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Creative Workshop of Equal Opportunities

Three talented girls – Sara, Đurđa and Katarina – create real magic in a creative workshop in Podgorica. With a lot of skill, some materials and a lot of smiles, they make t-shirts, cloth bags and badges. They have woven their talent and creativity into each product, as well as a story about persistence and strong will to ensure an equal place for themselves in the society.

Persons with disabilities do not have sufficient opportunities to attain and apply new knowledge and skills and thus realize their full potential and contribute to society. Consequently, their professional potential often remains unused. Barriers they face during their education and professional training, prejudices about their ability to work, and inaccessibility of jobs and employment services are some of the reasons for the existing statistics – as many as a quarter of the unemployed in Montenegro are people with disabilities, and almost half of them are without occupation and professional qualifications. The NGA “Our Children” has recognized these challenges and come up with a way to gradually overcome them.

“At the association, they learn a specific job or craft and prepare for the labour market through various creative and educational workshops. Some learn embroidery, some printing on textiles, and others learn how to make jewellery”, says Ivana Moreti, Sara’s mother and president of the association. At the association, Sara got the opportunity to turn her love for embroidery into a skill and make each piece and pattern unique.

Right to decent work and employment are the basis for everyone’s well-being, including people with disabilities, who account for 15% of the Montenegrin population, according to some estimates. Numerous mechanisms developed by the state with the aim of including persons with disabilities in the labour market are often not adapted to their needs, nor efficient enough. Consequently, the right to professional rehabilitation, the system of employment quotas and mandatory payments to the Professional Rehabilitation Fund do not produce desired effects.

Danijela Nikolić, a project manager at the association and mother of Katarina, a girl who spends her free time in the workshop, describes most fittingly the positive impact of quality employment on social inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

“When she made her first T-shirt, Katarina was really happy and felt important. That’s exactly our goal – that they feel part of this society and that they contribute with their work”, Nikolić has said.

In addition to being important for economic empowerment, employment and decent work are the most effective ways to break the vicious cycle of poverty and marginalization in which people with disabilities often find themselves. This is particularly visible among women with disabilities, for whom the labour market is especially closed and who often face double discrimination – disability and gender based. In such circumstances, the work of the association “Our Children” is particularly significant. The association not only provides concrete opportunities to attain various skills needed for the inclusion of girls with Down syndrome in the labour market, but it also sends a deeper message about skilfulness, creativity, inclusion and the need to create a society of equal opportunities.

“Our wish is for this association to become a lifelong one, and to achieve that we need the support of national and local authorities”, Ivana Moreti, the president of the association, has said and highlighted that this type of support is essential to strengthen the capacities and ensure long-term sustainability of their work.

The mothers of these three girls do not want controlled environments for their children, but rather, as they put it, a space where they can work, hang out and make new friends.

“We hope that we will open a café in the future, too. It is our great wish, because it will be a place to meet and enjoy coffee not only for children and youth with disabilities, but also for young people without development disabilities”, Mirela Borović, Đurđa’s mother and member of the association, has said.

Many of Đurđa’s, Sara’s and Katarina’s friends, who are frequent guests of the printing office, are a proof that this is a realistic expectation. The girls in the association are also helped by volunteers, for whom the call for involvement is always open. Their support, especially the mentoring one, will be of great importance when the café opens.

It is essential to recognize the importance of an individual approach in the process of preparing young people with disabilities for the labour market. This approach takes into account the unique needs of each individual and focuses on the development of their talents and abilities. In addition, one must get a clear picture of their educational status, attain skills and need for support, in order to plan effective and targeted educational programmes and policies. It is the path towards inclusion of persons with disabilities and the educational and professional progress of all, without exception.

One of major prerequisites for this will be provided by the project “Reform of the national disability determination system”, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP and the Government of Montenegro, with the support of the civil society organizations. Among other things, a register of persons with disabilities will be established through this project for the first time, which will facilitate the realization of their rights.