A boy who wouldn’t play with girls only to find the best friend in a girl

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Text and photo: Almir Panjeta / Save the Children

Before he arrived at the Drop-in Centre in Bihać, Anel Bećirspahić, a seven-year old boy, wouldn’t play with girls and there were no boys in the family he could play with. Since spring 2018, Anel visited the Centre regularly, where the staff prepared him for starting school in the autumn; today, he shares his school desk with a girl who has become one of his best friends.

“He has advanced quite well, his attention span has improved, he is kind to the other children, he hugs them and plays with them. Anel’s schoolmate had a friend at the kindergarten she went to - a disabled boy. When they started school, she made friends with Anel in no time and he gladly accepted her and the other girls”, tells us Maja Ivanović, Anel’s primary school teacher.

Maja has regular contact with Ivona Ramekić, a teacher, and Una Halilagić, a psychologist, both from the Drop-in Centre, which Anel visited every day in the beginning, and now once a month.  She says that the cooperation with the Centre has helped her in the process of adapting the curriculum to Anel’s needs, which is largely based on the information on this progress and routines provided by Ivona and Una. 

Teacher Ivona also thinks Anel has made great progress in his performance and communication with peers. “In the beginning, he had difficulty concentrating, and now he is able to sit still drawing or colouring. Through his interaction with peers he has gained a lot, and he brings all of that to school”, says Ivona, and Anel shows us a drawing he has just coloured and tells us what he likes doing most at the Centre and school: “I like playing and drawing. The other day, everyone brought their teddy bears to school to draw them, and I brought my stuffed doggie. I have a real doggie, too, his name is Rex, and I play with him when I’m at home”, tells us Anel while preparing for afternoon classes.

Due to the difficult financial and health situation in his family, Anel did not have an opportunity to attend pre-school programs and develop the skills necessary for school; for this reason, he started school one year later. Sabaheta, Anel’s mother, tells us that in less than a year since Anel started visiting the Drop-in Centre she started noticing progress. “He grew up surrounded by adults and he was first reticent and shy with children, but now he plays with them and has schoolmates. He started school one year later, but the Centre helped and they prepared him so well that his starting school was less stressful”.

The program supporting parents is one of the major components of reintegrating children in the educational system and preventing school drop-out, which is the focus of the project Bright4All - Basic right to education for all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, funded by the European Union with €350,000 and implemented by Save the Children in partnership with the Youth Centre Vermont Brčko and Žene sa Une association from Bihać.

“It is very important to provide support to families to help with child development and education in particular. Parents are responsible for taking care of their children; however, in specific situations, where they are constrained either due their personal or financial capacity, it is the community that ought to help them”, points out Andrea Žeravčić, Director of Save the Children for North West Balkans.

As part of the project implementation in Una - Sana and Tuzla cantons in the FBiH, Prijedor and Bijeljina in the RS and Brčko District, a local action survey on the causes and scope of school drop-out has been conducted covering 1,132 children from these areas in BiH. In addition to direct beneficiaries, the project has major impact on the stakeholders involved and civil society organisations in local communities.

One of the goals of the Bright4All project is that civil society organisations should strengthen their capacities to be able to contribute, in the long run, to the process of reintegrating children in the educational system and preventing school drop-out. “Guided by this goal, using different social services available to us - including the family support program and others - we have shared what has been done under the project with all the staff involved with the children in the Drop-in Centre. The underlying idea is that, in their everyday work, they should pay special attention to the prevention of school drop-out and provide support with a view to reintegrating children in the educational system” - says Aida Behrem, executive director of Žene sa Une association, adding that it was this form of action that helped Anel start school.