Stevan Kalinovic’s first steps

The most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis are those most vulnerable.

Jelena Terzić
29 May 2021

Boljevac, Serbia - Eleven-year-old Stevan Kalinovic is like most children his age. He loves music. So when he heard his neighbour play an electronic keyboard a few years ago, he wanted to do the same. And he’s been playing ever since. Stevan is self-taught, so he doesn’t know all the notes. But his imagination makes up for that when he accompanies his favourite tunes from YouTube.

Boy in a wheelchair playing synthesizer
UNICEF Srbija/2021/Shubuckl

“I like playing to accompany other songs,” says Stevan.

Stevan also enjoys playing in his backyard in the village of Osnic, near Boljevac, in eastern Serbia. But in this aspect, he differs from many of his peers because Stevan’s family has tamed a fawn.

Sometimes it won't come, but then it comes back so I can feed it, “explains Stevan, while getting the corn ready for his unusual pet.

Despite’s Stevan’s happy demeanour, his parents’ biggest concern is their son’s health. Stevan was a pre-term baby and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy before his first birthday. He’s had two surgeries since then - in Serbia and Turkey. Surgeries have made a big difference. And since starting physical therapy, Stevan, with the help of his mom and dad, often walks instead of using the wheelchair.

[These] exercises mean a lot to him; he is more stable. He couldn’t stand on his feet after the surgery, but the [physical] therapy made his muscles stronger and he can stand better. We need to go every two months,” explains Milena Kalinovic, Stevan’s mother.

Stevan’s low-income family must pay for his physical therapy in a private hospital in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, which uses modern equipment and the newest exercise techniques. The family is relying on the help from their local self-government, as well as private donations.

Boy in a wheelchair with his mother and fawn that comes into his yard.
UNICEF Srbija/2021/Shubuckl

“He needs to have physical therapy every two months, for three to four weeks. It costs between 120,000 and 150,000 dinars. Staying there is also expensive because we’re paying for everything on our own. Food and accommodation,” explains mom Milena.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stevan had to miss his vital physical therapy appointments. And that affected his progress.

We couldn't go to Belgrade for his physical therapy for over a year. We started going again in May and then he had to go through the same exercises he had previously mastered. He regressed, instead of going forward.” 

The humanitarian cash transfer the family received from UNICEF, thanks to the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), came at the right time for the Kalinovic family. Just in time to start his physical therapy appointments once again. And these exercises mean that Stevan is able to move and to stand.

UNICEF Serbia/2021

They used most of the money to cover the costs of their stay in Belgrade.

“It meant a lot to us because we have to pay for everything there. The apartment and the food. With the money we received, this is at least one less thing to worry about,” says Milena Kalinovic.

Stevan is clearly proud of himself, as he describes doing exercises with his therapist Ognjen. “My favourite exercises are those when I’m hanging from the straps,” explains Stevan smilingly. “I also crawl during my sessions. And I’ve also walked.”

During the pandemic, Stevan missed school going to school. That was a very difficult time for him.

Stevan describes what he missed the most: “Playing with children,”.

Since he returned to the classroom, he has been looking forward to spending every day with his friends. His parents help him to get to and from school, and his personal assistant helps him while he’s at school.

When he is not at school, his best friends, apart from Bambi, are Paja and Mica, a lamb, and a peacock. They keep him company, while he’s helping his mom Milena hang the laundry.


Boy in a wheelchair being kissed by his mother
UNICEF Srbija/2021/Shubuckl

When the weather is nicer, he’s always outside. I even let him crawl on the grass because it feels good. Little dogs and a cat, a peacock, a lamb then gather around him. Bambi!” Milena describes cheerfully.

Stevan’s parents have one wish.

My goal is for my child to start walking, to stand on his feet and for me to see him walking. To be able to live on his own, not to depend on anyone.”

Stevan Kalinovic’s family is one of many, especially in Southern and Eastern Serbia, facing poverty. In Serbia, one in twelve children don’t have their basic material needs met, and one in three children lives at risk of poverty. The most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis are those most vulnerable. That is why UNICEF and the Red Cross, thanks to the financial support of USAID, are supporting these families through the humanitarian cash benefits programme.