"Going back to school is coming true of my dreams, when you follow your dreams you will succeed in anything that you set your mind to.”
Text and photo: Almir Panjeta/Save the Children
For Zlatan Erdić, a fourteen year boy from Mrazovac near Bužim, going back to school is the coming true of his dreams and a lifetime opportunity that he intends to use: „When you have qualifications you can choose what to do with your life, whether to go or to stay. When you have no qualifications, you can only stay where you are“, says Zlatan.
Until four years ago, Zlatan’s mobility was greatly impaired because of his health condition. Despite the surgery, he was told that he could not continue regular classes. His parents were keen but could not afford Zlatan going to a faraway school.
"I was fourth grade, all of my friends graduated and moved on, I stayed home, and dreamed of a new school start”, says Zlatan who has been placed this year in the Fatih Boarding school of the Cultural Center in Bihać, where from he has transportation to school every day. “I did not give up, luckily I had the internet, I was reading, going through newspapers and watching YouTube and following all the Balkan youtubers and the greatest youtuber on the planet called PewDiePie, to also learn some language. Now I started going to school again and I'm so happy because of that, I learn and do my best."
Belmana Trivunić, headmaster of the Harmani 1 Elementary School in Bihać takes great credit for Zlatan's going back to school and says that although she has been teaching for years, it was unimaginable for her that in the 21st century there were children who were excluded from the education system.
"While visiting the local communities, we also visited Zlatan's family. I saw the desire of his and also of his parents to enable adequate school education for him, but they simply did not have any possibility", remembers the headmasterBelmana Trivunović the meeting with the boy.
Belmana met Zlatan through involvement in the project Bright4All - Basic Right to Education for All Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose objectives was to collect data and identify the causes of dropout through youth research. The research is funded by the European Union and it saw the participation of 1,132 children from Una-Sana and Tuzla Cantons, and Prijedor, Bijeljina and Brčko District. The EU allocated EUR 350,000 for the implementation and the research is done by the Save the Children Organization, in partnership with the Vermont Youth Center from Brčko and the Una Women Association from Bihać.
Aida Behrem, chief executive officer of the Una Women Association, said that this research alone had already had an impact on raising awareness about dropping out of education with the respondents themselves:
"One of the main objectives of the research was to identify the causes of dropout, but also to point out to the educational and other competent institutions about the lack of systemic solutions, and to offer concrete solutions that will be implemented through multi-sector approach and the appropriate referral mechanisms. Previously it also happened that with the additional involvement of individuals in the community, a girl or a boy, such as Zlatan, was helped to attend school regularly, but unfortunately there are not enough systemic solutions in such situations in terms of linking all the key institutional and non-institutional stakeholders."
One of the unexpected successes of the research is that its implementation in the community raised awareness among the key stakeholders involved in it, so that some of the children involved in the research, such as Zlatan, returned to school.
"The research confirmed that the family is the most important part of every society and that it is very important and influential for the development of every child, and that it is very important to provide support to the family when it comes to child development, and especially their education. Parents are those who have an obligation to take care of their child, but when they are limited, with both their personal and material capacities, it is the society that needs to help", says the director of the Save the Children in North West Balkans Andrea Žeravčić.
The organisations involved in the research took the stance that coordinated and synchronized preventive activities were essential to reduce dropout in the education system and ensure that children receive appropriate support to remain in the school system. They emphasise that the inter-departmental and interdisciplinary approach is needed; therefore the organisations have established inter-departmental working groups that will focus on developing an efficient mechanism for the prevention of dropout.