The life journey of Anes Kujović, a 21-year-old from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been distinct from that of his peers. From his early years, he navigated a world that often struggled to comprehend his unique abilities. Anes was born with Down syndrome, a condition that significantly shaped his upbringing and life experiences, affecting his education, adolescence, and his acceptance within society. However, every challenge he encountered became a stepping stone to his success. With unwavering determination and the steadfast support of his family and friends, he battled for his rightful place in the community.
Today, Anes holds a position in the Department for Education, Culture, and Sports within the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo. As a UN volunteer, he fulfils administrative responsibilities—an achievement that marks a historic milestone, as he is the world’s first United Nations volunteer with Down syndrome.
Anes holds the distinction of being the world’s first individual with Down syndrome to assume the role of a United Nations Volunteer through the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2). This unique opportunity has provided him with valuable work experience. “I have wonderful colleagues. We diligently carry out our tasks, but we also share light-hearted moments and laughter. My responsibilities involve data entry into spreadsheets, distributing documents to various departments for signatures, attending meetings with the mayor, welcoming guests, and occasionally, I participate in sessions of the Municipal Council,” Kujović elaborates. He expresses his contentment with the knowledge gained during his tenure at the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo. However, like his fellow colleagues, he encounters certain tasks that may take him a bit longer to complete. “Writing reports can be a tad challenging for me, but I am optimistic that I will master it in due course,” he adds.
Anes embarked on his inaugural internship as part of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2), a project funded by the European Union and executed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With the overarching goal of fostering diversity and inclusivity across all segments of society, ReLOaD2 has extended internship opportunities to the youth residing within this municipality and 12 other partner local governments, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Beyond the internship experience, Anes has had the chance to enhance his skills through a range of educational initiatives offered by the ReLOaD2 project. Moreover, he has received valuable guidance from Faris Bečić, a fellow young enthusiast and UNV engaged with ReLOaD2. Faris assumes the role of a mentor, monitoring Anes’ progress and work ethic. Together, they tackle administrative duties such as case management, document scanning and printing, archiving, conducting meetings with various stakeholders and civil society organizations, and recording incoming projects through public calls, among other responsibilities.
Bečić underscores the vital role of mentoring support within the ReLOaD2 programme, particularly during the transition to employment for individuals with disabilities. According to him, the mentoring process serves as a means to closely observe an individual’s journey in the realms of work, skill development, and overall professional growth. It also encompasses an assessment of their work ethic and approach to tackling both straightforward and intricate tasks. In the course of his collaboration with Anes, Bečić highlights the nurturing of an extraordinary relationship marked by sensitivity and understanding.
Anes regularly receives compensation for his voluntary work, which he affectionately refers to as his “salary.” He has clear intentions for these earnings, as he intends to use them to cover the costs of his driving test and ultimately purchase a car. “The internship brought enormous changes to Anes,” said Anes’ mother, Sevdija. “His self-confidence has increased, he has developed critical thinking and is much more responsible towards work than he was towards schoolwork. He is happy because he is really building a friendly relationship with his work colleagues who are the center of his daily stories.”
The Municipality of Centar Sarajevo aspires to set an example for other institutions by actively developing programs aimed at empowering young individuals with disabilities. To date, ReLOaD2 has facilitated internships for 22 young people across Bosnia and Herzegovina, encompassing four individuals with disabilities.
About the project
The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) is a continuation of EU-supported initiatives – Local Democracy Strengthening Project (LOD, 2009-2016) and the subsequently expanded Regional Program for Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD, 2017-2020). As the previous ones, this project is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). ReLOaD2 is implemented in the Western Balkans, in particular Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Photo credits: ReLOaD2
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