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Atila – the boy who changed his community

The first thing one notices about him is a big and sincere smile, the kind that can almost be palpable. And when you hear his lines from the school play “I would give my golden necklace to become a Mexican. I want to be served by senoritas”, you suddenly realize that you are also smiling with him.

And you can’t get rid of that smile in spite of the fact that in front of you is a boy sitting in his wheelchair, whose limbs are irretrievably damaged.

„Sin of the system“
Atila Komaromi was born in spring 1999 with severely damaged limbs. His parents were told that his life was at stake.

They left him in “Kolevka” a residential institution for children with disabilities, in the town of Subotica, where he spent the first three years of his life. He was assessed as having profound intellectual disability and was placed in institutional care at the Kuline residential institution for persons with disabilities where he spent the next six years. His mother visited him only in the first institution, his father never saw him.

Fortunately, due to a reorganization of residential institutions in Serbia in 2008, Atila was transferred back to the institution in Subotica and there began the new chapter of his life. The staff in the “Kolevka” institution discovered that he is both physically and mentally developed beyond all expectations. This led them to develop and implement an intensive program for him.

“You can’t but wonder what would have happened with him had someone treated him properly from birth,” says Margarita Berček, a psychologist, who has crossed paths with Atila. Margarita uses the term “sin of the system” to describe how someone’s colossal misjudgement irrevocably influenced the life of an innocent child and scarred him for the rest of his life.

“I want to be like them”
Six years later, following another assessment Atila was categorized as having moderate intellectual disability. In September 2010 Atila started attending the “Žarko Zrenjanin“ primary and secondary school in Subotica. He was 11 years old at the time. Simultaneously, a foster family was found for him and he also assigned a personal assistant.

A few months later, Atila was transferred to a school in the town of Bečej, where he finally started attending a mainstream school, the “Zdravko Gložanski” primary school. With his arrival in the Bečej school there was a shift in attitude about the importance of inclusive education in the school itself.

Everybody included in school life – teachers, pupils and parents – were prepared for Atila’s inclusion in the school. All necessary changes were made: the school built a wheelchair ramp, the doorsteps were removed, and a special desk was made for Atila.

Atila in school

Atila’s ordinary school day

Not only is Atila an equal member of the community, but he has also had a positive influence on those around him. Margarita Berček, who developed a strong bond with Atila, remembers his words: “I want to go to school also and do everything they do”. And indeed, thanks to his inexhaustible positive energy, enormous will power and the devoted work of the staff in the “Zdravko Gložanski” primary school, very soon he learned to read and write, speak much more audibly, and was accepted by the pupils and teachers. 

Atila’s story would not have such a happy ending, were it not for the continuous support provided by the Inclusive Education Support Network, which works with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and UNICEF, and with the financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

UNICEF in Serbia continuously works to develop inclusive education policies and supports all actors in the education process in order to realize the right of every child to a quality education. Atila is one of the beneficiaries: today he is 18 years old and is finishing 7th grade. Margarita Berček is one of the members of the Inclusive Education Support Network. She must be credited that Atila is now an equal member of the community, who enjoys socializing with his peers, who is working to reach his fill potentials and acquiring self-confidence.


“Atila is unaware of how much he has done for Bečej” 

Atila in schoold yard with friends

Not only is Atila an equal member of the community, but he has also had a positive influence on those around him

All the pupils in school say that he is a great friend who never says “no” to anyone and who brings lots of positive energy to school every day.

His class teacher Milena Čolak remembers how one pupil’s mother told her that she is convinced that her daughter would grow up to be a much better person thanks to Atila. “But I think that they already are much better people than they used to be before they met Atila,” says the teacher.

Margarita Berček emphasizes that he is not even aware of how much he has done for Bečej, a town that is now known as one of the best good practice examples of inclusive education.

Good vibrations in the “Zdravko Gložanski” school are almost tangible. The immeasurable and precious influence of inclusive education on all the participants in this process is not only that every child with development disabilities and difficulties is allowed to realize one of his or her basic human rights, but that everyone becomes a better person thanks to working with children from marginalized groups.

Or to put it in the words of one of Atila’s friends – “they didn’t choose to be born like that, they simply are the way they are and we shouldn’t have any prejudice about them because very often they are better humans than us”.

 

 
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