Towards social inclusion in Šavnik: Montenegro’s forgotten region
The number of old, lonely and ill people unable to meet their own basic needs continues to grow in rural areas of Montenegro, some of which not connected by any sort of organized transport.
Social exclusion has been recognized by the Government of Montenegro as one of major societal challenges, and its eradication has been made one of key priorities. With an aim to facilitate access of vulnerable, socially excluded groups to comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable family and community based services, the UNDP partnered with UNICEF, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and Ministry of Education and Sports for the project “Social Welfare and Child Care Reform – Enhancing Social Inclusion“, financed by the EU.
One of the supported social services through this programme is “Domestic Help for the Elderly” in the Šavnik terrain vast with over 30 villages. The aim is to provide basic help to the 30 most vulnerable elderly households with approximately 50 individuals, who are cut off from the society.
- The Project “Social Welfare and Child Care Reform – Enhancing Social Inclusion“ has financially supported establishment and running of 17 local social services, with total number of 1452 beneficiaries, in six municipalities of Montenegro.
- The best practices of social services provision will be replicated from pilot to other municipalities in Montenegro.
- Three nationwide conferences were organized with over 120 participants from Social Welfare area (institutions at central and local level, local self-governments, civil society organisations). The conferences were used as the opportunity to initiate discussion on decentralization of social services provision.
Due to the lack of state-provided services, transportation and proper infrastructure, Šavnik’s elderly rural residents are virtually incapacitated in performing everyday tasks – buying groceries, registration of documents, bill payments and taking to the doctor. In many cases, these people lack the benefits of good health and the support of a family – in such state of social exclusion, the services and frequent visits of the volunteers provided through this Project by Red Cross volunteers are not only of practical use, but of emotional value as well.
Upon meeting Ranko Žižić, the director of the Red Cross programme “Domestic Help for the Elderly”, we got in a car and began ascending further up into the mountains. We were heading to the programme’s beneficiaries, most of who reside in villages well over 1,000 meters above sea level.
While riding on the bumpy road, with a large canyon awing us to our left, Mr. Žižić pointed to abandoned homes and spoke of numerous families which left the Šavnik region following the 1990's, as a result of increasing economic degradation. “We get very little outside help, there is no infrastructure and it is questionable if this town will survive the next two decades,” said Mr. Žižić.
The nature which surrounded us became mesmerizing with its beauty and overpowering with its majestic silence; yet somehow, it was as if you could still hear echoing voices of those who once used to live here.
The long road to Mr. Milovan Peković's (92) house made it easy to understand just how desperate, secluded and detached these individuals are; how unlikely and especially challenging it must be during those snow filled winter months to provide any sort of help which would ensure their well-being and sustenance.
Mr. Peković, although living alone, remains a vibrant and hopeful man despite all the tragedies which found him several years ago. Of his four daughters, only one is alive today. His wife passed two years ago, leaving him completely alone in his home which even young persons had difficulty reaching. “These people mean so much. They help me get water, and help me with the bills. I am an old man and can’t go far. It's good that they are here and I thank them all,” told us Mr. Peković.
Some 30km away in the village of Krnja Jela, Grdinić Mara (74) awaited our visit. Like Mr. Peković she too was extremely happy to see us. “Their help means so much. God forbid that they couldn’t come. It would be difficult,” said Ms.Grdenić who was busy preparing ‘mladi sir’ (unripe cheese) in her tiny kitchen which also served as her living and dining room.
As these isolated individuals long for company, the programme also organizes a transportation service which brings them together with old friends around the region. In fact, Mr. Žižić mentioned that they were able to reunite two individuals after nearly 20 years!
Šavnik’s elderly rural residents are only one of numerous disadvantaged groups in Montenegro facing the lack of understanding, public visibility, support from the society and adequate services and aid. Even though the programme in Šavnik is still in its early stages, it is evident that all 48 beneficiaries have something to look forward to in a place which is steadily becoming a synonym for social exclusion. While many of Šavnik’s inhabitants, and not just the isolated elderly, feel that they have been forgotten, efforts such as these may help to restore hope for a dignified future, for a greater sense of importance and belonging.