With the right support, children can conquer the severity of the world

Sunday 24 September 2017

Every tenth child in Montenegro live in poverty

Montenegro is among the world smallest countries, with population close to no more than 645,000. An UNICEF’s study reveals that approximately every tenth child in Montenegro live in poverty. If a child lives in a household where adults are unemployed or have low level of education, it is more likely that he/she will grow up in poverty. Furthermore, poverty leads to multiple deprivations in everyday life reducing access to health, education and cultural activities. It strongly contributes to marginalisation and social exclusion of children.

And this is where we met Dijana* (7) and Dana* (9). These two girls are growing up in family without any formal income besides symbolic social assistance. Their father occasionally does some work with car parts, illegal and underpaid. Life in Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, is quite expensive and Dijana’s and Dana’s parents hope at least with good education their daughters will get a chance for better life. But, this didn’t come easy for them, either,

During: Conquering fear and silence

School can be scary. For any child, any age, anywhere. New faces, high expectations, peers quick to lough at someone else’s expense… When Dijana* was enrolled to first grade two years ago, her world was turned upside-down. Her parents couldn’t afford to send her to pre-school programs to prepare her better for what’s to come and her fear and low self-confidence resulted in complete withdrawal. She wouldn’t engage in verbal communication in school, not with her teachers, not with her peers. Her two-years older sister was only slightly more communicative, just enough to get school grades, not enough to have friends or engage in wider school activities.

 Solution finally appeared when Dijana* was already a second grade – when a Centre for support to families and children, supported by Save the Children, opened in Podgorica in March 2017. Dijana* and Dana* are among the first beneficiaries that cam e to the centre and are still their regular visitors.

Since then, things have improved.

“When she first came to us, she wouldn’t talk. With time, she started to respond with yes and no, and then she gradually started to talk a little bit more. When we later met with pedagogue from her school, she told us – Dijana* started to talk! That was our first success, first visible result,” proudly tell us Ana Huric, psychologist in the Centre for support to families and children.

When we met them, both Dijana* and Dana* gave us shy smiles and short answers. We managed to learn that Dijana* likes math and Montenegrin language in school, while her older sister Dana* is quite the opposite, she doesn’t like math and she likes Montenegrin. They stick together and say they like spending the time in the Centre. “I like to play, I have friends here. Last week, we made the masks and were allowed to take them home”, tells us Dana*.

Their mother, Danka* says her daughters made a lot of progress since they started coming to the Centre, especially Dijana*. “Her teacher told me she started communicating. When she asks her something, she responds. She even started socialising with other kids, she’s going to the bathroom on her own... She even went to the library alone, looking for Pippi longstocking books to read.”

Centre for support to families and children in Podgorica was established on the model of drop-in centres for street involved children from Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H). The only differences are that centres in B-H are mostly working with Roma population, and that beneficiaries in Podgorica are referred to the centre based on recommendations from schools or social welfare centres.

In Save the Children supported drop-in centres, street involved and at risk children are provided with a full range of services, from shelter to legal assistance, psychological counselling to life-skill and vocational training, access to medical care and welfare benefits, school inclusion and reintegration. In order to further empower these children and their families, Save the Children developed and started piloting the Family Strengthening Program in all its centres which aims to prevent family separation and boost parentings skills.

“We are primarily trying to solve their key issues that concern their living conditions, and that is why we engaged the Red Cross and Social Welfare Centre. Then we are starting with family counselling, first individually, followed with various workshops. We assessed what are the topics of importance to them and for most parents these are – inadequate ways of commending and punishing, disciplining styles and lack of boundaries in raising the child,” further explains Ana Huric.

It’s a world full of possibilities

Cooperation with wider community is of key importance for successful reintegration of children into society. Primary school Stampar Makarije is one of the schools that closely cooperate with the centre. Once they learned about the opportunities the Centre is offering to children, they quickly realised the potential of such coopetition.

“We exchange monthly reports on children’s’ progress, what is very important to us. This way we learn about their achievements in the Centre, on one side, and we are able to share with them impressions of children’s teachers, is there a progress, stagnation, regression… This proved to be a very positive practice. Psychological support is excellent, results visible,” says Andrijana Radinovic, pedagogue in Primary school Stampar Makarije.

And indeed, with comprehensive support, Dijana* and Dana* will be given all possibilities to fulfil their potentials, learn and break the poverty cycle.