• Volunteering is developing yourself without any cost – Meet Jovana!

    Jovana Cedomirovic was a part of SIA Serbia volunteers team. During the four-month period she has shown a tremendous passion and dedication and has certainly improved the project’s visibility in Serbia. She believes that volunteering is an opportunity to learn about yourself and your abilities, meet interesting people and learn something new each day.  

    How did you become a part of Social Impact Award? 

    Due to the fact that I had a some free time, I looked for new volunteering opportunities. One day, I found out about an opportunity to volunteer on a project that involves social entrepreneurship. I was very curious to know how the entrepreneurship world actually works and I decided to apply. After a few days I was invited for an interview. I honestly did not expect that my application will even be reviewed. A couple of days after the interviews, I received an email saying that they are happy to announce that I will be part of their team as volunteer.  I was so happy that I got the opportunity to learn and to get introduced to the world of social entrepreneurship. Soon we had a first work meeting and so it all began. 🙂

    What has been your role in the project?  

    13320514_1002289089890671I was part of the communication team. Therefor my assignment has been communication with media and via social media channels. I was in charge of getting important announcements shared via media, websites and on social media networks. This meant that I had to communicate and address on daily basis a large number of people. Also I was taking care of communication with external press partners, such as newspapers, TV and radios. Even though this was my primary task, I was participant on few different workshops in Belgrade and other cities because we were sharing our tasks as a team. Because of all of this, I had a chance to see what is happening behind the scene in a project as big as this one is. So, not only have I gained experience in the field of communications, but I have also learned a bit about event and project management.

    You also learned more about social entrepreneurship. How do you plan to use this knowledge? Are you thinking of becoming a social entrepreneur yourself one day? 

    I am planning to stay in Serbia and try to work on my skills and knowledge that will help me to better understand social entrepreneurship. At the beginning of the project, I had a chance to see people developing their ideas and building projects out of them. Seeing people who notice the issues in the society and work towards solving them was quite impressive for me. Things like that make you think about your steps, your ideas and how you can influence the world you live in. Those are the things that I had a chance to see during my volunteering experience, and I hope one day I will take steps that will impact our society in a better way too.

    Have you gained some skills that will be important for your future career? 1

    I had a chance to do the things I love and I am most interested in, which is in the field of communications. However, I gained more than that. The most important thing that you can have during your volunteering experience is to grow as an individual, while being a part of the team. I loved having the freedom to ask anything I was unsure about, which only enabled me to learn more and perform better. I was working with a great project team, a sort of workaholics, who were working day and night in order to create a better society for all of us. During the time I was working with those people, while I was looking how they work and how passionate they are, I got motivated to do the same. I had the chance to learn how to start challenging myself, especially in those areas I never had a chance to work before. When I take a look at the past few months, all of those moments, minutes, and hours I spent working on SIA – it was completely worth it.

    Volunteering is becoming increasingly popular among young people, but there are still those who see it as “free work labor”. What message would you send to them? 

    Volunteering is developing yourself without any cost. Long term looking, that is something that is for free but most expensive and valuable thing you can do for yourself. Everything that we go through, each experience we get, each person we had a chance to meet – influence who we are now. I think that everyone of who went through volunteering experience knows that decision made his or hers future better. I think that volunteering helps you develop your skills and knowledge in practice, which make us aware of who we are and what we can do. I trully believe that volunteering makes our society a better place to live. Besides, meeting new people and learning something new cannot be a bad thing.

    My messages for all young people would be that they should invest time in themselves and use all the opportunities in front of them, especially those free of charge but priceless for our lives. Volunteering brings you a different view on the world!

  • Empowering independence

    Stefanie Strubreiter is in her late twenties, and lives with a disability. Yet, that never stopped her from pursuing her dreams. We met with the inspiring young woman to talk about work, the arts – and powerchair football.

    When we meet in the heart of Vienna, Stefanie Strubreiter (29) smoothly drives towards our table. With only a tip of her fingers, she skillfully maneuvers her motorised wheelchair right next to me and greets me with a smile.

    The fact that Stefanie lives with a disability is no barrier for her and her vivid lifestyle, she says. She studies media informatics at the Technical University, is goalkeeper at a powerchair football team – aiming to establish an Austrian Championship soon – meets with friends, visits museums and exhibitions and tries to find her place in the professional world, just as any other young woman in her twenties.

    Art makes everyone equal

    Well, maybe not just as any because Stefanie is part of an outstanding arts project that deals with non-aligned bodies in society. “We discuss this topic in two parts with a performance and a scientific basis. So, next to the theoretical reflection our events always include a performance part where the topic becomes more tangible and visible for the audience,” Stefanie explains.

    While she maintains the web platform and helps organise events, the organisation Mixed-Abled Dance & Performance (MAD) is a way for Stefanie to combine her studies, work experience and love for the arts. “Art is a way to treat everyone equally. Society is often full of prejudices but art can link everything together.” Since 2008, Stefanie has been living with personal assistance which supports her in living an autonomous life at work and at home. “It’s funny, but sometimes I don’t even notice them being around. It has become perfectly natural for me.”

    The spirit of the team

    While her day is packed with studies, work and meeting friends, Stefanie still finds time for football practice. For her, a team sport too is a way of meeting people on eye level. “I have been playing for a year now and it’s a great way of winding down after the daily grind. Just like in art, in sports there is no difference. While everyone might have their own tasks, they also have to stick together in order to reach a common goal. I found out about powerchair football by coincidence and stayed due to the encouraging sports and community spirit.”

    At the moment Stefanie is already busy preparing the next edition of MAD’s “Swaying” event, which will take place in Linz, and visits her usual workspace only rarely due to many external appointments. “I am taking care of the organisation and many other things. It can be quite exhausting but I need that. I guess I am just an active person by nature.” Her ever-hungry attitude is also what brought her to places like Berlin or London and travelling has become her dearest hobby ever since.

    Supporting independence

    “I don’t feel different. In fact – I am not different. Maybe when it comes to going up and down the stairs but that’s what I have got support for. My personal assistance is just like an extension of my arms – they help me be independent and manage things on my own.”

    When asked about what she would change in today’s world, she thinks for while and assertively replies: “What I would wish for is peace and respect for everyone. There is a lot of injustice and power struggle in our society, so what we need is simply respect – not just for other people but also for the nature and the whole universe.”

  • Branko the Bodyguard

    I see myself as a protector. I always need to protect someone, somewhere, says Branko, a former bodyguard from Serbia currently seeking a better life in Austria. But who can protect him?

    Branko (his name has been changed here to protect his true identity) is a good example of the many migrants who lie in the grey area between involuntary refugee and an economic opportunist. He and his second wife are both native Serbians who now reside in Austria, where they struggle to find work without having the required permits. He is not, strictly speaking, a refugee from war or political repression, but his reasons for leaving his homeland are no less valid and existential – yet they are unlikely to win him official asylum within the EU.

    Taking hits for the team

    Like many compatriots of his generation, Branko (52) doesn’t want to talk about the horrors of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but he is proud of his accomplishments while living in Serbia. While simultaneously studying telecommunications at university, competing as a professional full-contact karate fighter (“I was European champion and second in the world in 1986”), and playing ice hockey (“the only Serb on the Yugoslav team at the Sarajevo olympics in 1984”), Branko became a professional bodyguard for the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

    I need a new vision. The past is too heavy, too difficult to remember. My power was taken away from me.

    Branko recalls, “I protected many powerful Serbs like Slobodan Milošević and [his opponent/successor] Zoran Đinđić.” After the latter’s assassination in 2003, Branko wouldn’t work for politicians anymore. In his 20 years as a bodyguard, he was shot three times – once in the leg and twice in his back.

    A hard worker

    But Branko isn’t just brawn – he also has decades of work experience, first for Telekom Srbija and then as a manager of operations for DHL. In the 1990’s, he even opened his own state-of-the-art music recording studio, but “the political structure in Serbia confiscated it all,” he claims. The stresses of his life brought on health problems – he’s had two heart attacks and a stroke.

    Too young to retire

    At his age, Branko is not exactly a prime candidate to be sponsored for a work permit by an Austrian employer, despite his decades of diverse experience, especially in the logistics sector. He won’t be eligible for his Serbian pension for another 13 years and even then, it won’t be enough for him to live on. “My father was a college professor for 45 years, but his pension is 250 euros a month. It’s embarrassing.”

    Maybe God will protect me. He gave me hope three times. I’ve recovered from two heart attacks and stroke and I still look like a fit, strong man.

    Now Branko must sell off all of his worldly possessions to survive and to support his 6-year-old daughter, who remained in Serbia with his ex-wife. “I just had to sell my car and motorbike and soon I’ll have to sell my apartment in Serbia. After that, I’ll have to sell the clothes off my back or my kidney. I don’t know what happens tomorrow. We must find a job, get working permits, but how? I don’t know.”

    No going back

    If it doesn’t work out for him in Austria, Branko has no Plan B. He won’t return to Serbia, because  “There are too many problems there,” he says. “The politicians are corrupt; society is in decline; people don’t have money; they steal, lie and cheat. I’m afraid civil war is coming to Serbia soon, something like in the Ukraine.”