Embraced By the Municipality: Dusan’s Journey to Walking

Nine-year-old Dusan and his family live in the biggest Roma settlement in town of Pirot, Southern Serbia.

Sonja Miokovic
UNICEF Serbia/2010

04 April 2010

It was a day like any other.

Dusan was on his way to Pralipe, the Development Education Centre, to meet his patronage teacher for his daily lessons.

The only difference today is that his twin brother, Dragan, is tagging along, walking close by his side.

That is until, a stray soccer ball shoots across the street and instantly catches his eye. Dragan darts off, intercepts, then dribbles it back onto the lawnthat hugs the school.

The mood shifts. Dusan drops his head. His father gently places his hand on his shoulder in condolences.

“One day I too will run,” Dusan says lifting his head with a beaming smile.

Nine-year-old Dusan and his family live in the biggest Roma settlement in town of Pirot, Southern Serbia.

The picture hanging on the bright rose-coloured wall of his living room tells his story from the beginning.

The faded snap shot shows two twin baby boys laid out beside each other. One chubby and one slim. At first their mom did not think anything of it and cared for them just the same. But as they began to grow, so did her concern.

"One day I too will run."

Dusan was lagging behind, somehow weaker, skinner, and slower than his brother.

“He wailed non-stop and we soon found out it was from the pain. Dusan had Cerebral Palsy,” shares his mother. 

The crippling disease which delays the signal from his brain to his muscles might have slowed him down but it certainly has not stopped Dusan.

“He’s capable of many things,” says Slavica Stanisavljevic, LPA coordinator, “including putting a smile on your face in a matter of minutes and bringing a whole city to tears.”

Since 2004 UNICEF has supported municipalities across Serbia to develop Local Plans of Action for children (LPA) to uphold municipal efforts in making cities across the country child friendly.

LPA is a creative problem-solving tool that helps municipalities achieve the realization of children’s rights by strategically identifying problem areas, ideating solution and implementing change.

“LPA has shed light on Pirot’s social issues that were in the dark. These things need to be seen. It is only once you know a problem exists that you can resolve it, step-by-step,” shares Mayor VladanVasic. 

Pirot was one of the three pilot municipalities selected to develop LPA and has grown to fully embracethe program systematically into the city functions, striving to become a place fit for every child.

The Pirot LPA focuses on the reduction of child poverty, improvement of quality of preschool and primary school education and better health for all children, as well as on improvement of the position and rights of children with disabilities, children without parental care and Roma children. 

Setting these priorities and creating programmes and services to support them, has pushed Dusan to keep chasing his dreams of walking.

From funds made available through the separate municipal LPA budget line, the efforts of the youth team in creating a media awareness campaign to mobilize community fundraising initiatives, to paying for his operations, and providing a patronage teacher so he would not fall behind in school, Dusan has been fully supported by the city.

Pirot is now a leader and innovator of ways in which the local government can contribute to the implementation of the LPA-set activities.

“The real change is we are now aware that changes were needed – and these changes have now been institutionalized through local plans of action for children,” states Vasic. 

Dusan is an example of the wonderful ways in which a community can work together to support even the most categorically marginalized child.

The municipality of Pirot exemplifies, how the implementation of local plans of action for children can shine a light on the realization of children’s rights. 

In forming a strong cross-sector social web,local governments can prevent children from falling through the cracks. 

“Before the operation he couldn't even walk. He only had strength in his arms and could crawl by dragging himself. But couldn't stand on his own two feet,” says his mother. 

After the operation Dusan was under strict instructions to lie in bed for 14 days.

“In the middle of the night he called for me. ‘Yes darling, are you okay?’ I rushed to his room,” remembers his mother. “He was there smiling from ear-to-ear. I was in shock.

"Look mom, I can stand on my own."

“Dusan may have taken his first steps. But we want him not just to walk, but to play football,” quips Mayor Vasic.

“Only systemic changes will bring about change for every child.”

Along with a strong monitoring and reporting system in collaboration with Municipal Assembly, funds allocated to the LPA budget have increased annually, as have the number of projects implemented to make Pirotfit for children.

“With UNICEF’s assistance, we have developed a data collection system which is used for monitoring the progress of the LPA implementation and as a tool for resource mobilization,” says Vasic. 

“LPA has taken root in Pirot and I think it will keep growing, nice and stable,” says Vasic. 

Dusan will soon join his brother in regular school.

“I will win in this life,” he says with smiling eyes and you just cannot help but believe him.