Marijan Tustonja: I firmly believe that we are in charge of our own destiny and that individuals can make change happen, but we can’t do it alone


Marijan Tustonja is a 25-year-old with an MA in Social Work. At first glance, Marijan is a shy young man, but his story is one of a brave struggle against a life that pushed him to his limits and ultimately forged a strong, successful young man. At the age of 6, Marijan was separated from his mother and siblings, due to the difficult conditions the family was living in. He was taken to Mothers Village, in Međugorje, where he lived until the age of 18.

The adversity he faced in life left him exposed to stigmatization. Despite the hardship, Marijan was valedictorian of his high school.

– For as long as I can remember, I’ve always told myself that no matter what my circumstances are I can never give up. Instead, I have to invest in myself so one day I can look back and say I’ve achieved something thanks to everything I’ve learned. I didn’t have anyone who would “give me a push”.

As a freshman, he joined ZAMFIS, the Association of Social Work Students and started to actively fight for equal rights for all. During the final year of his MA program, he took over the leadership of the Student Assembly, as the first Social Work student in this role.

One good thing led to another, and his hard work and dedication started paying off. It was a rocky road, but now Marijan has an MA in Social Work and is working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Work of the University of Mostar’s Faculty of Philosophy.

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During 2017, he took part in a training for Expert Associates on Youth Work conducted by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of Olof Palme International Center. During the training, Marijan’s proactive attitude and team spirit shone through and in February he became a certified Expert Associate on Youth Work. He now uses his non-formal education and youth work methods in formal education and his work with students.

– I think the most important thing the training for Expert Associates on Youth Work taught me is to discover what young people need and what problems they’re facing. Young people being students, in my case. I particularly try to support students with developmental disabilities. I want to amplify their voices so they can be heard. I always tell myself I need to gauge what young people need, be approachable and ask them what they want and expect from me, and then use that input to plan the steps I need to take.

Marijan says that life sometimes has a strange way of preparing us and giving us strength for things ahead. Although Marijan’s life was full of obstacles, his main focus was always equality and fighting for those who are marginalized, who can’t fight for themselves.  

– The training really made me aware of my rights as a citizen of this country, it taught me to speak up about problems I have. Before the training, Marijan thought he could do everything alone because that’s what he always had to do. However, the people I met during the training made me feel and think like a part of a team. I think that we improve, grow and mature a bit every day. I firmly believe that we are in charge of our own destiny and that individuals can make change happen, but we can’t do it alone.

Marijan Tustonja is living proof that investing in yourself and your education gives you the best return on investment. A positive example of young people who stay and fight for a healthier society.

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