National Forum “Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities and People with Mental Disabilities” was held in Sarajevo on November 27th. The Forum was held within the framework of a European Union-funded regional project SOCIETES aimed at empowering civil society networks and organizations to participate in public debate and dialogue with authorities, enhancing their expertise and knowledge to influence decision-making processes and improve and promote social inclusion policies, primarily through the launching and development of community based social services and social entrepreneurship. The project started in 2016 and it will end in December 2019, therefore, through the holding of the said Forum, efforts were made to present the achieved results, to analyze the current situation and to present recommendations for the advancement of the position of persons with disabilities and persons with mental health disorders.

At the very beginning of the Forum, which brought together more than 100 representatives of NGOs and representatives of institutions from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, the participants had the opportunity to watch the documentary In Search for Inclusion. The film was made as part of a project and addresses the views of society in terms of people with disabilities and people with mental health issues, and shows the struggle of civil society organizations for their rights. The film presents beneficiaries of associations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia, as well as their daily lives and activities in beneficiary associations and day care centers.

After the screening, on behalf of the Caritas Network, the guests were greeted by Msgr. Tomo Knezevic, Director of Caritas BiH. In his introductory address, Msgr. Knezevic emphasized that persons with disabilities represent the most vulnerable and excluded group of our society. The daily life of this population is filled with obstacles and discrimination in various spheres of social life. Therefore, for us at Caritas, caring for and empowering people with disabilities and people with mental health issues is one of our priorities. We have proven this through our responsible work in the SOCIETIES project, but also in other projects implemented by Caritas BiH for people with disabilities. At the end of his address, Msgr. Knezevic thanked all participants, partner organizations and institutions, and noted that Caritas’ action was focused on cooperation and action with others. Only together can we work to improve conditions for persons with disabilities in the Bosnian society, and their full inclusion, concluded Msgr. Knezevic.

After the introductory address, Local project coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Miroslav Valenta, presented the project results. In his presentation Mr. Valenta recalled that seven national Caritas are involved in the implementation of the project, from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Italy, Kosovo and Serbia, in cooperation with nine other partner organizations. Also, Mr. Valenta pointed out that, in addition to a large number of activities, support was provided to 25 associations, organizations and initiatives, of which 6 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, through grants totaling EUR 450,000, thus empowering over 700 beneficiaries, which is why the project is being implemented. At the end of the presentation, Mr. Valenta added that he hoped that many more initiatives would be supported through similar projects in the future.

During the Forum, representatives of individual associations, whose initiatives were financially supported by the project, presented all their activities, results, products at a kind of fair, which was organized within the program. Representatives of 5 associations of persons with disabilities, as well as associations of persons with mental health issues, presented their activities:

  • “Quick Elmo” cleaning service – Cantonal Mutual Assistance Society for Mental Distress “Apel”, Sanski Most;
  • Greenhouse cultivation and sale of herbs and flowers – ProReha Association – Center for professional rehabilitation, retraining and training of persons with disabilities and other hard to employ groups, Vogošća;
  • Only persistent and courageous go ahead – Association “Humanitarian organization Lotosice”, Tuzla;
  • Work Training and Employment of Disabled Persons – ROZOSI – Association of Parents and Children with Special Needs “Vedri osmijeh”, Mostar;
  • Book for the Future – Association for the Protection and Promotion of Mental Health In Spe, Mostar.

In the second part of the Forum, Mr. Miroslav Valenta presented over 50 recommendations for improving the process of social inclusion of persons with disabilities and persons with mental health issues in the field of accessibility, combating discrimination and stigma, de-institutionalization, social and health care services, employment and development of social enterprises, the role of civil society organizations, current legislation, the role of families and the community in empowering people with disabilities and people with mental disabilities. These recommendations are the result of the work of working groups established throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the formation of a large number of non-governmental organizations representing this population and a large number of representatives of institutions in the field of social and health care, providing various types of support to persons with disabilities, and especially for people with mental health issues.

In the ensuing panel discussion, the participants addressed the overall implementation of the project, highlighted lessons learned and provided examples of good practice. The panel discussion was attended by representatives of partner organizations in the project, representatives of associations who recived financial support, participants of training programs, members of working groups for writing recommendations as well as beneficiaries, persons with disabilities:

  • Jasna Rebac, President of the Association ” Ružićnjak – Los Rosales”, Mostar;
  • Bojan Šošić, member of the expert staff of the Association “Fenix”, Tuzla;
  • Vedad Vejzović, President of ProReha Center, Sarajevo;
  • Radoslav Dodig, Director of the social enterprise for the employment of PWDs RAD-DAR ltd., Mostar;
  • Dr. Sabira Gadzo-Sasic, Faculty of Political Science, Sarajevo;
  • Halida Vejzagić, Member of the Executive Board of the Menssana Mental Health Association, Sarajevo.

During the panel discussion it was emphasized that it is necessary to invest further in persons, to carry out additional training of professional staff, to strengthen cooperation between civil society organizations and state institutions and to ensure a life worth living for persons with disabilities and mental health issues. Speakers recognized the difficult economic and social status of people with disabilities, and especially people with mental health issues, and highlighted the importance of social inclusion of all vulnerable groups. At the end of the Forum, it was concluded that social inclusion of persons with disabilities is a complex social process and cannot be understood unilaterally only from the perspective of the persons whose inclusion we perform. In the process of inclusion, the community and everyone in the community must change.

At the end, Mr. Zlatko Malić from Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina, who moderated and facilitated the entire Forum, thanked all participants for their arrival and used the opportunity and informed participants that the European Commission recognized the good results of the SOCIEITIES project, but also the needs of persons with disabilities in the region, and approved implementation of the project continuation over the next four years.