Conference “A Community tailored for everyone” held in Hrvatska Kostajnica

Center for Social Welfare Hrvatska Kostajnica, Rehabilitation Center for stress and trauma Zagreb and Social Work Study Center of the Faculty of Law, in Zagreb organized a meeting of experts entitled “A Community tailored for everyone” on Tuesday, 17.12.2019. at Hrvatska Kostajnica.

The meeting aimed to show how the local community cares for its most vulnerable members and to point out the resources community possesses in order to be tailored to each of its inhabitants. The event was attended by experts in the fields of social welfare, local government, healthcare, civil society and education.

Dijana Vuković, Director of the Social Welfare Center in Hrvatska Kostajnica delivered a presentation on the topic of cross-sectorial cooperation in the planning of social services and introduced evaluation of the Strategic and operational plan of social services development in the area of Center’s jurisdiction. She presented the services and projects implemented by the Social Welfare Center in local community, in partnership and cooperation with other stakeholders.

During the event, students of social work presented their work and results achieved in social actions that were previously carried out in the local community, and which were organized in order to facilitate social inclusion of young people, persons with disability, families in risk of poverty and single-parent families.

Students prepared a demonstration of forum theater as a form of critical advocacy for the rights of vulnerable groups, and the group of students organizing inclusive activities with persons with disability surprised participants with appropriate gifts (decorations made with beneficiaries of the Kostajnica Community Center).

The mentors awarded each student group with an award for demonstrated skills: interdisciplinarity, creativity and adaptability, a bold and original approach to community work, and teamwork and efficiency.

The activity is implemented as part of the project „Academic service learning for organizing inclusive communities“ which is co-financed by the EU from the European Social Fund and the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs.

Youth volunteer actions at the Kostajnica Community Center

As part of the project ” ActiveUna! Youth Activities for better quality of life in Pounje “, young people from Pounje area participated in the activities of the Kostajnica Community Center during October. They assisted in the activities with people with special needs with the professional help and guidance of the center manager.

On Tuesday, 29.10.2019. we organized a volunteer action in which we marked Bread Days and played board games. Ivan Trnski High School Hrvatska Kostajnica and its volunteers hosted us and prepared a program dedicated to Croatian literature and Vatroslav Lisinski to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. In addition, we also watched a video of „Hedgehog’s house“ to recall this beautiful story and mark the Croatian Book Month.

We also checked the progress of our trees planted in a past volunteer landscaping action. The trees have successfully taken root and we expect a beautiful bloom in the spring.

Volunteering and youth activism is important because through this young people perceive and feel their contribution to society. They also become more sensitive to community needs, become more aware of their role, and develop a range of personal, social, organizational and professional skills. These skills will help them to cope easier and better in their daily lives and different jobs in the future.

Student’ service learning in the local community with mentoring support

Students of the social work started working in the local community. Within this activity, they will spend 40 hours each in the activities of an inclusive community organization, participating in the work and improving the activities and program of the Community Center for adults with disabilities in Hrvatska Kostajnica.

On Monday and Tuesday, 04.11. i 05.11.2019. students visited Hrvatska Kostajnica. During their first two-day visit, they conducted a community assessment with mentoring support.

For this activity, students previously prepared themselves by collecting general and specific information about the local community. On this basis, they selected indicators for community assessment and determined the sources and method of data collection. Students designed research instruments for application in their research. Then they contacted relevant experts and organizations and arranged a meeting.
During their stay in the community, the students visited and talked with relevant experts and staff of the organizations and other local stakeholders (employees and users of the Community Center and their families, employees of the Center for Social Welfare Hrvatska Kostajnica, City Red Cross Society, secondary and elementary schools in H. Kostajnica and H. Dubica, representatives of local self-government units, Volunteer Fire Association, local associations and others local stakeholders). They also observed and interviewed members of vulnerable groups and their family or citizenship members.

In addition to the research, the students toured and explored the city and smaller towns in the surrounding area, talked with the locals and kept up-to-date with the current developments in the city and the surrounding area.

Upon completion of the activity, students discussed the results with their mentor and presented the results of the assessment to local stakeholders. Based on these results, students will prepare inclusive local community action.

The activity is implemented as part of the project „Academic service learning for organizing inclusive communities“ which is co-financed by the EU from the European Social Fund and the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs.

„Home sweet home“ in the prevention and fight against diabetes

The women employed in the project “Home sweet home” helped their beneficiaries to participate in the blood sugar and pressure measurement campaign, which was organized in cooperation with the patronage service of the Sisak Health Center – Dvor Branch. The action was organized on the occasion of World Diabetes Day, which is marked every year on November 14th.

In 2019, the theme for diabetes awareness World Diabetes Day is “Family and Diabetes” (as recommended by the International Diabetes Federation). The aim is raising awareness of the impact that diabetes has on the family and support network of those affected, and promoting the role of the family in the management, care, prevention, and education of diabetes.

Employees of the “Home sweet home” project took care to provide beneficiaries precisely what the campaign of the International Diabetes Federation advocates – support. The beneficiaries of this program mostly live alone or do not have the necessary family support. Also, they rarely have the opportunity to participate in such actions due to a lack of transportation and traffic isolation.

The project staff provided transportation and accompaniment for 32 users. A total of 56 users have participated in the action so far. During the action, users had the opportunity to talk and socialize with each other in the library and to recall some beautiful shared moments from the past. After the action, other necessary services were performed in cooperation with the users (shopping for groceries and medicines, visiting the bank and post office, etc.).

Project „Home sweet home“ is part of a program for Employment of Women “Zaželi” funded by the European Social Fund.

Community Engagement Learning – Workshop on organizing an inclusive community

On Wednesday, 09.10.2019. a lecture and workshop were held at the Study Center for Social Work. With that, the implementation of organizing an inclusive community began within the project “Academic service learning in the organization of an inclusive community”. Building on a previously developed curriculum for organizing an inclusive community and the program and work plan at the Community Center in Hrvatska Kostajnica, students from the course Social work in community organizing set off with preparations for community-based learning.

Students were introduced to the concept of community and community work, social work in community organization, and community mapping methods and tools. Results from previous activities were presented and showed a local community and social services and other activities in which the community can get involved. After that, they split into groups and selected their area of interest to conduct community research or mapping and design activities for community organizing, such as:

– persons with disabilities
– families in poverty
– young people in rural areas
– single-parent families.

The two groups will engage in policy analysis and prepare a virtual advocacy campaign (social media campaign) in the area of young people leaving from alternative care and the accessibility and efficiency of public transport as a precondition for making quality education available to all children.

Mentors were assigned to students who will accompany and assist them in preparation for community service with Community Center users, other users of social services and activities of RCT, and other stakeholders in the local community.

Students will go through 30 hours of community service learning with the support of 5 mentors from civil society organizations and teachers in the course. In practice, they will implement the key elements of the community organizing method which includes: development and implementation of community mapping methods, development, and implementation of local stakeholder analysis methods, development and implementation of methods of organizing inclusive actions in the community and gathering stakeholders, implementation of adequate methods of communication with the public and methods for evaluating inclusive actions. 

The activity is implemented as part of the project „Socially useful learning for organizing inclusive communities“ which is co-financed by the EU from the European Social Fund and the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs.




ActiveUNA works: volunteer landscaping action and youth education

At the beginning of June, an environmental volunteering action was organized (Tuesday, 11.06.2019.). The action was carried out in co-operation with the high school Ivan Trnski Hrvatska Kostajnica in Hrvatska Kostajnica. 12 of our volunteers, along with other local stakeholders (employees and students of the high school, users of the Community Center Kostajnica and employees of the Local Action Group UNA), participated in the volunteer action. In addition to landscaping, two Japanese willow seedlings were planted (Salix integra “Flamingo”). This tree is especially interesting because of its attractive leaves, which in the spring takes on pink, white and green shades, and grows up to 2 meters in height. The third-grade forestry technician students pointed out the current environmental problems and the importance of recognizing and acting on them. Caring for the environment continued through the summer months and planted seedlings successfully grow.

Young people also showed their activity through a great response to a one-day educational interactive workshop. The workshop was held on Friday, 06.09.2019 at the Central Hotel in Kostajnica in cooperation with the project partner Local Action Group UNA. The topic of the workshop was the entrepreneurial skills and resources of the local environment and establishing cooperation with the Local Action Group UNA. The guest of the workshop was OPG carrier Nikola Solomun who provided valuable information from his personal experience. To make entrepreneurial ideas a reality, LAG Una presented recommendations for generating funds when implementing ideas.
Activities are held as a part of the project “ActiveUna! Youth Activities for better quality of life in Pounje” which we are carrying out with financial support of the Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy and in partnership with LAG Una and City of Hrvatska Kostajnica.

Integration is what we are doing and not how we define it

© Dag Oršić

Integration is what we are doing in our everyday life and work, and not something we define or talk about: that is a highlight of the transnational WELCOMM conference Communities of practice – “old” and “new” members of the society in the integration process, that took place at 7 June 2019 in Zagreb. The conference marked the culmination of the WELCOMM project and start of the transnational and national campaigns to promote WELCOMM Community of Practice.

We think of community of practice as a shared space, real or virtual, where “a group of people who share a passion or concern for something they do, learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”[1]. Such group of people met in Hotel Dubrovnik in Zagreb to exchange success stories about how they are doing what is called integration, to share concerns about challenges and obstacles they face and, most of all, to be inspired with work and achievements of others.

In the first conference panel, Contemporary context of EU integration practices, panellists from Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Croatia, discussed current political and societal pressures and challenges we are facing as civic society promoting human rights, equal opportunities and participation of refugees and migrants in our communities and countries. The context in all our countries is burdened with rise of anti-migrant discourse, conservative and populist movements and political forces, that affect migration and integration policies and practices as well as shrink the spaces for civic engagement. As challenging as it is to work in such context, there are still organizations and initiatives who actively and successfully “swim against the current” and give voice to refugees and migrants as well as others who are disenfranchised in our societies.

© Dag Oršić

In the second panel, titled “How did we get here: Socio-historical background in which initiatives, collectives and communities of practice that discuss integration are established and developed”, changing political, media and public discourse about forced migrations was discussed. Organizations and initiatives organized around and involved in support to refugees started as civic society and human rights activists. Panellists agree that 2015 was the turning-point year, when their work was re-directed, as a reaction to an emergency situation, towards helping, supporting, advocating and defending human rights of refugees. In all four countries – Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, but on the EU level as well, a lot has changed since 2015: it is getting ever harder to get the news and stories about human rights violations, suffering and loss of lives of refugees into media and public attention. Instead, production of fear of refugees and migrants gets the prominent place in the public and media discourse. Panellists agree that migrations are the most important political issue of our time and that fight for human rights of refugees is the fight for our human rights and democracy standards and values in our societies as well. We have to work together with refugees, and not for them, if we are to be successful.

The third panel was titled “Community and practice in integration – what do we do and why we do it?” and presented a variety of practices that contribute to and constitute what is called integration: from crafts, art and culture, sport, volunteering, education, building relationships in local communities to political representation and participation – everything that we do in our communities, when we do it jointly with “newcomers” in that community, serves as a tool for bringing us together. Participants in this panel discussed about integration as transformative experience for all involved, which creates new, co-constructed reality both for “old” and for “new” community members. Panellists agreed that debate on what integration is, whether the term is appropriate or not, or efforts to come up with comprehensive definition is irrelevant; as long as we, locals and refugees, are doing all we can in co-constructing our lives together and co-creating societal networks that bring us together and not apart. Conclusions of the panel are that bottom-up approach, from building personal relationships, facilitating small changes in local communities and living the example we want to see in our communities and societies, are a way to start, or better said to continue moving forward.

The fourth session of the conference was organized in moderated group work.

One group discussed art as a way of fostering integration: what’s making art such a powerful tool, how art helps to foster intercultural

© Dag Oršić

dialogue and to promote diversity, what’s the role of art in civic engagement and how it can be utilised to tackle gender issues.

Second group discussed the role of refugees and migrants in shaping integration policies and practices, what challenges refugees’ and migrants’ civic engagement faces and how to address those challenges. The role of migrant and diaspora organizations and initiatives are discussed as well as how they contribute and could contribute more to the community of practice.

Third group tackled the issue of local communities as agents of integration: the needs of local communities that have to be addressed for relations to be built and integration on the local level to work, how to tackle myths and misconceptions to allow the connections and relations to build, what resources we already have and could use more and what is the role and responsibility of civil society organization in helping local communities transform and grow through integration of refugees and migrants.

Before the official opening of the Transnational Conference, Coordination for Integration – informal network of civil society organizations in Croatia held a press conference to announce 6th Refugee Weeks in Croatia, entitled Let’s meet and change perspectives! dedicated to sensibilization of local communities.

Conference ended with picnic in local park Zrinjevac, a popular get-together place for locals as well as visitors in Zagreb. Conference participants enjoyed beautiful weather as well as performances of Achraf Halouani from Arte Migrante, on guitar, Maddalena Avon from Center for Peace Studies with aerial silk performance and choir Domaćigosti  (Homeguests) with performances of traditional local songs and songs brought to Zagreb by refugees from various corners of the world.

© Dag Oršić


Youth Training Course: developing and writing project proposals for the Erasmus+

During April and May 2019, six seminars on the development and writing project proposals for Erasmus + were held in Highschool Ivana Trnskoga in Hrvatska Kostajnica. Seminar on Youth Exchange Projects and Solidarity Projects was also organized in cooperation with the Agency for Mobility and EU Programs. 19 young people and 6 people working with youth from the Pounje area participated in the seminars.
The goal of the training was to develop functional and writing skills for project proposals for Erasmus+ programs in young people and people working with youth, gaining knowledge about project reporting opportunities and to write at least two project proposals for the Erasmus+ program. The training course was 20 school hours long including educational interactive workshops, practical exercises, case studies, assignments between modules and lectures.

The following topics were covered: 
– basic information about Erasmus+ program
– basic concepts and structure of the project proposal
– stakeholder analysis, analysis and setting problems and goals
– examples of good practice and success stories
– writing a logical framework and a project proposal
– information on how to apply and deadlines for Erasmus + programs

We are grateful to the Agency for Mobility and EU Programs who hosted us and held a workshop on Youth exchange projects and Projects of solidarity. At the workshop, our students successfully applied the acquired knowledge and skills, so we have completed the Youth Training Course in positive tone.
Youth Training Course was held as a part of project “ActiveUna! Youth Activities for better quality of life in Pounje” which we are carrying out with financial support of the Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy and in partnership with LAG Una and City of Hrvatska Kostajnica.

Social work students presented research results from policies and practices for PWD

A part of a project “Academic service learning for organizing inclusive communities” a mini-conference has been held on Tuesday, May 28th 2019 in Social work study center, Faculty of law Zagreb. Students that participated in an academic service learning program for analysis an advocating policies for persons with disabilities, presented results from the researches they created and carried out themselves during the last three months.

Results from 6 studies were presented.

Research on effectiveness of psycho-social support for the beneficiaries of “Slava Raškaj“ Educational Centre Zagreb showed that the most important outcomes of psycho-social support, according to the experts that work in this institution, is the progress in the student-adults and experts relationships, prevention of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior and physical and cognitive progress of the students. The opinion of experts is that main difficulties in providing psycho-social support are insufficient resources (lack of experts which result in lack of time for students and all their complex challenges), difficulties with motivating students, and difficulties in collaboration of teachers and experts that provide psycho-social support.

A research about content availability for blind persons in the city of Čakovec showed that blind persons as well as their sighted fellow citizens observe the same obstacles and disadvantages: unadjusted infrastructure to the needs of blind persons where it is most needed – in shops, on the streets and in institutions; stigmatization of blind persons and the lack of citizen’s awareness about the needs of the blind and ways of assisting them in making the contents in the community equally available. It is encouraging that the sighted citizens observe equally those disadvantages and are half way to remove at least one – stigmatization.

Research on availability of orthopedic aids for persons with physical disabilities, which a group of students conducted in the city of Samobor, also showed that the main disadvantage is inadequate awareness of obstacles that the persons with disabilities are facing in the fulfillment of a basic human right – to live and enjoy public goods and services in the same scope as persons without disabilities. Regarding orthopedic aids, a crushing and troubling fact is that they are treated as a commercial product and not as a basic right of a person with disability to the best aid available, which enables equalization of possibilities to the same level as persons without disabilities.

A group of students conducted a research about attitudes of social work students about the right for persons with disabilities for marriage and intimacy. Expectedly, students are highly sensitized and are not prejudice towards marriage and intimacy of persons with disabilities, and consider that marriage and intimacy of persons with disabilities and those without disabilities is completely acceptable. They can, though, more easily imagine themselves in a relationship with a person with physical or sensory disability than with a person with a psycho-social disability or intellectual difficulties. However, a certain number of investigated students can imagine themselves in that kind of relationship, and that is a data worth of attention.

As for obstacles for full involvement of students with disabilities and the availability of student life content, a research showed that students with disabilities are mostly satisfied with how colleges and universities ensure the availability of lectures, materials and exams. They are less satisfied about the availability of leisure activities – clubs and coffee shops, without which a student life is not the same. Nevertheless, they spend most of their free time socializing with friends who are mostly not persons with disabilities. They find stigmatization most bothersome.

In the end, one research evaluated services that Community center Kostajnica provides to persons with intellectual difficulties and psycho-social disabilities. Participants in the research were persons with disabilities, their family members, Community center staff, and stakeholders in the local community. Results show that, although the achievements are considerable and the satisfaction of the beneficiaries and their family members substantial, there is still a need to work on sensibilization of the local community, as well as on greater involvement of the citizens without disabilities, and the community as a whole in the work of the Community center and their shared activities. We are thankful to the students for those valuable insights and recommendations.

Fieldwork stories from the project „Home Sweet Home”

Project “Home Sweet Home: Employment of Women in Local Community in Community Based Social Services” is a part of a program for Employment of Women “Zaželi” and is funded by the European Social Fund. As a part of this project women from the local community are employed as caretakers of old and infirm people in the area of town Dvor. We are reporting one of many beautiful stories which is a result of this project:

Mr. Ljuban lives alone and has two daughters that he speaks about with pride, one in Zagreb and the other one in Germany. He cared about them until they moved out into the world and founded their own families. After a struggle with a disease in February of 2019, he had to undergo a surgery and had his left leg amputated below the knee. A man that spent his life working and helping others, known for his cheerful nature and for cooking an excellent stew, suddenly found himself bound to a wheelchair. When discharged from hospital, his only wish was to return home, the only thing that can make his hard days of adaptation and recovery happier, which was accomplished by including him in this project.

He heard about our program and gave us a call. At first it was impossible to include him in the program because we reached a maximum number of beneficiaries, but after a week, with some changes and great efforts from our care-takers, we managed to include him.
His gratitude is great, the help he is getting from our women is huge, important and key for the normalization of his life in his own home. About the benefits of this project he says: “I’m complete now… I have the best caretakers”.

Besides cleaning and cooking (Tuesday and every other Thursday), our employees help him with other important things such as collaboration with his general practitioner and physical therapist as well as other house care tasks. Without that kind of help, living on his own would be very difficult, and maybe even impossible. With joint effort and unselfish engagement of our wonderful women employees, Mr. Ljuban is currently living in a dignified manner, and is successfully recovering and adjusting to the challenges of life in a wheelchair.