In Doboj I spoke with Olivera Nedić. She is currently Director of the Doboj Centre for Social Work. Previously, she spent ten years in the education sector as teacher of geography and civic eduation, and earlier still she had worked for international organisations. As she put it herself, her most important role is as mother of her five children. This was a large part of the motivation for our interview, because Olivera runs the association of families with four or more children in Doboj, called „Future 4“.

We discussed all of the association’s activities. It is one of 40 similar associations in the Republika Srpska, with the main objective to help the families with four or more children to improve their quality of life, to raise out of obscurity, to be a source of support for those families, a place where they can go for help when they need it.

Olivera Nedić:

Our fundamental mission is to try to approach each family. At present we have 160 families and it is going very slowly, but we strive to make every family feel that this association exists. Whether through the kindergarten, which we succeeded in offering for free, in that we received the support of the local community. We find it an immeasurable contribution, because it affects the quality of some 15 or so families, who benefit from this service. In the coming period we shall seek to provide scholarships for some pupils and students in this population.

There is another project which would make me very proud, if it succeeds. We received promises from the city administration. The project is entitled „Formalisation of education for 4+ mothers“. Somehow, mothers always gave up their educational goals due to changing priorities. Say, they started, but could not finish secondary school, because they are always short one-two thousand KM. It is easy to guess why and how. Their turn simply never comes. For now, we identified nine mothers who had begun their secondary education. They came close to graduating, and if they could formalise it, they would find it much easier to penetrate the job market, to be more competitive. As things stand, they have practically no chance.

We also have some ongoing projects, such as helping provide school supplies, and we are trying to ensure that every family gets this form of assistance. It is just a small package, not much of a support in material terms, but more in the sense of maintaining contact with the association.

Then New Year’s gift packages, which we also owe to socially responsible organisations in our community.

Planned activities in the coming period

We are putting together a major conference on the level of the Republic, on the level of our entity association, with representative of as many local associations from all over the Republika Srpska. We will have representatives of this community, of local governments, as well as the representatives of the ministry. We are less than satisfied with our status and treatment, since we are an association of public significance, but we are simply not adequately recognised from the standpoint of applicable legislation.

We will try to present the situation, what the trends are. This particular set of demographic issues is of utmost importance. We are not here just for ourselves, in effet all smart governments invest in similar ways into pro-population growth policies, and we definitely believe that families with more children deserve this kind of attention, from the standpoint of survival, since we will not have any tax payers tomorrow if we forsake investment in children and families

At the conference we will identify the areas where we need funding and distinguish those areas that do not require funding, but only good will.

And there are such areas. Say, is anything preventing the legislature from mandating recognition of families with more children in employment rulebooks, so if those people decide to invest in the education cycle, they can support a household’s sustainability in that fashion – why not recognise it in this way? And this is why we will invite the representatives of official bodies of the Republic to stay at the conference from start to finish.

Is the economic situation the greatest problem for families with more children?

Yes, in effect it is just the economic situation. I keep saying that I would entrust the management of the country to families with more members, because they somehow succeed to manage and run a numerous family, and to feed them.

We have 80% of families where both parents are unemployed. But that does not mean that they are passive. They strive, they are not officially employed, but, for instance, they are farmers, they work full tilt, and are trying to structure their lives to provide for their children’s education. And we seek to encourage that, we look for options to support them through agriculture subsidies. For instance, we interceded so seven families got hot houses, those large ones, along with the equipment and training, coupled with long-term monitoring. We strive to teach them, to ensure that a family is empowered in a field, that it acts independently, rather than just to serve as a window for one-off assistance.

When we conducted a pilot study in Doboj, we found that there were numerous such studies on some higher and more substantial levels. We had a small sample, 92 families, not all of them with four or more children. We foused on the motivation, to see towhat extent the measures implemented by official institutions suffice to encourage a person to have more children in the family. It turned out that this figure was quite small, less than 8% of people responded that it had any impact, that those measures contributed to their decision. The main motivation was their love of children and that decision has no connection with those measures, which brings their very purpose in question.

So, you are planning a conference, are there other plans?

This conference is planned for August. Then, for the third year in a row, the association will take part in the „Encounter of Babies“ event. That is an event that brings together art and creativity on the local level, wher we sent out the message about the need to support families and children.

There is the database, as the permanent essential context, next, we are planning a study that will be implemented jointly with the university department experts, in which we would act as a support service with information we can provide.

In the coming period we will have an annual meeting, because this year it is our association’s tenth anniversary. We plan to raise our cooperation with all institutions to a higher level. The plan is to get this going first with the city administration, to sign a cooperation memorandum, and then with all other institutions. We will try to work with the Music School, Library, if not to exempt fully the children from our families from attendant costs, but then at least to ensure that some part of the costs is subsidised.

We in the association feel the greatest defeat when we cannot satisfy a child’s best interest. Now, to go back from the general to the individual – when we have a talented child and we cannot offer it support, who knows who we are losing in the future?

I believe that one of our fundamental problems is in the educational context, in the manner of education of our children. We still tend to cling to that „ex cathedra“ approach. On the one hand we have the qualification framework, we have key competencies within the European Education Spae – all that a young person needs, how can that be built, what fields are needed so they can compete in their own and external markets. But we have not adopted it yet, for some reason we still hesitate to teach the practical, life skills.

Say, we do not train them in the field of entrepreneurial competencies, civic competencies, i.e. our education is very rigid. Instead, we are debating increasing the number of classes of religious studies. That is something that is functionally regressive. I am not opposed to religion, but this is not a path that an lead to substantial change. Instead, young people should be trained for a higher level of independence.

Because, the old paradigm „I will get my degree and I want to work in a public institution,“ is still prevalent. That mode of thinking must be abandoned. It is unsustainable, for people to graduate from universities and go to public institutions, because it is not where the future is. And what we have now will haveto be recombined and restructured in such a way to achieve some form of functional integration of the public and private sector. And don’t get me started on the need to change the mindset.