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Why is sustainability an essential ingredient of our projects?

by , 14th Jun 2019

Did you ever wonder how does our journey to opening a new kindergarten actually look like? Who do we work with, how do we choose the location, and finally how do we achieve our results? Since your support has a major role in our mission, we wanted to share with you more about our work and projects. So, Marko, our project manager, decided to take you with him to once again visit the kindergarten we opened in Macvan Prnjavor.

It was a gloomy Wednesday morning, but our team was working in full force. Novak’s birthday campaign was coming up, we were preparing for the Walk a Mile for a Smile, and at the same time, we were working on an opening of… Well, we’ll leave that last one as a surprise! However, besides all those new projects, Marko, our project manager, also decided to revisit an old one. In February this year, the Novak Djokovic Foundation in cooperation with local authorities, opened the first kindergarten in the village near Sabac. Marko wanted to see how the kids and teachers settled in and to bring them some additional gifts. He decided to bring you all with him and give you an exclusive insight into our work. You can watch Marko’s full field trip in Prnjavor right here.

So, let’s start from the beginning – why do we invest in early childhood development?

James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and an expert in the economics of human development, has proved that quality early childhood development heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large. He said:

“A solid body of research shows the cost-effectiveness of early childhood development in helping to prevent achievement gaps, boost school achievement, promote better health outcomes, improve our workforce, increase productivity, and reduce the need for costly social spending.”

In 2014, UNICEF research showed that, in Serbia, only 50% of children aged 3 to 5 are enrolled in a preschool program. In rural areas, this percentage drops down to 22%.  So, we pledged to change these statistics for the better. To us, every child is a champion and deserves a chance to make all of his dreams come true. We wanted to give every child in Serbia a quality start that would help him develop all of his potentials. We wanted that not only for the benefit of him and his family – but, for the benefit of all of us as.

Kid playing with his new toys in the kindergarten in the village of Macvan Prnjavor.

Kid playing with his new toys in the kindergarten in the village of Macvan Prnjavor.

Until now we have built or reconstructed 43 kindergartens, supported 980 families, trained around 1.575 teachers and helped around 22.000 children. But, how did we achieve that?

The key ingredient of our work is that we only invest in sustainable, long-term projects.

After unloading some gifts from the van (a couple of carpets that are perfect for children’s play), Marko explained how the opening of kindergarten in Prnjavor was an endeavor that will result in many long term benefits.

“We first mapped different parts of Serbia and scanned for economically challenged rural areas that require preschool education.  Prnjavor was chosen because, among the 4,000 people living here, there were many parents with children aged three to six who didn’t have a chance to attend kindergarten. We realized the importance of investing in this area and signed the cooperation agreement with the town of Sabac. We worked with the local authorities that helped us find this building. They also helped us resolve all technical documentation and install new carpentry on the building.

 This kindergarten was actually an old Health Centre before, that we managed to reconstruct with the help of our partners. We changed all the installations and equipped it with modern furniture, toys, books, didactic material, etc. We also built two playgrounds. The result is this modern facility that provides more than 100 children with early quality education”, explained Marko while proudly strolling down kindergarten hallways.

Kindergarten in Prnjavor before and after the reconstruction by the Novak Djokovic Foundation.

Kindergarten in Prnjavor before and after the reconstruction by the Novak Djokovic Foundation.

 So, the major part of our achievements is our close cooperation with local authorities.

They help us find a building that we can refurbish or a piece of land on which we can build a kindergarten. They also provide us with all necessary technical documentation so we could obtain all permits and building licenses. By working with local authorities, the kindergartens become a powerful part of the community. While children receive the quality education they deserve, at the same time the whole community receives a long term benefit that can cross generations. By opening a kindergarten in these rural areas, we invest in their economies.

Namely, if there are no quality schools, families have to move to cities in search of a better future for their children. That further contributes to the centralization of Serbia and impoverishment of rural areas. However, when we open a kindergarten, we give an incentive to the families to stay in their villages. That also inspires the Serbian government to further invest in the early development which additionally contributes to the sustainability of our projects.

 

But besides toys and books, what do we all remember when we daydream about our kindergarten days? Our teachers.

Teachers are the heartbeat of a school. That is why we are passionate about training and encouraging our teachers. Again, by working with local authorities, we educate, train, and empower teachers. That way we ensure that all future generations living in these rural areas receive quality early education.

The kindergarten in Prnjavor was no exception – there we have provided accredited programs for 30 educators. We continually check in with our teachers and offer them ongoing guidance and support. So, Marko sat down with Branka, one of the teachers in Prnjavor to talk about how everyone got accustomed to the kindergarten.

“Kids love to mix among themselves and to visit other groups. Recently they started creating theater plays on their own! Their parents are very satisfied, which you can tell by the number of enrolled children – over 100! Also, thanks to all the training the teachers received, including me, now we can implement some modern teaching methods”, said Branka.

Branka, the teacher (left), Jelena Djokovic (center) and Marko Kovacevic (right) playing with kids during the opening of the kindergarten.

Branka, the teacher (left), Jelena Djokovic (center) and Marko Kovacevic (right) playing with kids during the opening of the kindergarten.

And that is the final part of our projects – modern teaching methods.

Our schools focus on each child as an individual and as a member of society as a whole. We use an up-to-date curriculum because we believe that each child has the right to discover their own limitless potential so that as they grow they can contribute to the world in positive ways. In the kindergartens and preschools we build, we promote healthy lifestyles. Children learn the importance of healthy nutrition, exercise, sports, and quality leisure time.

However, when we open a kindergarten we do not stop there. We continue to invest in projects that build a complete support network for children in those areas.

Through our project called “Support, not perfection “, we also support their parents. Parents go through an educative, interactive and motivational cycle of workshops. They receive professional support for resolving all their potential parenthood dilemmas. They are given space where they can share their problems, experience, and feelings with other parents and learn something new.

Therefore, by building new and fully equipped kindergartens, working closely with local authorities, providing modern methods of teaching and supporting teachers and parents – we invest in long-term, sustainable projects that will benefit all future generations. When we nurture and encourage our children through quality early development, we first and foremost contribute to our future society. “It’s amazing to see how everyone made this kindergarten as their little home. I am so eager to see it blossom years to come”, said Marko and went to enjoy the music performance children prepared for him.

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