By Sanja Elezovic, RDDC/Bosnia-Herzegovina
June 10, 2012

For nearly one year now, Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC) and its local partner organization, RINGO, have diligently and patiently worked with children at Egipatsko Selo every day. Egipatsko Selo is a center for disadvantaged children living in one part of the city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).

Through this program, children are exposed to the constant level of hard work and effort needed to learn new dance moves and develop socially-acceptable behavior. Many times we hear sayings that – through dance and movement – people can express how they feel. Each lesson requires certain rules and standards. The framework, which structures the whole group and which we give them through our dance lessons, creates a distinct and safe environment within where they can progress. This adds a whole new dimension to our work with a higher dose of complexity and challenges.

In our team, there are five young women: Country Director Tanja, myself as a youth leader, and three assistants (Matea, Lejla and Lidija). Each of us comes from a different background and brings different thoughts, experiences and knowledge, which makes our team richer and more open, but also leaves enough space for working together and progressing as a team. Our goal is to achieve the best possible results for these children so they can realize their potential. This is a goal we seek together. For reaching that goal, we need a lot of work and experience in researching different methods and techniques. Very often in our meetings, Rebecca helps us with all of her experience working with children in Guinea and Rwanda. She offers us a wide array of options and different resolutions that we can try to apply in our environment.

In moments like these, I always think about how children are actually very similar to each other, regardless of the diversity of backgrounds to which they belong. We, as “adults”, make things complicated and even more segregated than they do. Often I notice that people neglect this component of the child; children can teach us so many things about life, but in a simple and honest way. We just need to be willing and brave enough to listen to them.

Now that we have stabilized our program and seen results with the children at Egipatsko Selo, we have expanded to dance trainings at the local SOS Kinderdorf in Mostar. Again, our team finds itself facing new challenges and demands. Our thoughts are still in the early days of formation in which each new training is an opportunity to get to know each child, his desires and possibilities. We look forward to the fact that one day we will succeed in using dance to connect these two ethnic groups of children and build a quality of social acquaintances that prepare them for adulthood.

From our past experience with children at Egipatsko Selo, we noticed that informally meetings are the best way to learn more about the kids. Therefore, our team is trying to be present at all major activities at Egipatsko Selo so our children can recognize us as their friends.

Our team decided that we should create a reward system for the children in our program. At the end of each month, there is a “surprise” activity for those that showed the most dedication and improvement. This month, it was a trip to Blagaj where children had the opportunity to ride horses and participate in various games. In these moments, you can see the children congratulate each other, hugging and talking about what to bring and what to wear to the special “surprise” activity. Now, I can say that we succeed in creating a positive and stimulating atmosphere that allows and encourages children to use their imagination and celebrate their accomplishments.

One moment particularly impressed me. One of our most active and reliable students from Egipatsko Selo came up to me and said: “I’m going to get pocket money for this trip and I want to buy you juice.” This shows how these children are actually willing to share the little they have with others; they are open to love, although they never received adequate love themselves.

So our trip started in an environment filled with children’s smiles. We had a chance to learn many new things through various challenges that we encountered during the trip, which required good teamwork. We wanted the children to retain good memories from this trip, so we decided to make them write on cards messages to each other, so they can have it as a tool for keeping them strong in bad times. We sat down in a circle and every kid passed his card around so others could write something nice and positive about him. One said: “Please do not make your brother angry if you love me.” This message was from one girl to a boy who is always fighting with his brother, so she wanted to help him and this was the best way that she could do it. That was so brave from her and you can see how all of them bonded.

I wonder if we all could use more time listening to each other. Maybe there would be many new and honest smiles on the streets. Learn from these kids and use your time to send positive messages to others because happiness is only true when it’s shared with others – as I said before!

Sanja Elezovic is the lead youth dance instructor for RDDC’s program in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. She was born in Mostar and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.