Serbia is celebrating Children’s Week under the slogan “What a child needs to reach for the sky”. Over the past 15 years, through its work, Novak Djokovic Foundation has been trying to provide the answer to this question.
What do you want to be when you grow up? We all remember this question, don’t we? It was asked many times when we were children. At home, at school, and the first written assignments after we discovered the magic of turning thoughts into letters and words with the most powerful tool: a pen and a clean piece of paper. And some answers we had!
We were going to be pilots, painters, ballerinas, actresses, soccer players, postmen, bakers, superheroines, veterinarians, wizards, princesses. Did we make it? Growing up, children still do not have clearly defined contours that will tell them where the line between fantasy and reality lies. The more they grow up and become familiar with social constructs, the pendulum of imagination slowly wanes in its swing. While forgetting to dream, grades in school, the attention of other boys and girls, the color of the backpack and the sneakers we wear slowly become our priority.
Adopting responsibility is inevitable and much needed. A conscious approach to life can give us meaning and create healthy habits that will give birth to discipline. If we are disciplined, we are much more likely to discover our purpose and calling later in life. And just as many things in life move in circles, it is imperative that we do not forget to dream because that magical ability is never lost. A person who has not forgotten to dream and has continued to nurture their inner child, in addition to having gained discipline – knows that every effort pays off and has a greater chance of being better to themselves and others.
A key role in the development of every child is played by the adults who surround him. Vladeta Jerotic said that the two most difficult and responsible jobs in the world are running a country and raising children. Parenting is the hardest “job” in the world and everyone does it differently, depending on the circumstances. The constant balancing between 1. what the family needs to thrive and have greater prospects for better long-term well-being and 2. devoting time, attention and love to your child to whom you are the center of the world is a see-saw that is not easy to play on, especially when you carry bags full of electricity bills, tiny winter boots, doctor’s prescriptions, and shopping lists at one end. Not to mention spending quality time and nurturing your relationship with your partner or, God forbid, personal pleasure, hobbies, or hanging out with friends. Sometimes it seems to us that our day would still be short even if it lasted 36 hours.
It is undeniable that happiness is an important factor in life. Of three children with the same interests, talents and intelligence, which one stands the best chance of living a meaningful life: the one born in a developed country of Western Europe, a war-torn area in the Middle East, or the poor quarters of a huge city in Southeast Asia? We all know the answer to this question. And behold, against all odds, even that small, forgotten village will give birth to a hero who will be celebrated by the whole world. If it weren’t for one such seven-year-old boy from Belgrade who played at night and dreamed of becoming a champion, you probably wouldn’t be reading this text.
However, that same world would be a much better place if, instead of glorifying unlikely underdogs and heroes for rising above all adversities (which should be done, but not taking advantage of it and using it as a distraction from other more immediate problems – panem et circenses), we create a more inclusive environment in which the three children I mentioned above will have similar odds at pursuing happiness. An environment in which they will not know of hunger, poverty, and the lack of a roof over their heads.
There are many problems in the world and they cannot be solved with a magic wand, unfortunately. But they can be gradually untangled with the involvement of different agents, individual and institutional, local and international, who want to help. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” The mission of the Novak Djokovic Foundation was born precisely out of that simplest and most innate human desire: to help. Like a child who gives you one of her lollipops or help a puppy to bed because it’s too small to climb it. The point of every work, job, and profession in this world is to help ourselves by helping others.
Better to prevent than to cure – goes the old saying of the Serbian people. The first five years of life are a crucial period for a child’s development. During this period, the child’s brain develops much faster, which affects his physical, cognitive, emotional, and social progress. Studies show that a child who had access to quality early education is more likely to lead a more fulfilled life than a child who did not have that same opportunity. Unfortunately, many children in Serbia still do not have access to preschool education as there is no room in preschool for everyone. That is why a large number of our children grow up without developing their skills and knowledge early on. In order to change that, the Novak Djokovic Foundation has defined its mission to provide every child in Serbia with access to quality early education. Thanks to the great support of partners and donors from all over the world, our work has seen us open 52 preschools, help over 52,000 children, train over 2,200 teachers, and empower more than 8,100 parents during the 15 years of our existence.
Being a parent is not easy and there is no recipe for the perfect parent, because such a thing does not exist. More than seven billion souls are writing their own life story every day, and each of them was a child once. How nice would it be if every story was painted with the brightest of colors.
I remember one of the first written assignments in elementary school – “My Mom”. I remember beginning it with the sentence that my mom is my second favorite person, right after my favorite football player. Eh! Mihajlovic, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo… I can’t remember which one it was at the time. How so? Maybe I’d already started looking at the color of my classmate’s backpack or started noticing who brought yummier sandwiches to the picnic. But I do remember carefully patched socks, the smell of breakfast while watching Tom & Jerry before school, or that one time when I got “educated” for stealing a chewing gum from the shop.
I also remember another assignment on what I wanted to be when I grow up. I don’t remember what I wrote back then and, to be honest, I don’t know what I would answer if I was asked the same question now. Or maybe I do know? If I’m honest, I didn’t even know what I was going to write about in this text, but I’d say that it didn’t turn out that bad.
I bought four Pokemon plush toys the other day. And I think I just burned my lunch!
And, lest I forget: Happy Children’s Week!
The author of this text is DuÅ¡an PetroviÄ‡, Editor of the Novak Djokovic Foundation Blog.