The heroine mother

A story of love in times of turmoil. A story of courage in times of fear. A story of hope in times when light seems unattainable. A story about the heroines of our daily lives – mothers.

Leonora Aliu
Meriton and Ajnishahe Binakaj
UNICEF/2020/L. Aliu
27 May 2020

Gjakova, February 2020 – Iron Man, Super Man, Wonder Woman, Power Puff Girls, etc., are a few of the names and images of childhood superheroes. Boys and girls with long capes, supernatural powers, abilities to fly and fight the evil, have always been images with whom children grow up and they have continuously grown by mainstream media, and film industry in particular. But recently, as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, the media have turned their attention to heroes that do not wear capes but who fight against the evil threatening mankind every day: doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, etc.

And, certainly, if we think about it, we have always had or have a hero in our lives, without supernatural powers but with powers big enough to change our life so much so that we come to love it and do not surrender even in front of greater challenges.

Meriton Binakaj, from Gjakova, has had such a hero for 24 years now. Meriton has been living with disabilities since 2011, as a result of an accident he had while jumping into the Erenik river of Gjakova. It was the summer holidays when he and his cousins from his mother’s family decided to get some refreshment in the river, which later would turn into the place of his disaster. Meriton hit his head against a stone in the river during his dive, and this left him immobile from that day on.

But there was a person who always stood beside him, every single day.

His mother.

Ajnishahe Binakaj is 48 years old and she started the battle of protecting her two sons in April of 1999 when she became a self-providing mother. She lost her husband one day before Meriton turned 4 years old. “Meriton’s birthday was on the next day and we were in the camp when Meriton’s uncle and I were looking for candies and caramels to celebrate his birthday. He was a child, he was not aware of what was going on and he was looking for them on the ground,” Ajnishahe says. “I will never forget those candies,” Meriton jumps in during his mother’s conversation with us, on the day of the visit at their three-floor house, in the only room that Meriton, who is in a wheelchair, has access to.

His mother is always there with him. There is a bed with medical equipment and other tools there. Ajnishahe is always there to maintain it and support Meriton. “My sons are everything to me,” she says trying to hide her tears which you can still see in her eyes. “Meriton’s accident happened. Since that day, my life is his wellbeing,” Ajnishahe says.

The accident caused Meriton temporary interruption of his education, as a result of not wanting to continue after the accident first, problems with depression, health problems which he had as a result of the injury, but also due to the lack of transport to school. “Those were very difficult years,” Ajnishahe says, painfully recollecting the days when Meriton’s peers used to go to school with their backpacks on while he could not. “I did not want to go either. I thought, why bother when nothing is worth it anymore,” Meriton says as he shares the difficult moments of adapting to the situation after the accident. “I just did not want to do anything anymore,” he adds.

Getting used to the situation was not easy for him nor for his family. His mother would have to sneakily give money to Meriton’s brother to go out with friends without Meriton knowing it, in order to avoid making her other son feel bad, but also not to neglect his brother. Until before the accident, Ajnishahe worked as a tailor.  But she decided to give up her work and passion in order to commit to love – her children.

“Our family and friends also supported us, I am very thankful to them,” she says. Meriton had to undergo a few surgical interventions to stabilize in terms of his health. Some were conducted in Kosovo, some abroad. In 2013-2014, he was sent to Montenegro for rehabilitation, and then in 2016-2017 he stayed in Croatia. However, returning to Kosovo meant staying at home again, with his mother. It was April 2019 when Meriton decided for the first time to engage and go out to become a part of the UPSHIFT project, implemented by the UNICEF Kosovo Office. At the time, the partners from the Handikos organization invited Meriton to join this project. “I was reluctant at first because I thought it would be held in Prishtina and I knew I had problems with transport,” he tells us. “But when I found out that it was in Gjakova, I thought about it and I said, “Okay, why not give it try.”

And that was exactly the turning point in his life.

Meriton joined “For You”, a group of young people with disabilities who were for the first time employed by UNICEF and, by creating wood handcrafts, they managed to generate means for services for people with disabilities at Handikos. This project put Meriton at the center of attention and resulted in him being selected as a motivational speaker by UNICEF in one of the major activities that UNICEF organizes with over 500 young people from across Kosovo, the “Activate Talks”. Meriton shared the stage of an event attended by stars such as Rita Ora, Janis McDavid, etc. It was the first time since his accident that Meriton Binakaj spoke publicly in front of an audience of over 500 people, ambassadors and prominent people, about his life.


Meriton Binakaj at Activate Talks 2019
UNICEF/2020/A. Beqiri
Meriton Binakaj at “Activate Talks” in 2019 speaking publicly for the first time about his story in front of 600 people.

“We are all predisposed to remain in a wheelchair, to have an accident. Therefore, we have to work as hard as possible for the inclusion of young people living with disabilities,” was Meriton's message that day.

For his mother, this moment was one of her most beautiful memories as a mother.

“That day, when I saw him speaking with courage for the first time about his accident and everything that happened to him, I do not know. I felt like the world was mine. I felt like I was the prime minister of the country. I have never experienced greater joy as when I saw that my 8 years of work and sacrifice were worth it,” Ajnishahe says, failing to hold her tears again.

“It is very important to have people who believe in you. Who tell you “We are here for you, go on and do not stop because everything will be alright.” For me those people were my mother and Murat (Head of the UNICEF Kosovo Office),” Meriton Binakaj said. “Those are my heroes.” The Head of the UNICEF Kosovo Office in Kosovo had talked to Meriton about the importance of education, who in 2019 returned to school and is now completing secondary education.

That is all it takes to be a hero, to extend your hand to someone, listen to them and believe in them. These are the real heroes of every one of us. And children living with disabilities in Kosovo, facing the lack of access to education and social life every day, need heroes more than ever. They need you.