“It takes a village to raise a child”, International Day of Families, 15.5.2023.


“It takes a village to raise a child”

You have probably heard this before. This proverb simply tells us that an entire community of people must put effort, provide for and interact positively with children, in order for them to grow in a safe and healthy environment. In the past, this was done by default, families lived in communities, older members of the family, when retired, naturally helped young parents with children. In certain tribes, it was considered that child belongs to the whole tribe, thus every adult was considered responsible for every child.

But what happens when there is no more village to support raising kids?

New era brought different family dynamics. Households nowadays often can only be sustainable with 2 monthly incomes, both father and mother have to work to provide for the family. Since community life is abandoned as a concept, many children do not grow up surrounded by relatives and grandparents, but are directed to the early care and education facilities from a very early age.

So, what is the new support system for families in modern society?

Sure, we are fighting for more flexible working hours, benefits and bonuses to support more quality lifestyle, but what about the focus that each child needs, the devoted time and effort, to help him achieve certain developmental milestones, specific for each age, when parents are distracted or busy?

In ASB, we work for people, with people. On that journey, we have met some incredibly creative and devoted experts. Today we will present one of them.

Marija Sretkovic is 33 year old wife and mother of two, but also a speech therapist from Novi Pazar and an ASB’s beneficiary who runs her own successful business for 8 years now.

Straight after graduating, Maria completed her internship at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade. Right after that, she started working with children, in her birth town, Novi Pazar, a city known for high birth rate, where average family has 4-5 children. During her early working years, Marija had already recognized the need for speech and developmental therapist, and a business opportunity in a long run.

So far, in her small, but colorful and cozy studio, Marija had helped more than 1800 children and adults. Problems that she is addressing are various: speech problems, autism, mental retardation, hearing impairments, pronunciation of sounds, attention disorders, difficulties in reading and writing, etc. Maria also have great experience in support for adults after experiencing a stroke.

“Family is the most important factor in early detection of problems in children. Parents, due to lack of time and modern way of life, have less and less time to work with children, so they are forced to “build” the child’s speech through the phone or TV, games, where as a result we have an increased number of children with developmental difficulties”, says Marija. She stresses the importance of an early problem detection, in order for the therapy to bring the best results. According to doctors, by age 3, child’s vocabulary increases to about 1,000 words, and they’re speaking in three- and four-word sentences. Unfortunately, this is usually the earliest that parents or caretakers notice that child lags behind peers and needs professional help. Statistic in Serbia show that 80% of children who enroll the first grade, needed or still need some sort of help from the speech therapist.

Within the project “Reintegration – support for sustainable (re)integration of returnees in Serbia”, that ASB implements together with partner IDC, Marija had received the grant for self-employment, the digital speech therapist set. ASB is proud to say that more than 40% of beneficiaries on this project are women and that strengthening of the female entrepreneurial spirit is one of our long term tendencies.

“Working with children is my call, it is what I wake up happy to every morning”, says Marija and continues: “The grant received by ASB had helped me tremendously, it was a favorable wind at my back, and backs of my little fellow patients. The digital speech therapist set is a machine that processes the sound that speech therapist utters and adjusts it to the brain of the patient, so that time needed for the treatment shortens significantly and the treatment itself is much more effective”.

Marija was the first therapist to own such machine in Novi Pazar, and at that time, even Belgrade didn’t have many of them in use. “Serbia is not lagging behind Europe or the rest of the world when it comes to educated professionals who work with children, and it is important that we also have the tools to apply our knowledge”, says Maria and explains: “Such treatments cost several times more in some European capitals and even in Belgrade the cost per treatment is higher than in Novi Pazar. Thanks to ASB, now we can offer an affordable high quality treatment to patients in Novi Pazar and surrounding.”

Every day, I witness a wonder, but probably my greatest success can be told by a story of a boy with a diagnosis of autism, confirmed by experts from Belgrade, who came to my office few years ago.  Through painstaking work that lasted almost a year, with the great support of the boy’s family, we managed to erase the child’s diagnosis and today that same boy is an excellent grammar school student!” says Marija with a smile.

Family is a team, and as such, if one team member suffers and isn’t supported to reach his potential, the whole team suffers. A child teased by her friends because she cannot pronounce letter R, or connect words in a meaningful sentence is a child that suffers, thinking she is not capable of achieving life goals. Small steps lead to big milestones. That is why a family needs a support circle. This “village” can be big or small, but should be effective, passionate about the mutual goal – a family, as a strong unit, that makes a strong and healthy society. Many families in Novi Pazar nowadays feel lucky to count Marija in their support circle.

ASB is will continue to help here and now, because we believe that empowered people empower people.

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ASB is a German aid and welfare organisation, engaged in areas such as civil protection, rescue services and social welfare services. As a non-political organisation, ASB has, since its foundation in 1888, provided rapid and direct help to all those in need of our support.

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