Probably all of you had a chance in the past to read in the media about the first person with Down syndrome to get a job in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her name is Azra Dedić from Bihać, a 23-year-old girl, and the company that hired her is CM Market from Vitez. I had a chance and honour in Bihać to meet Azra’s mother, Ramzija Dedić and talk to her, not only about how it came to this employment, but also about the entire journey they’ve been trough as a family to get Azra to where she is today, mostly without the support of the institutions. We all know well how much Bosnia and Herzegovina is helping anyone and especially those who need it the most – people with any difficulties or disabilities.

I hope that this story will serve as an inspiration to others and especially to companies that have the opportunity to change the lives of these people and surely to get valuable workers, who are deeply grateful, which all leads to a happier and a nicer society that we are all striving to.

How did Azra’s employment come about?

Azra found a job thanks to a project of the FBiH Association Life with Down Syndrome, as a part of a self-representation programme. The Association turned to the management of the CM Market in Vitez, and talked to them about the possibility of Azra’s employment since Azra was a person with Down syndrome. They immediately expressed readiness and gave green light, and seriously, words fail me here when it comes to social responsibility and social sensitivity of the company that, even without knowing Azra, decided to give her a chance which was not the case in an environment where everyone knew her.

How important is it for Azra to be able to work?

Azra’s employment has brought about not drastic but major changes in her life. This particularly reflected on her self-confidence. Azra’s self-confidence skyrocketed. Except for sports perhaps where she feels totally equal, and there she found herself a totally equal member of society.

Azra has always believed that she can be such a member of society. However, thanks to the lack of understanding of the environment and the system in which we live, that does not recognise even the particularly talented ones, let alone a person with disabilities, she did succeed thanks to the empathy and understanding of her employer, to get a job. That has really changed her life a lot. Apart from the financial impact that’s most important to us when looking for a job, Azra got so much more.

For Azra, sport is one of the most important things in life?

Well, it is. She always says that this is her first and greatest love. She’s been training judo actively for almost ten years and she’s extremely successful. Thanks to the understanding of her coaches, their dedication and all the members of the club who accepted Azra as part of the team as one of the equals. Her coaches say that she is doing very well, that she is extremely successful, and that she does great job. Azra managed to achieve remarkable results.

But let’s take a step back. Azra wouldn’t be where she is had it not been for the support of her family that in spite of the disadvantages of the system, still managed to equip her for the life she now leads.

Well, true. From the day she was born, Azra showed special signs of perseverance. Somehow from the first steps, first words to starting school, Azra was extremely persistent. It was a bit harder and slower, but she tried to do everything she wanted and succeeded and made the best effort.

As a family, of course accepting that she is a child with Down syndrome, tried to make it a better quality life. First of all, we didn’t look at her differently, we wanted her to feel that she was an equal member of her family. Then we struggled to make her feel an equal member of society, which, unfortunately, given the time when Azra was born and later on was by no means an easy task.

We’ve always been dependant on the good will of individuals or how entrepreneurial we are as a family. We always had to push somehow, to support Azra. Of course, this is our duty but it is also a huge task for a single family in absence of support from the system, which is unfortunately missing.

Based on your experience now, what is your message and recommendation – where to start to improve the situation?

Perhaps the most important thing is to somehow communicate the message to parents of persons with Down syndrome, especially children, to acknowledge the fact that a child is born with Down syndrome and to try to provide him with a better quality of life. To accept it in the same way as any other child, regardless of whether or not they have children. It means to accept the child and treat the child just as any other child.

They, as I said, need more time, more effort, more perseverance. But whatever you invest in your child, the child will pay you back. Believe me, every effort is worth it. And don’t let them think it’s a lost and hopeless case. They need to fight for it and invest in them, help them to make their dreams come true and they can really achieve a lot.

So one day, they are equal members of society. Although, again, unfortunately without systemic support. To parents, their children are the most important to them and let them fight for children. And as for the system, then that’s a different topic. The only thing we do systematically here is emigration.