Public Institution Center Los Rosales and Association Ruzicnjak: Training young people with disabilities for a more independent life in Mostar

Two women under one roof

Two women from Mostar Jasna Rebac and Mirna Mezit are fighting in their own way, and yet together, for a more inclusive society, setting themselves the most difficult task – changing people’s awareness of what it means to be a person with a disability.

They dedicated their careers and their lives to this battle. Mirna is the director of the Los Rosales Center for Children and Youth with Special Needs, and Jasna is the president of the Ruzicnjak Youth Association – Los Rosales. They fight their battles under the same roof, because Ruzicnjak has its premises in the Los Rosales Center.

“Our cooperation is everyday, strategically oriented, constructive and in the interest of people with disabilities. The principle of protection of human rights is the basis of this cooperation. Although the complex situation in our community makes our work increasingly difficult and is more of a hindrance than an incentive, we overcome it with honest, transparent and persistent work. Small steps towards the better, believing in success,” says Jasna and adds that despite everything, she carries Mostar in her heart and without it she cannot breathe fully.

People with disabilities should work

The Association founded a social enterprise – Radin – which today employs 21 people, with the support of the Federal Fund for Employment and Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities, parents, the entire Ruzicnjak team, the Los Rosales Center, the private and civil sectors, and individuals.

“We are aiming for more employment of people with disabilities, especially young people, in the open labor market. We must provide them with better support in education, monitoring and implementation of the first internship for the jobs they are looking for, in accordance with their capabilities. The future of a society of equal opportunities is that this category of the population also lives from their own work,” adds Jasna.

Because Mostar is no longer the city it used to be, and because life there is not easy and simple, and precisely because of her great love for her hometown, Mirna says that she is angry and dissatisfied:

“For me, Mostar is now and forever will be the most beautiful city in the world, but it doesn’t have the soul it once had. I must point out that the Los Rosales Center is sometimes perhaps the only example of a positive life in Mostar, because we live and breathe everyday life, without discrimination on any basis – by respecting diversity in every sense of the word and perceiving diversity as an advantage, not a hindrance or disadvantage.”

Although Jasna had an enviable career in Croatia, and Mirna had a university education in Norway, both were happy to return to their homeland where they tirelessly break down stereotypes and educate, educate, educate…

“Although I am the mother of two sons, I have 142 children. The Center is a public institution that brings up, educates, rehabilitates and socializes currently 140 users and children from the entire area of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton without any discrimination. Our focus is always on the child, that is, the youth, because we observe, direct and nurture them like buds that will develop into a wonderful rose and show us the full beauty of their inner “self”. The specificity of the work at the Center is that children and young people from 2 to 45 years of age are raised, educated, rehabilitated, trained and socialized here. They spend their time in the Center in several groups: kindergarten, primary school, work-rehabilitation workshops and residential accommodation. Each of these segments has its own work program,” explains Mirna.

Inclusion is a process

On the other hand, continues Jasna, there is Ruzicnjak as a bridge between needs and resources when it comes to people with disabilities: “People with disabilities need the opportunity for good upbringing, education, health care, orthopedic aids, they need a JOB and they want to work. That is why our role is to build an unusual model of symbiosis between the government (power holders) and civil (associations, organizations) sectors. We are building that harmony with difficulty, but we are building it.”

Emphasizing that all her personal and professional successes are tied to Mostar and that it is the city where, as she says, she was recognized both in the dark and in the light, she is determined to give her city a merciless fight for a better future. This recipient of the Order of the King of Spain for Lifetime Achievement returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia in the post-war period and built the Los Rosales Center with a team of enthusiasts and money from Spanish taxpayers. After 12 years of leading the Center, that role was taken over by our second interviewee, Mirna Mezit, who is committed to her work in the same way – completely. Today, these two women from Mostar work in complete symbiosis in the field of education and creating opportunities for people with disabilities in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. They agree that social inclusion will never be fully achieved, because inclusion is a process. However, they point out that precisely because of this, every small change for the better that happens is important and significant.

This article was written thanks to the generous support of the American people through the “Local Works” program of the United States Agency for International Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina (USAID). The contents of the publication are under the exclusive liability of its author and “Network for Building Peace”. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the US Government.