“When you are an angry mother, you do not need money to get organised”. For social change, you need to join forces
This is a story about what it takes to build a civil society network from scratch. This is Dragana’s story from Serbia.
We traveled to Belgrade to meet Serbian organisations working with children and this is how we got to walk in the old quarters of the city. It’s a mixture of European influences, but mostly, it feels like a step back in time. The beautiful kind of step back. At the entrance of one of the buildings, the large smile of a black-haired woman was welcoming us, keeping the doors opened. She had her hair tied up in a bun and a beautiful pink scarf with butterflies was flattering her shoulders. Her calm and posture inspired professional formality, while her eyes and friendly words told us about how glad she was that we were seeing Belgrade under such a beautiful weather. As for us, we were very happy to get to talk to Dragana that day.
Who is our Dragana? She is, first of all, a loving and dedicated mother, who, like all dedicated mothers, changed her life for her son. Also, Dragana is an inspiring professional, leading what it started as a voluntary parent initiative of dedicated parents and later on, evolved as the only network gathering parents all over Serbia — the ‘Parent Network’.
The network’s office covers three large rooms of an old house’s floor and it is a place opened to children, to their parents and to the network’s employees. At the time we were visiting their office, it was children’s hour: after having completed their school day, children were welcomed to spend a couple of hours in the office while their parents were still at work. It was a time that children loved! They were having a snack, were playing with their friends, and had stories read to them by the network’s educators. All, surrounded by toys, color and a friendly atmosphere. While the office is built for children, it also represents an information point for parents, as well as a place where parents meet to exchange opinions, talk about common issues, or to be trained in various topics .
After having met the children playing at that time, we talked to Dragana. We wanted to know how’s the ‘Parent Network’ doing, and what their future plans are. In the end, we were told an even more interesting story: what it takes to build up a network. Dragana explained us that every network is born out of a need existing in society — and out of people’s joint determination to fill in that need. Needs create motivation, motivation generates actions and innovation, which lead to social change. It’s all entailed in the vocation of a non-profit network.
She went through this experience herself, a few years ago, in Serbia, and she was driven by a need of her own: she had just become a mother and she had just gone through a maternity leave from her work. While in Serbia, mothers are supposed to benefit of a financial support during their maternity leave, things happened differently for Dragana. She was not informed about the support the company she had been working for owed her and finally, she didn’t receive any financial support for so many months. Several months after, Dragana understood that her rights had been violated. Thus, she decided to talk about it to other parents. First, she wanted to turn towards organisations addressing parental issues. None of these existed at the time, in Serbia. So she went on-line, and explained her situation on a discussion forum called ‘Parents’ and looked out for answers and support. To her amazement, so many parents replied back to her: they had suffered the same treatment and it seemed to be a rather general treatment in Serbia — future parents being unaware of their rights. Somehow, at the time, local authorities and their procedures in Serbia didn’t care much about informing the parents of their basic rights! This is why, following up several discussions, Dragana, together with fifteen more parents, decided to join forces in a network.
And they succeeded. In just one month, Dragana and the group of parents formed a ‘parent network’ where parents could communicate and could find support when they needed one. With help from other similar networks in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, their network became a platform that was ready to fight for the rights of both parents and their children. Now ‘Parents Network’ is spread all around Serbia, including 15 organisations addressing parental issues and organising singular events around the country — like the Brest-Feeding week — being a trusted media partner and a regular expertise provider for decision-makers.
Did they have any money to build up their network? Dragana says: “When you are an angry mother, you do not need money to get organised”. All they had was the motivation to accomplish change in their society. Their mission is to patch up faulty gaps in the Serbian system and make sure that parents in Serbia are connected to each other and to their rights.