral. In addition to basic services, pediatric care also includes immunization services, systematic examinations, ophthalmological and dental services, consultations, training and coaching for children and adults. We also went through the first cycle of immunization, which included 500 children in the USC, and we are continuing with the next cycle in the USC, as well as in Sarajevo Canton", says Amila Madžak, Education officer at the UNICEF office in Bihać, praising also the engagement of organization Phoenix which provides health services for children up to five years. Other partners with whom UNICEF cooperates in the field are Save the Children, Médecins de Monde (MDM), Church World Service (CWS), World Vision, and social work centres Bihać, Cazin, Velika Kladuša, Ključ and Hadžići.

Thanks to funding from the EU Health Programme (DG Health), UNICEF BIH ensures that all refugee and displaced children have access to primary health care, which in BiH, includes pediatric services as well.

*Name changed to protect the identity of a minor