House in the middle of the road

Having been diagnosed with multiple mental dysfunction, Ivana's family gave up on her when she was a baby.

Ivana prepares fresh coffee in the in the Institution for children and youth with disabilities “Dr Nikola Sumenkovic” in the village of Stamnica, municipality of Pozarevac, Serbia
UNICEF Serbia/2010

01 June 2010

"Mom! Mom! Could you please help me with the coffee?" shouts Ivana, a beautiful 18-year-old girl, dressed in white, carrying out a plastic plate with six cups of fresh coffee to the courtyard.

A woman approaches Ivana and says kindly, with warmth in her voice, "Darling, you don't need help. You can do it all by yourself."

Ivana is preparing coffee for her cheerful girlfriends, but a hesitant look in her eyes reveals her fear of whether she is going to make and serve the coffee right.

Everything seems completely natural in these cozy surrounding with fresh air and thick trees in the courtyard. Except for one thing - Ivana and her five friends live in the Institution for children and youth with disabilities "Dr Nikola Sumenkovic" in the village of Stamnica, municipality of Pozarevac, Serbia.

And the "Mom" Ivana is calling for help is not her mother, but a therapist employed at this Institution.

Ivana came to this Institution almost ten years ago, after changing several institutions for social protection in Serbia for children with mental disabilities.

Having been diagnosed with multiple mental dysfunction, her family gave up on her when she was a baby.

She has been living at the Institution with a three year younger brother Zivojin, who also suffers from multiple mental dysfunctions. Her mother has never come to see her.

Only once, several years ago, her sister came to visit her in Stamnica village. 

"I have a family, but they never ask for me. I have a sister, a mother, and grandparents", says Ivana, pouring fresh coffee into white plastic cups.

"I miss them, I can't live without them" she says, looking into the distance, between green trees outside the Institute.

In the past ten years, since her arrival to the Institution, Ivana has changed a lot.

She has developed many skills, for example, how to make her bed, live in a group, prepare food and take care of herself, explains one of her therapists at the Institution.

Now she is improving even more as she is attending a special programme the Institution has been practicing over years.

The "Preparedness for supported living" programme gives Ivana and her five friends the possibility to live separately from other children and youth from the Institution, in a small house with a bedroom, living room, kitchen and a bathroom, but still under the continuous supervision of Institution therapists, psychologists and other staff.

The six of them are being prepared for the independent lives they could live some day.

Zarko Jovanovic, a psychologist in the Institution, says the preparedness process is a long-term and sometimes very hard process which can last for years, depending on the children's potential.

"It is an open, cozy and simulated family atmosphere, where children with disabilities learn the different skills needed for entering the outside world. They are being prepared to eventually go back to their biological families or to be placed into foster families", explains Mr. Jovanovic.

Attending this programme, Ivana hopes for the best – to go back to her family.

"I expect them to behave nicely. I've changed a lot since my mother left me in tiny shorts and barefoot. After all, I am their sister and daughter" says Ivana.