United around the cause of a boy with disabilities – meet Team Rijad
Public figures support children with disabilities
Prishtina, September 2022 - In April 2020, at the height of COVID-19, a 14-year-old boy from Bardhosh, Prishtina, won the heart of Kosovo. From quarantine in his home Rijad Mehmeti wrote a letter which was published on the UNICEF Kosovo Programme webpage and social media channels and reached over 500,000 people online.
"You who today are facing isolation, now you know how children who live with disabilities feel throughout their lives as a result of lack of equal access to basic services and public life.”
With these words, Rijad became the voice of these children. He encouraged others to join him in his fight, including seven influential people in Kosovo: Adriatik Kelmendi, the director of Klan Kosova television, mountaineer Mrika Nikqi, DJ and activist Adrian Berisha, actress and journalist Anisa Ismaili, journalists Durim Xhema and Erjona Gjikolli, and activist Edita Buqinca.
They formed Team Rijad. Their aim? To ensure all include children with disabilities are included in Kosovo society and enjoy all their rights.
Activist Edita Buqinca joined the team after seeing Rijad on television. She was inspired by his positivity, intelligence, and commitment to the cause.
"I would feel happy if we fulfill our goal to facilitate the everyday life of these children who need us," she said.
Adriatik Kelmendi, host of the famous TV show Rubikon, invited Rijad onto TV alongside the president Dr. Vjosa Osmani Sadriu. A few months ago, Rijad also visited Adriatik Kelmendi on Klan Kosova, one of the most-watched television stations in the country.
"When Rijad came to visit me at the Klan Kosova building, it was impossible for him to get inside without help because the building did not have a ramp at the entrance. He was very happy when the Klan Kosovan team installed the ramp at the entrance of the building and emphasized how easy it was to do something like this in other buildings as well”, said Adriatik Kelmendi.
Mountaineer Mrika Nikqi has a very specific goal. She wants all children to be able to enjoy the mountains as she does.
Mrika was only 17 years old in August 2019 when, together with her father Arianit Nikqi, she successfully climbed all the highest peaks of the world, in the "Seven Summits" challenge.
"I was not aware of how difficult the conditions are for people with disabilities in public spaces. After being introduced to Rijad, I started to research and understand more about it. My goal now is to somehow enable access to camping and to nature for all children. I also am engaged in raising awareness of my followers," she said.
Well-known journalist Erjona Gjikolli is a long-time supporter of Rijad.
"I have known Rijad for two years now. We met for the first time at the gate of the Parliament of Kosovo, where he had spearheaded a campaign to make schools more accessible.”
This campaign made her more aware of the issue of accessibility.
"One day I was in the car, and I happened to see a person in a wheelchair going down the street. It was exactly the concern that Rijad had also spoken to me about - that is, people in wheelchairs, due to the lack of a suitable sidewalk, are forced to move on the road, in the same direction as the cars. I immediately took a photo, published it on social media, and sent my concerns to the Municipality of Prishtina," she said.
It was amazing how a then 14-year-old boy from Bardhosh moved some of the most high-profile people around him to help achieve his goal.
The final words belong to him.
"I can't wait for the day when everyone will really come out of the social quarantine that we have created for decades for children with disabilities”, said Rijad Mehmeti, now 18 years old.
Decisionmakers and businesses next to Rijad.
Team Rijad has mobilized the private sector to support expansion of accessible facilities. So far, eight businesses have partnered with Team Rijad: Arkatana, Alba Qeramika, Meridian Express, Fortesa Home, Rronifer, Kivo, Meka Halal Food and NGO YMCA. Thanks to their funding, interventions to improve accessibility have been carried out in eight municipalities in Kosovo, including provision of accessible toilets in public schools, and installation of accessible sidewalks and ramps in public spaces.
Rijad is committed to continue advocating together with his friends from Team Rijad and plans to establish a foundation through which he can advocate for equal access and rights for all children. He also plans to continue his education and develop a career in the ICT field.