When the professionals at KEC speak about their mission it is usually oriented towards gaining and maintaining skills. But we also need to think about the happiness factor of what we do. Our Aleksandra is a good example of how we might want to use the “smile-meter” as a judge of the impact we are making.
Aleksandra was born in 1984 to a very poor family. Her parents had lost three children before her so her birth filled them with the greatest joy. Living in a tiny damp apartment working at unstable low paying jobs life was hard for all of them but Aleksandra was the one thing that gave her parents happiness. Early on her parents started to notice delays and problems. As her psychological and developmental issues became more pronounced she retreated further and further from the world. After barely finishing elementary school she retreated entirely and refused to venture out of her family’s small apartment. For many years she remained in this total isolation from the outside world with her only human contact wither her mother and father. Despite their very limited resources her parents tried many things to engage her in the world but with little success. When her mother heard about the KEC center she was determined to give that too a try. In 2015 Aleksandra’s mom brought her to see the KEC center. Aleksandra sat in the corner crying, refusing to engage and begging to go home. That all changed when the group leader happened to turn on the music for a dance and singing workshop. Aleksandra’s tears stopped and quietly she began to sing and move to the music. After a few minutes she got up from her seat and started to dance and for the first time in a very long time she had a smile on her face. Now her mom was the one crying tears of relief to finally see her daughter smile. In the intervening years Aleksandra has become a daily beneficiary of the center, is very proud of her job at a local supermarket and smiles a whole lot.
The KEC center will continue to focus on helping people with disabilities gain skills, live integrated lives in their local community but we are also aware of the “smile barometer” as well. With your continued support we can continue making sure that we are helping people with disabilities gain skills and smiles.
KEC was established to help people with developmental disabilities in Belgrade, Serbia. The organization began through the joint effort of many devoted parents and professionals working with this population. The long-term goal is to keep the families together and avoid institutionalization. Over the years another group of people with developmental disabilities gravitated towards our services. This special group is comprised of kids who grew up in institutions for children without parental support who upon their 18th birthday are forced to leave the institution without any meaningful support or guidance from any institution or individuals. After living their whole lives in orphanages these young people are vulnerable and all of them carry the scars of those years with them into the next phase of their lives. Some of them have found help and support in KEC center.
Marija and Zorica were best friends growing up in a home for children without parental care. When they needed to leave the home life became even more difficult. Neither of them have any family and the trauma of life in the institution left them both with developmental delays and behavioral issues. Until they found KEC, these two lonely girls were barely surviving on the streets of Belgrade.
KEC provides them with not only food, shelter and clothing but for the first time in their lives they feel embraced by family—the KEC family. Through KEC they have found friends and acceptance but also a purpose to their daily lives. They both work in Maxi, the largest supermarket chain in Serbia stocking shelves and bagging customers’ groceries. When Marija was ill this winter, KEC staff made sure that she was able to receive treatment and today she is back at work with a smile on her face. Marija says: “KEC is one big and real family for me. This center is like the home I always dreamed of as a child.” When they are not at work they participate in the KEC program and socialize with as Zorica says: “the brothers and sisters I never had.”
Helping people like Marija and Zorica on a long-term basis is not an easy task. They need a lot of psychological and practical care and support but KEC is committed to assisting as many people with developmental disabilities and other special needs live safe and rewarding lives in the community. Your help in this campaign has helped greatly in continuing to reach this goal.
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