Showing what they have learned about each other

Two Afghan teens and new friends in Serbia confront prejudice, one step at a time

Jelena Obucina
Two refugee boys
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Obucina

26 November 2019

Hadi and Nabi, both 16, uprooted from Afghanistan to Serbia, say they know all too well what discrimination feels like.    

There have been moments – at school, on the streets, and even in the reception centre where they live – when they say that it was clear they were not welcome.  But they are convinced that the best way to overcome such reactions is to build direct connections within their new community.  The boys needed to get to know their neighbours better.  And vice versa.

Nabi has lived in the town of Sid, in western Serbia, for the last three years. For him, his school was a naturally good place to start.

"If teenagers and others spent more time together, they could get to know each other better and that can change their minds. That can help to beat discrimination in Sid."


Together with his classmates from the Sava Sumanovic High School, Nabi is organizing two events to bring newly arrived refugees and the local population closer together.  The first event is a sports tournament bringing together refugee children and children from the local community, ages 8 to 16; and the second, a presentation of traditional crafts and foods, where young people, ages 15 to 20, will perform national dances.

“Both refugees and locals will rehearse together and integrate national dances,” says Nina Bonic, Nabi’s classmate, “and in the end, they will show what they have learned about each other.”

The idea for the sports and cultural exchange events came from Nabi, Hadi and Nina as they participated in UPSHIFT – a youth empowerment and skills-building programme led by UNICEF and its partner, Razlivaliste.  The team name the three chose for themselves?  “Just Human.”

Just Human is one of the five teams that received small seed grants to implement their ideas
Stanislava Vucetic
Just Human is one of the five teams that received small seed grants to implement their ideas

UPSHIFT’s aim, in engaging participants aged 13 to 19, is to identify solutions to problems they identify in their communities. The children and young people are paired with mentors who help guide their creative thinking, from conception to implementation. The latest workshop involved 10 teams working on 10 issues, says Razlivaliste’s Katarina Stevanovic. In addition to the issue of discrimination against refugees (taken on by “Just Human”), the workshop addressed violence, attitudes about people living with disabilities, the negative impact of reality-TV, and the lack of interest in reading books.

The mentor for “Just Human,” Olja Stevanovic, was to help them define the problems, its causes and consequences, and to define the solution.  The team would go on to be one of five which received a small seed grant to implement their ideas.

The workshop also helped Hadi make an important decision: To go back to school.

For Hadi, spending time with his peers in Serbia was pivotal in how he overcame his own misconceptions.

“I felt bad before. I had the feeling that people didn’t like me and because of that, I didn’t go to school,” he says. “But that was my bad, [and I realized] it’s not like that.”

Hadi and Nabi believe that both the local population and the refugees will benefit greatly from this time spent together. Nabi is actively learning Serbian and notices that his classmates appreciate the effort as a small but important step.

The boys are making positive connections in Sid. Some of Nabi’s classmates have begun to endearingly call him “Mile” (related to the words “gracious” and “dear).  Nadi, Habi and their new friends believe that together, they will be stronger than what discrimination will ever be.