The main goal is the education of children and adults because we believe in the importance of strengthening organizations similar to ours. To achieve this goal, we are visiting various places across Serbia.
Each individual can be the key initiator of change. If adequate solutions for a healthier and cleaner environment are offered to decision-makers, citizens will support it. It is crucial to agree upon the proposed solutions and their method of implementation. It is essentially important that we leave our descendants a healthy and clean environment and teach them to take care of it on their own, said Vanja Petković, winner of the VIRTUS Award for individual philanthropy for 2021 and president of the Association “Čepom do osmeha” from Novi Sad.
This year you received the prestigious VIRTUS Award for individual philanthropy. What does this recognition mean to you?
I am very grateful and proud to be the winner of this important award, both in my and in the name of the entire team – the group of precious people working and creating good together with me. As an ecologist and president of the association that holds the title of the best long-term volunteer action in Serbia and the region, and also as a mother of three children, I believe that education aimed at developing empathy and solidarity towards children, people with disabilities and the environment is the foundation of the upbringing of new generations. Awarding such recognitions enables good deeds not to go unnoticed.
What are the basic goals of the Association “Čepom do osmeha”?
The main goal is the education of children and adults because we believe in the importance of strengthening organizations similar to ours. To achieve this goal, we are visiting various places across Serbia. Partnership and trust are crucial and we are trying to show with our work and perseverance that we can do it, that we are ready. We want to find a solution and reduce the waste in our environment. We need to be aware of the fact that the state of our environment is not at a desirable level and that it is high time we become more conscious. Funds provided by waste collection and recycling can significantly improve the lives of children with disabilities.
In May, cleaning actions will be organized in 8 towns across Serbia: Novi Pazar, Čačak, Valjevo, Nova Pazova, Niš, Vranje, Bačka Palanka and Subotica.
Which projects and actions, implemented by the Association, would you single out?
The most important result that I am proud of is the 65 purchased aids for children with disabilities country-wide. These aids, wheelchairs and electric wheelchairs, significantly help children in their daily routine. Some aids, such as portable laptops for the blind, or assertive advanced technology in the form of touch screens for easier communication, also assist their education and contribute to improving their opportunities to gain knowledge. Aids for easier socialization and leisure activities were also procured, such as electric tricycles, therapeutic tricycles, electric verticalizers, and many others.
Empowering and employing people with disabilities is also one of our top priorities. I am very proud of our employees with disabilities in the Association. Each day, those three colleagues enrich and teach us empathy and solidarity, and help our personal growth.
A project I would also like to single out is the installation of two combined playgrounds specially adapted for children with disabilities. Until 2018, when the first was opened in Novi Sad, there was no such playground in Serbia.
Also, approx. 650 tons of plastic plugs have been collected in Serbia so far, which has made a significant contribution to preserving our environment. We educate on environmental protection, teaching preschool, school children, and university students throughout Serbia how much, as individuals, we can influence the ecosystem through our choices and daily actions. We have educated over 60,000 children through our workshops so far. The competition for children is announced once a year, and more information can be found on the Association’s website.
Are new humanitarian activities planned?
Our priority is to make our environment a healthier and cleaner place to live. In May, cleaning actions will be organized in 8 towns across Serbia: Novi Pazar, Čačak, Valjevo, Nova Pazova, Niš, Vranje, Bačka Palanka and Subotica. In this way, we want to diversify and educate environmental movements, associations and eco-activists, because united we can do much more. At the same time, through all these activities, we are conducting an eco-caravan, which is an innovative activity of setting up colorful bins (red – cans, blue – paper, green – glass, yellow – PET packaging and corks, brown – biowaste). In that way, we educate citizens about the primary separation of waste, we conduct a survey on the current level of awareness about environmental protection and the desire of citizens to introduce this principle at the national level.
The Association “Čepom do osmeha” has also developed the application “Eco – Hero”, through which every citizen can directly contribute to the improvement of the environment in two ways: the first is to photograph the environmental problem and forward it to the team which should find a greener solution and second is to find places in Serbia where they can carry their waste for recycling.