Those of you have been following us since the beginning of our Global Giving drive might remember Marija from a previous report. She was a resident of a local orphanage until she had to leave on her 18th birthday. She experienced every kind of abuse and neglect imaginable in her early years and leaving the orphanage only added to the misery she was exposed to. Now at the age of 23 she lives in an old age home because this is the only place that the social system has to accommodate adults with disabilities. Marija has been a KEC beneficiary for almost 5 years. During that time our staff has worked hard to provide Marija with the on-going support that she needs to cope with daily life. Working with people with such backgrounds is not a straight line to success rather a lot of ups and downs on the path to something resembling stability. It is hard work for the professionals and especially for Marija as she navigates this complicated harsh world.
But in the last few years Marija’s world has expanded and a small window of success has opened for her. As part of our effort to find as many jobs for people with disabilities KEC is always on the look out for new businesses to partner with. So when a cake shop with a cult following for its artistic cakes opened, KEC’s staff dropped in to see if there could be a sweet future for the two organizations. Needless to say that the wonderful staff at Mandarin was willing to bring on board a person with disabilities and Marija was our woman. For the past two years, Marija has been helping in the kitchen of this elite cake shop in the center of town.
The KEC professional team is constant contact with Marija providing her with the support she needs to succeed in her new work environment. As anyone who has worked in the culinary world knows it is grueling work for the whole collective. Marija quickly learned the job but had a harder time understanding and handling the social relations working with the other staff members. She very often wanted to quit the job because of these inter-personal relationships. Most of these crises arose from Marija’s feeling like she was not as good as the others because she grew up in an orphanage and had experienced so many bad things in her life. She thought that people dismissed her and didn’t appreciate her work and efforts because of her background. Many hours of conversations and counseling were necessary to keep Marija at the job and help her resolve these problems.
A month ago the staff director invited Marija to an all staff outing outside of Belgrade. Marija immediately decided that she did not want to go because she assumed that no one really wanted her there and that if she went she would be all by herself. Again, with the support of the KEC professional staff Marija decided to go on the trip. When she came home she was ecstatic about how much she fun she had with her co-workers. It was the first time in her life that she saw a nice hotel, a beautiful meal and felt the warmth of people around her who valued her for her hard work and commitment.
So when you are in town, stop by the Mandarin cake shop. Tell them that Marija from the kitchen sent you. Let them know that you love their cakes (there is no way you won’t) and let them know that you appreciate their commitment to helping people with disabilities experience the joy of work and friendship.
As the summer ends hopefully you are still under the spell of your summer travels. Whether you went to far off places or stayed close to home you felt the joy of being away from the grind of daily life. Most of KEC’s beneficiaries never have the chance to explore new places or get away from home. Their families do not have the money to go on vacation or even the ability to take them out of the city. For most of them the KEC center is their world even during the hot summer months.
This summer KEC made sure that its beneficiaries were able to experience the joy of the summer get-away. Three times more than 50 beneficiaries were able to feel the excitement of looking out the bus window as the city moves into the distance and new horizons open up in front of them. The KEC crew visited museums, cultural monuments, farms, and a mountain. They ate in restaurants and played football in open country fields. The summer day trip is so much a part of our lives but is truly special for our beneficiaries and their families.
As you savor the last memories of your summer get-away know that KEC is working to ensure that people with disabilities in Belgrade also have a chance to enjoy the shade of a lake side tree, cultural monuments and the simple joy of being away from home and the grind of daily life.
Each day KEC’s day center provides programming for more than 50 people with intellectual and mental disabilities. KEC’s day center is special-- different from the others. It is hard to define the difference but our beneficiaries can feel it. Relying almost entirely on donations from supporters like you KEC manages to provide the beneficiaries with nutritious meals, keep them safe and engaged. But, there is something more that separates KEC from the rest.
KEC’s special touch is why Ivana (37), a long time KEC beneficiary, finally found a place that she and her family could feel good about. For most of us when we finish school it is a time celebrate our accomplishments and look forward to what comes next. Some times it means entering a new educational program other times it means leaping out into professional experiences. Like so many people with intellectual disabilities in Serbia the end of elementary school marked the end of formalized educational or social opportunities for Ivana. After finishing school Ivana became depressed and lacked interest in any kinds of activities. She was alone and sad. After years of this her mom and dad enrolled her in a small informal day program. From the very beginning Ivana found every way possible to avoid going there. She even made herself sick in the process of trying to get out of attending that program. The program met the barest minimum it kept her safe place and fed her but did not engage her. Ivana, though she could not express it in words, was desperate to be engaged and to be listened to.
Luckily Ivana’s social worker recognized that she needed a different environment and referred her to KEC. From her first day at KEC she has flourished. She made good friends, enjoys participating in the programming and is proud of her job at the Maxi supermarket where she bags groceries and stocks shelves. There are no more psychosomatic illnesses in Ivana’s life only fulfilling days spent at the KEC center. Ivana can’t put into words what makes the KEC day center different than the others but the smile on her face is proof that KEC has a special touch.
Serbia is a small country with many problems. It is hard to say whether its political problems lead to the economic ones or the other way around. But it is clear that both of those types of problems lead to many unresolved social issues. The country seems unwilling to take even baby steps towards improving the status of its most vulnerable people. When it does take a step forward over time it slowly reverses track.
At the beginning of the aughts Serbia pledged to achieve 100% deinstitutionalization in a decade or two. Today, the few people who were taken out of large-scale residential institutions have been uprooted from their homes in the community and put back into institutions. In 2019, no one talks about deinstitutionalization anymore and what is worse no one talks about how to improve the deteriorating institutions either.
KEC’s mission is to provide programing and support in the community to people with special needs so they do not need to live in large-scale long-term dilapidated and under-funded residential facilities. Through its efforts KEC helped a few of these individuals avoid reinstitutionalization. But KEC could not prevent most of them from being uprooted from their homes and communities. In the aftermath of this immoral act by the government KEC has doubled-down on its efforts to find jobs for people in the community. In fact, it was a job that KEC helped one disabled woman find that prevented her from being returned to an institution. Her colleagues rallied around her to ensure that she would be able to stay in the community and continue to make a contribution to society and remain the bright light of their team.
After visiting and talking with the individuals who were less lucky the one common sentiment that they all share is that they miss their jobs. They miss having something to do all day. They miss having a place where they can make a difference. They miss the pride they felt of making their own money.
Serbia might have lost its resolve to improve the lives of people with disabilities but KEC has not. Your continued support makes that possible.
So far we have used this space to give you, our donors and supporters, a glimpse into the KEC center, tell you about the programs we work so hard to create and implement and to introduce you to some of the people we work with. Supporting our beneficiaries with dynamic programing and working to improve their quality of life is obviously our number one priority. Yet, there is another side of our work that is less emotional but no less important. KEC staff spends a lot of energy “in the weeds,” so to say. No, we are not out there gardening (although some of us are really good at that) rather we are out there lobbying for legislative change, staying on top of legal modifications that affect our beneficiaries and networking with others so that we leverage our power to bring about positive social change. Not splashy but necessary work.
Lobbying and trainings are essential aspects of this work. Back in 2009, KEC had its first serious foray into the lobbying world. We fought a long battle to have the Law on Employment of People with Disabilities recognize our model of work engagement for people with disabilities. Today, because of KEC's lobbying our work engagement model is recognized by the law.This means KEC beneficiaries and other people with disabilities can continue to be engaged in work on the open labor market.
With this small win in hand KEC developed a government accredited program for training professionals to encourage people with disabilities to enter the workplace and how to prepare the workplace for them. KEC has held 20 trainings for over 400 professionals. These trainings gather people from all over Serbia from an array of professional backgrounds including: Psychologist, social workers, special education teachers as well as parents and government officials. During this two-day program they participate in lectures, role playing, dialogues and at the end they receive a government accredited certificate.
Through these trainings KEC has shared its experience in workplace integration in order to get more people with disabilities to work. Our hope is that one day every person with a disability will be able to find a place where they can CONTRIBUTE. Until then we at KEC will keep ourselves busy in the weeds keeping up with new laws and advocating for even better ones.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.
Get Reports via Email
We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.