Gornja Koprivna: We Can Achieve Anything if We Work as a Community

The silence between school bells in “Gornja Koprivna Elementary”, in this Cazin community by that same name, is broken every once in a while by children’s voices coming from the schoolyard. The voices belong to preschoolers running around on the new playground, playing on the seesaw, going down the slide and spinning on the merry-go-round.

As soon as the bell rings, children from this school flock to the playground to join the fun. No one is too old to play. Still, this is about more than playing. In the center of the playground, there is a round table with a rotating tabletop and five metal benches – the outdoor classroom.

Since we need to hold classes outdoors sometimes, we came up with this idea for an outdoor classroom, said Amela Memić, a 35-year-old Bosnian teacher and the school’s librarian. Amela led the team of teachers and parents who made this idea a reality this year.

Thinking about what others need most, Amela decided that in addition to the outdoor classroom, there should also be a playground since preschoolers go to this school too.

According to the 2013 census, there are 3000 people living in this local community, located 8 km from Cazin. Another 3000 lived in the surrounding villages gravitating to this school. We say lived because this little town in Krajina has been losing people, who have been increasingly moving abroad over the past few years.

One of Amela’s two sons is the only student from the Toromani village in his class. Last year he had two friends from the village, they moved away with their families. The happy voices coming from the playground are also symbolic – they remind us that there are still children here, and where there are children there are homes too.

Her love for her home and country is Amela’s main motivation for her activism, with this playground just one in a series of successful actions and activities. Last year she spearheaded efforts to renovate the library and expand its catalogue.

Some of the projects she thought of were funded by NGOs, but some were implemented thanks to donations and support of the local community.

The outdoor classroom and children’s playground in the schoolyard of “Gornja Koprivna Elementary” is the result of both these models combined. localworks provided 8,811.50 BAM in funds and the entire local community contributed.

The school’s teaching staff and management, parents, local enterepreneurs, civil associations, religious community (Muslim congregation), former locals who live abroad, city administration – everyone did their little bit, said Amela. This action shows that we can do anything if we work together, as a community.

Amela isn’t going to stop here. The youngest locals now have a playground, and schoolchildren have an outdoor classroom, but there are still a lot of problems in the community that need solving.

Young people don’t have a place where they can gather, spend time together and feel motivated to work, and a lot of senior citizens don’t have caretakers, says Amela, following up with a solution: volunteer programs that the school could run could focus on supporting senior citizens.

This area is famous for their chestnuts and chestnut honey, but this, along with the potential for rural tourism are underutilized, says Amela.

We’re a smart people, we should use our knowledge and abilities to help others, said Amela, who was born in Zavidovići and has been living in Krajina for the past 10 years, after getting her MA in comparative literature.

She admits that her attachment to her home and family made for a hard beginning in a new place. But now she has a home and family in Krajina, where she lives with her husband and two children. That’s why she’s always sad when neighbors or coworkers decide to move abroad. 

We have to understand what home is and learn to appreciate what we have. We’re leaving to look for something we already have here – said Amela, ending with this message for all those reading this story: Use your abilities and your knowledge, make someone’s life better with your work. Because life is like a boomerang, the good we do will always come back to us.

The construction of the outdoor classroom and 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.

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