Child welfare programming in the former Yugoslavia was one of the most advanced in Eastern Europe prior to the wars of the 1990s. Public social services were called “centers for social work” with systems of foster care, group homes, adoption and day treatment. War, economic disruption and refugee dislocation during the 1990s forced child welfare back to an orphanage-based system, as foster parents could no longer afford to care for children. Kragujevac, the fourth largest city in what is now The Republic of Serbia, was a major resettlement site for internally displaced persons from the wars. In 2003, after conducting a needs assessment, WWO began working in asmall Children’s Home in Kragujevac to helporphaned children connect with their pastand prepare for future employment.
RETURN TO THE FUTURE
From 2004 to 2009, 24 residents from thec hildren’s home participated in our Return o the Future project to learn digital photography, film editing, interviewing techniques and group process. The children then set out to map their personal histories by recording memoriesand seeking out friends, family and significant others from the past. One teen connected with a long lost parent, who died soon after. Another participant met with her mother, who had been in long-term psychiatric care and who gave her most valued possession (a radio) to her child. Another teen met with a relative who is a parish priest. Psychologists assisted in helping the participants understand their feelings and responses and the project gave all the children a “voice” in the community. The program was highly acclaimed, and in 2008 was incorporated into Centers for Social Work as a fully sustained program.
COLLEGE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
WWO has underwritten tuition and living expenses for five young adults from the Return to the Future program. This is a crucial next step in transforming lives so that orphans become contributing members of their communities. A former house parent from the Home serves as a mentor to the 5 students: Maja, Milica, Vujadin, Igor and Stevan. Maja has become the first college graduate from WWO programs. Her degree in elementary education was granted in December 2011 and she has begun her first professional job as a pre-school teacher. In addition to teaching, she is now also pursuing a graduate degree in Education. The students also mentor children from the community who are in foster care, day treatment programs and after school programs.
As our current group of students graduate, there are a number of students who are eager to pursue vocational or academic studies. There are also older teens who have left the home and dropped out of high school in their desire to live independently, but are now working in dead-end jobs. Under Serbian law, these teens cannot return to public high school, but they can sit for an equivalency degree. WWO is currently supporting one student in high school equivalency, three university students, and one graduate student from the now-closed orphanages. With additional funds, WWO will be able to support more students working toward high school equivalency.
Learn more about College Assistant Program