The Academy of Young Leaders with Disabilities is an innovative activity launched at the beginning of 2020 by the National Organization of Persons with Disabilities of Serbia, with the financial support of the Department for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs.
The aim of this activity is to mobilize, motivate and strengthen the capacities of young people with different types of disabilities from all over Serbia to join the disability movement of Serbia, and to support continuous and long-term practice-based learning.
After two years, the Academy of Young Leaders with Disabilities counts 15 people with different types of physical and sensory disabilities – people with neuromuscular diseases, cerebral palsy and polio, paraplegia, blind and hearing-impaired people from all over Serbia.
The Academy brought together young people of different interests, guided by the idea that an individual can initiate a change, and that joint action can create a society tailored to all citizens.
Dejana Backo from Novi Sad was born on 9 December 1994. Dejana speaks with a smile, and she achieves sporting success in every field she tries her hand at. With her incredible talent for painting, she left her mark in the fine arts. Since she was nine years old, she has been a member of the International Association of Mouth and Foot Painters of the World (VDMFK), while in 2021 she earned the title of Bachelor of Fine Arts at the “Educons” University. She held solo painting exhibitions in many cities throughout Serbia.
In secondary school, she started practicing taekwondo, and over the years she won numerous medals at European and world championships, and today she is world champion in this discipline, for the second time. Since 2019, she has also been practicing archery, and in the same year she won the national championship. She transposed her life story and constant struggle into motivational speaking, which in time resulted in the implementation of a project aimed at helping people embrace healthy lifestyle habits, work on themselves, and improve the quality of life itself through discipline and changing the way they eat.
Milica Veljkovic from Novi Sad was born on 30 October 1991. With her tireless spirit and endless enthusiasm, Milica proves by her example that it is possible to change the world. Freedom of choice and freedom of being is what guides her, and activism has opened many doors for her, and today she is active in the fields of rights of persons with disabilities, rights of women and young people, mental health protection. Being employed at the public broadcasting service Radio-Television Vojvodina she, as a journalist and activist who deals with sensitive and not sufficiently covered topics, got the opportunity to give a voice to those who are often marginalized.
She advocates for ethical media reporting and respect for applicable codes and human dignity, and she participated in the Novi Sad Journalism School’s research on the accessibility of media content and media reporting on people with disabilities. She is an active member and associate of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, and in 2022 she was among the signed authors of the latest Report on the State of Human Rights of Youth in the Republic of Serbia. She participated in the implementation of numerous projects, including the IM-PACT21 Disabled Youth Initiative, which she founded together with her several other close friends. She volunteered at the “Heart” Centre for emotional support and suicide prevention, and is one of the faces of the UNICEF global campaign related to youth mental health.
Ana Jovicic from Belgrade was born on 24 June 1996. She is a member of the Association of the Blind of Serbia, communicative, cheerful, curious, enjoys interactions with people where creative ideas are considered and implemented. Ana is a young poet and a student at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade. She also tried her hand at writing small projects, scientific papers, newspaper reports and articles. She uses Braille, and uses a white cane to move independently. She used the opportunity to show her creativity by designing the “Darkness is not a bogey” workshop, which gave sighted people the opportunity to learn about the functioning of blind and partially sighted people in everyday life, using assistive technologies. In the workshops she held in the framework of the Winter School, she presented “Living Libraries” to the participants of the Academy, and believes, as she said, that this is her first step in the leadership.
Анина песма „Бели цветови расту у муљу“ је објављена 2020. у оквиру збирке Душице Ивановић „Љубав је плава шкољка у којој станује небо“, где се нашла у друштву аутора – приложника, наших најистакнутијих песника за децу.
Sanja Markovic from Belgrade was born on 12 May 1990. Sanja is the activist fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, women’s rights and the rights of the LGBT community in our country. She actively advocates for positive changes in society, especially in respect of raising the awareness of people in her environment, but also more widely. She is a member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Serbia, she participated in the first mentoring program for women with disabilities, and volunteered many years in the “Let it be known” organization, which deals with recording violence against the LGBT population. She is engaged in graphic design and photography, and through the writings she contributes to a daily newspaper, she also demonstrates her literary skills.
Tijana Simic from Belgrade was born on 10 November 1991. Tijana is a member of the Association of the Blind of Serbia, a physiotherapist who is constantly improving herself and who is equally dedicated to her work and activism, constantly advocating for a better position and greater employability of visually impaired people. Tijana uses a white cane for independent movement and always speaks openly about its importance and role in the lives of blind and partially sighted people. She is an active member of the “We look with our hearts” organization, speaks Spanish, and has excellent communication skills, as well as the adaptability skills.
Milan Srdic from Zrenjanin was born on 10 January 1990. After a traffic accident that changed his life, he faced a new challenge to present his experience to others, and devoted himself to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, promoting healthy lifestyles and potentials for people with disabilities. Milan is one of the initiators of the “I still drive” program and one of the most experienced and active lecturers and speakers who promote the importance of traffic safety, and in this way he educates and influences young people with his example. Traffic safety is also the major he studied at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Novi Sad, and for his efforts in the field of activism in 2017, he won the “YOUTH HEROES” award. He is actively engaged in sports activities, he trains wheelchair basketball, and he also tried his hand at athletics for paraplegics and won several medals both at national championships and as national representative at international competitions.
Kristina Grbovic from Cacak was born on 19 February 1991. Strength, love, will and courage characterize this young woman who, through her daily actions, wants to encourage people who have experienced a traffic accident not to give up, to accept new circumstances and go on. After the injury, she became a member of the Association of Paraplegics and Quadriplegics of Serbia, and then joined the “I still drive” program implementation, in the framework of which she educates young people in educational institutions. She is a graduate economist, while the motherhood of women with disabilities is also a topic that Kristina openly talks about, as a single mother of a young girl, Lena. In this way, she strives to empower and support women who are in the same or a similar situation. Kristina was also taking part in sports events, tried her hand at athletics, and now she is training wheelchair table tennis.
Nenad Durakovic from Zrenjanin was born on 8 January 1991. During his studies, he was a representative of students with disabilities and worked on projects and activities that were largely related to the advocacy and struggle for greater rights of students with disabilities, as well as of all other students at the University of Novi Sad. He was a member of the Student Conference of the Universities of Serbia, vice president of the Student Parliament at his Faculty, and executive secretary of the Student Parliament within the University. He is a member of the Association of Paraplegics and Quadriplegics of Vojvodina. Nenad is a graduate engineer of disaster risk management and fire safety, employed in the Petroleum Industry of Serbia as an emergency situations and defence coordinator. Responsible and dedicated, he has excellent communication, as well as time management skills. Through personal and professional development and job position in line with his educational background, he realized part of his dreams, and committed himself again to activism and the fight for the rights of people with disabilities.
Nemanja Crnatovic from Belgrade was born on 25 August 1998. He lost his sight as a new-born, in incubator. From an early age on, he showed a wide interest in music, especially in singing and playing piano, and later on also guitar and percussion instruments. He is currently studying at a master’s program at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, majoring in music pedagogy. He is the winner of many national and international awards in the categories of solo singing and piano playing. Nemanja was granted a scholarship of the city of Belgrade as well student scholarships, and he also won the “Best secondary-school student with a handicap” award, several laureate awards and was a participant in the camp of the Music Opera Theatre Organization in 2019. He composed and is one of the performers of the hymn of the “Veljko Ramadanovic” School for Visually Impaired Pupils, which he completed himself. In recent years, he has shown his musical talent as a solo tenor singer, and his activism is focused on supporting the blind and visually impaired community and fighting for a life without barriers and limitations for people with disabilities in our country.
Jelena Maric from Uzice was born on 19 March 1996. Jelena is one of the most talented and most awarded participants of the Academy of Young Leaders with Disabilities. She devoted herself to education and personal development, and graduated from the College of Vocational Studies in Uzice, study program – Management, and speaks two foreign languages. After graduating, she enrolled to the Faculty of Business Studies and Law in Belgrade, majoring in Security. She completed a one-year course at the Social Media Department, Online PR and Community Manager at the IT Academy. Her love for oratory took her to numerous competitions in which she won many prizes, including “Lepojka Carevic-Mitanovski” third prize for the protection and support of women with disabilities, second place in the 12th oratory competition “Speeches in Zoran’s Honour”, and the first place in the category of secondary-school students for the speech entitled “The Game of Life” she performed in Honor of Serbian poetess Desanka Maksimovic. Jelena is a member of the Association for Cerebral Palsy and Polio of Serbia, and in 2021 she won the J=EDNAKI award in the category of fight against discrimination.
Jelena Polic from Leskovac was born on 21 September 1989. Jelena is the vice president of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of Jablanica District and a member of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of Serbia. At the second year of study, completed with the title of graduate teacher, she was diagnosed with this chronic disease of the central nervous system. Guided by the motto “Live your life fearlessly”, Jelena decided that her mission would be to raise the awareness of society about this disease, remove barriers and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in Leskovac and the entire Jablanicki District. She believes that together we can contribute to the fight against multiple sclerosis, which affects mostly young people and results in a certain degree of disability.
Vojislav Djordjevic from Pozarevac was born on 2 April 1998. He is a student of basic academic studies at the Belgrade Polytechnic School. He has excellent communication skills, is computer literate and always ready to take the initiative as an activist of the City Organization of the Deaf in Belgrade. He participated in the implementation of many projects of social and cultural importance within the deaf community. His native language is Serbian sign language, and as the president of the Youth Deaf Union of Serbia, he strives to promote deaf culture and sign language, and to highlight the importance of young people’s active engagement, in order to become visible and equal participants in all spheres of social life.
Dane Belic from Belgrade was born on 20 March 2000. Guided by the idea that one should always remain true to oneself and move forward regardless of obstacles, he graduated from the Law and Business Secondary School in Belgrade, and is currently a student of the Belgrade Business and Arts Academy of Applied Studies, majoring in public administration. Dane is employed at the “Sun CDP” Belgrade enterprise offering PWD professional rehabilitation, and he proves by personal example that nothing should prevent us from taking on certain jobs or pursuing any of the activities practiced by PWDs. He likes teamwork, but he also believes in the power of the individual to instigate changes so that everyone has the right to authenticity and equal conditions.
Tibor Ilic from Subotica was born on 4 May 2000. As a representative of the Young Deaf Association of Serbia and a member of the City Organization of the Deaf of Belgrade, Tibor strives by his engagement to increase the visibility of young people from the deaf community and draw attention to the activities of the associations that bring together deaf and hard of hearing people. His native language is Serbian sign language, and Tibor is constantly striving to acquire new knowledge and skills, so that he can pass on what he has learned to others. He is a student of the Belgrade Polytechnic School. Also, Tibor is a member of the team of the National Centre for Serbian Sign Language Interpreting and a participant in numerous actions aimed at integrating the deaf into social processes and improving the position of people with disabilities, implemented throughout Serbia.