The Center for Children, Youth and Family: Building an Active and Cohesive Community in Laktaši

The NGO Center for Children, Youth and Family in Laktaši has been working for 14 years to build a responsible and active civil society by promoting values and social cohesion in their community and offers children and their parents access to leisure activities through informal creative and recreational education.

Seven years ago, the Center implemented a UNICEF-sponsored project called “Enhancing Social Protection and Inclusion in BiH”. Violeta Sandic, the coordinator for youth and international cooperation, explains: “During the project’s implementation, the organization’s human and material resources grew. This project was, in many ways, a defining moment in our work. Using a professional and team-oriented approach, we are trying to build a responsible and active civil society and promote environmental values and social cohesion in the community. We try to attract young volunteers who will follow our idea and work on its development.”

Since Laktaši is a rural municipality with many villages, the importance of such an organization is significant. Some of the Center’s basic activities include creating playgrounds for preschool children, an annual eco-action program called “Let’s do it”, humanitarian activities, and the implementation of numerous youth projects, which most notably includes those within the Erasmus+ program.

Within the framework of the European Commission’s Erasmus+ program, the organization has participated in volunteer projects related to youth activism. As part of the program’s European Voluntary Service (EVS), it has also hosted and sent volunteers to other European countries. As a result of these activities, the Center has established partnerships with organizations from across Europe. There have also been many personal friendships forged through this program.

Francesca Fornari, a volunteer from Italy who stayed at the Center as part of the EVS program, has come to realize how important the work of such non-governmental organizations is. “I am sure that people living in rural towns such as Laktaši benefit greatly from contact with people living abroad. In many cases, unfortunately, young people living in smaller countries don’t have much opportunity for intercultural encounters, not only in the Balkans but also in general. What the Center for Children, Youth and Family is doing is excellent, because it connects young people of different cultural and religious backgrounds. Such interactions broaden their views and understanding, which is very useful,” she explains.

Erasmus+ program during a visit to Novi Sad, Serbia (Photo: Center for Children, Youth and Family)

The Center currently has four employees, 15 permanent associates and consultants, and around 20 active volunteers.

In addition to the Erasmus+ program, volunteers contribute their efforts to the “Be a Man Club” project, implemented in cooperation with the NGO Perpetuum Mobile from Banja Luka. One of the Club’s active volunteers, Miloš Kovačević volunteers works on various projects and workshops aimed to enhance the Center’s work.

“The Center for Children, Youth and Family provides great benefits for Laktaši. Even though it operates under difficult conditions, it still manages to maintain its mission and to work on some significant projects. No matter how hard it sometimes is to plan and organize even the smallest of events, it is important to try, because no door opens without knocking,” says Kovačević.

‘’Be a Man’’ Club Laktaši organized by The Center for Children, Youth and Family (Photo: Center for Children, Youth and Family)

The Center engages members of all ages through the various content it offers. In order to continue realizing new ideas, the organization needs the support and understanding of the local community, which it seeks to achieve by familiarizing people with its work.

“We are currently trying to better educate young people, especially primary school students, about the work we do here. Sometimes parents don’t allow their children to spend a lot of time with us because they are also not familiar with our work. This prompted us to implement a project, supported by the Schüler Helfen Leben Foundation, to familiarize primary school students and their parents with our work. The project has had significant results so far and has increased the number of young people interested in working with us. So far, we’ve held a series of workshops about substance abuse, alcoholism, bullying and other topics that are important to young people,” Kovačević explains.

Final gathering of children before their first day of pre-school (Photo: Center for Children, Youth and Family)

In conclusion, the Center for Children, Youth, and Family is an important example of how inclusion, local engagement, cooperation, and persistence can have a positive impact community cohesion and youth involvement at the grassroots level. The Center can serve as an example to other community leaders and activists that change is possible, even under the difficult circumstances under which we all must operate.

This publication has been selected as part of the Srđan Aleksić Youth Competition, a regional storytelling competition that challenges youth to actively engage with their own communities to discover, document, and share stories of moral courage, interethnic cooperation, and positive social change. The competition is a primary component of the Post-Conflict Research Center’s award-winning Ordinary Heroes Peacebuilding Program, which utilizes international stories of rescuer behavior and moral courage to promote interethnic understanding and peace among the citizens of the Western Balkans.

Support for this program has been graciously provided by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Andrea Aleksić

Andrea is a Balkan Diskurs trained youth correspondent from Banja Luka and holds a Master’s in International Relations from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka. Andrea is interested in volunteering and international youth cooperation.

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