He is a physical education teacher working in two primary schools, president of the society of PE teachers in his town, the head of the local volleyball club, and a trainer in a karate club. The hero juggling all this is Dejan Blagojević – a 38-year-old from Novi Grad, a municipality in Krajina near the border with Croatia.
We met up with Dejan in the morning, in the city center. Although schools are closed this Saturday, he’s still working. He told us he just came back from a forest where he has been working on marking a running route. Although he loves all sports, running is his favourite. That’s why he doesn’t mind organising several races in addition to all the other obligations he has. He is particularly proud of the marathon “In the footsteps of Branko Ćopić” and the “Freedom Race”, where hundreds of participants race on the streets of Novi Grad, mostly children.
His fondness for his home town and children encouraged Dejan to initiate the construction of a children’s playground. He told us that this idea came to him when he was taking a stroll down the beautiful Una river walk and noticed that there were a lot of children playing outside. He soon realized that the children didn’t have a nearby space where they could play safely.
Dejan, being a man of action, couldn’t just sit and do nothing. As a physical education teacher, I’d feel ashamed if I didn’t do this for my community, if I didn’t launch this initiative, said Dejan.
With the help of his friends, two physical education teachers who supported the idea since the beginning along with Dejan, he managed to inspire and engage the entire local community, although he’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t easy.
People were a little unprepared when we started, especially those I needed to help me directly. We had to try hard to explain what it is that we want, because this is the first initiative of this type, said Dejan.
Still, he says, once people understood what we wanted, they approached us and gave us their wholehearted support. Although I had to go see them multiple times, it wasn’t a burden because I just wanted to leave something behind for the kids who live in our town.
Thanks to the locals, local entrepreneurs, the municipal government and the localworks initiative, which supported this initiative with 5,989 BAM, the kids of Novi Grad now have “Bambi”, a new playground near the Una river walk.
The most challenging part of the project for Dejan was coordinating the work of all people taking part in the action. The physical labour, the measuring and planning, communicating with the municipal government, bringing a surveyor and talking to donors and suppliers – it all had to be well-coordinated to ensure that everything goes according to plan. For a man of action such as Dejan, this was a completely new experience.
Now, with the experience that he has, he would like to turn his attention to sports tourism. Adaptations of the river channel and construction of public swimming spots could attract a lot of tourists from the nearby cities of Banja Luka, Gradiška, Bihać and other cities. Rafting and kayaking on the river Una, complemented with good food and hospitality, are one of the strong points of Novi Grad.
Running has some tourist potential too. The popularity of running is booming right now, and I think it will become one of the most popular sports in BiH in the next few years, said Dejan, adding that marathons and half-marathons are not just sporting events, but also tourist attractions in big European cities.
Dejan, who says he’s an optimist by nature, thinks that life in Novi Grad is good, and that this town has a bright future with a little bit of effort and help from the community. However, a small dark cloud now is threatening the brightness – there are plans to build a nuclear waste disposal site right next to Una.
I think people are unaware of how beautiful this river is – it’s one of the cleanest rivers in Europe. We swim in Una, so basically we drink the water. This waste disposal site is supposed to be located 800 m from Novi Grad, with out drinking water reservoir right across from it. You can imagine the psychological effect this could have on people, said the hero of this story, with a concerned look.
Still, he says he’s planning to stay in his home town, and would like others to know that they should be fighters, believe in their dreams, walk boldly towards their goal, without stopping or settling for anything less, and if they can’t be number one, they should always try to be near the top.
The construction of the “Bambi” playground was supported by the localworks initiative, implemented by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of USAID. Opinions stated in this text are the sole responsibility of the author, and cannot be considered official opinions od USAID or the Institute for Youth Development KULT.