A group of children are gathered excitedly around the table in the House of Joy (Kuca radosti), mashing modeling clay in their hands – they are making cookies. ‘’Strawberry is the best’’, says David and we don’t hear much argument from the other children. These children are learning life-skills and David is already an authority on cookie flavors.
David and his mum Danijela, come to the House of Joy three to four times a week. Initially, they started coming to the house for David’s speech therapy, but soon realized that this opportunity for socializing and learning is one of a kind in their municipality, ‘’the children are all equal here and this is the approach their teachers take,’’ says Danijela.
House of Joy is the first family center that serves children with disabilities in the little town of Kotor Varos in North-Western Bosnia and Herzegovina. They offer speech therapy, psychologists’ services and life-skills workshops. The center opened in December 2016 and until that day, if they wanted to go to speech therapy, these children and their parents had to take a bus and travel to the nearby city. ‘’We had to go to the regional center and very few families could afford to do this’’, says Dragica, directress of the Center and mother of two children, one of whom has autism.
Later that day, The House of Joy stays true to its name – children are now gathered in a circle and they are participating in a small-scale puppet show. Chatter is getting louder as the teacher Jelena asks: ‘’who is going to be the wolf, and who is going to play Little Red Riding Hood?’’.
With the initial help of World Vision, the House of Joy, family center was founded by the parents of children with disabilities. World Vision gathered representatives of the local municipality, welfare center, police, high school and parents into a Group for Wellbeing of Children in Kotor Varos, and the idea for the center came as an answer to the needs voiced by the parents of children with disabilities. The representative of the municipality of Kotor Varos, Nemanja Panic, has relayed his findings from these meetings to the higher-level municipality officials. As chance would have it, the new municipal strategy was being prepared at that time and the plan to “resolve the issues of the families with the disabled children was added,’’ he explains.
House of Joy is now open for four hours a day and all their staff are volunteers. ‘’I wish the House would be open all day, every day’’, shared Danijela. “Long-term, we aim to connect all of our activities and transform the House of Joy into a Day-care center”, explains Dragica, the Directress of the Center.
So far, 30 children are using the services of the center, but their whole families are benefiting. Children with disabilities need 24 hours, seven day a week care ‘’and one of the parents needs to be around all the time,’’ says Dragica, the Directress of the center. Being able to leave their children in the care of the staff of House of Joy allows parents to take some time for themselves, or to spend dedicated time with other members of the family. ‘’Brothers and sisters of children with disabilities often spend very little time with their parents’’ explains Dragica, speaking from her personal experience, ‘’this may sound unfair, but this is the reality families with members with disabilities live in.’’
Whole families in this small and remote town would thrive with a Day-care center for the children with disabilities and the local municipality officials have agreed that such center is a necessity. Until the Day-care Center idea is fulfilled, House of Joy will continue providing much needed support to families of families with disabilities.