“Always work hard. Knowledge is your strength.“Read this inspirational story from Novak’s visit to the families included in the “Support Families at Risk” project and find out what their lives were before and how they are now, and you will understand what prompted us to support this initiative.
February 2014. It was a cold winter morning. It feels almost as if it happened yesterday. Novak Djokovic was expected to arrive any minute to meet the families included in our “Support Families at risk” project. I was already there to welcome the families, to see how they were doing, to talk to them, and to try to get them to relax a bit before the meeting with Novak and Jelena. Some of them were really anxious, hardly waiting to finally shake their hands. They told me how they admired and respected Nole and his wife.
All these families worked really hard to make ends meet. They had too little life’s happiness, and too much life’s sorrow. Their eyes spoke volumes of what they had to endure every day. It really made me sad.
I was sitting next to a man and a woman who were talking between each other about their life experiences. They tried to be really quiet, almost as if they were afraid that someone would overhear them. Father was deaf, mother unemployed. They had three children. Their older daughter was placed in the institution for social care for a few years. Their two other kids were still very small. One of them has just learned to walk.
The whole family lived in a single, small-sized, dark room without basic living conditions. Ana, their family outreach worker, thought the best solution to their problem was to rent them a bigger apartment. In addition, the father promised he would try to find a job as soon as possible. The whole plan was successful, and it started to change lives of these people and their children for better. I’ve noticed how excited they were to meet Novak. They looked neat and presentable.
“Please try to understand. I don’t want to be photographed. My friends don’t know anything about our situation, and I’d prefer to keep it like that”, said their eldest daughter. I told her not to worry. There would be no images of her and her family in the media.
Shortly afterwards, another family arrived. It was a single-parent family: a father who took care of four children. Two boys and two girls. The youngest daughter was a child with disabilities. The older son’s arm was in a plaster cast.
“What happened?” I asked him.
Quietly, as if to make sure that nobody else could hear him, he gave me a sincere answer: “I’ve got in a fight with other boys from school”.
“I hope you don’t do that often?”
“Oh, no. Only if they tease me, or call me names. I have to defend myself. Otherwise, I’m afraid the things would get even worse. They can be so cruel”.
His words didn’t sound as an excuse. He was sincere as only a child can be. I got quite emotional listening to him.
It was obvious the boy had problems to fit in, and be accepted by his peers. There was even a possibility for him to be placed in an institution, away from his family if he continued with such a violent behaviour.
Novak and Jelena arrived. They were in a good mood, smiling, even more excited than the families they were going to meet.
“You have a plaster cast? How did you break your arm? Did you fall?” Novak asked the boy. He told him his story.
“You mustn’t behave like that. You have to study, school is your chance to win, and to show the others, especially those who tease you, that you are better and smarter. You have to show that you can do a lot more. If you do your best at school and try to learn something new, you will clear your path to success. When you get your first job and take your first pay check, please remember what I’ve told you. I’ll be proud of you and your achievements. You should also be proud of yourself, but also of your father. He struggles every day to raise you and your siblings in the best possible way. Life is never easy and you know it very well…”, Novak said to the boy. The kid just listened and cried. He hugged Novak tightly.
“I need a support. I need someone who believes in me and my family. You and our family outreach worker are the first who showed you truly care”, said the boy.
“Before family outreach worker came to our home, we didn’t have birthday parties. We never had a cake, never blew the candles and made a wish, never enjoyed these wonderful moments. Everything changed for the better. I can hardly find the words to describe how happy we are now”, added the father.
Novak and Jelena, together with UNICEF Representative in the Republic of Serbia Michel Saint Lot, had a long talk with children and their parents. The family outreach workers took part in discussion as well. They exchanged experiences, encouraged them, talked about how important it is for the family to stick together, to love, to help and to respect one another, to work hard to become better, successful and satisfied.
Novak gave everybody a gift as a memory of this day. The boy with a broken arm got a wonderful present. Novak signed his autograph on the plaster cast and left a message – “Always work hard. Knowledge is your strenght. Best, Novak”
This is just one of the great many stories about family outreach workers and families that have been included in the project. Family is the most important thing in life. Family is the basic building block of society. It provides a lot of love and support to all its members.