Early this year, just before half of the world went into virtual lockdown, second-year student Ivana Bosančić (Year 45/2020, Croatia) and Advisor & Experiential Education Coordinator Marija Uzunova Dang received great news from the GoMakeADifference Project team. Ivana’s grant application, Čigrin Let, was one of the 32 UWC–wide projects to win a $1,000 grant towards their initiative.
The GoMakeADifferent awards funding to projects from second-year UWC students that put the UWC mission into action, answering a real need and leaving an enduring benefit to the community they are serving.
We recently caught up with Ivana remotely in her home country Croatia to learn more about her project.
Pearson: Ivana, please tell us about Čigrin Let.
Ivana: Čigrin Let (Eng. Tern’s Flight) is a specially designed program that I started, alongside my Taekwondo coach, Danijel Bursać in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2015. The program works with children and adults with special needs utilizing basic Taekwondo elements to improve the participants’ fine motor skills which will ultimately help them in their everyday lives. Most of the program’s participants are individuals with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, cerebral palsy, and other various conditions. This program already has 50 members and is free for anyone who wishes to participate.
Pearson: That sounds incredible. What has the impact been so far?
Ivana: When the program was first launched in 2015, it had only two enrolled participants; today, the program works with over fifty participants. Some of our members have achieved incredible sport successes, some of them becoming National and International Para Taekwondo champions!
Pearson: What is the underlying issue, which motivated you to start Čigin Let?
Ivana: I witnessed how the marginalization of people with special needs in Croatia reached the level of normalization, especially amongst the younger population. Bullying, of any kind, seemed to be encouraged and it was what got you into the “cool kids group”. This societal mindset undermined the development of programs which could help these individuals, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.
Training Taekwondo since the age of 7, I noticed there are not a lot of, or any, sports programs which would be specially designed for children and adults with disabilities. I reached out to my coach, Danijel Bursać, about this problem, and it turned out he had the same concern. At that time, Danijel had been a coach for multiple years, and I had been training younger Taekwondo athletes for a year. We combined our strengths, experience, and desire for a positive change; this is how Čigrin Let came to be.
Pearson: Can you describe what a typical training session looks like at Čigrin Let?
Ivana: Every Friday we have a one-hour training sessions where volunteers of Čirgin Let, all of whom are athletes of Taekwondo Club Čigra, including myself, design exercises and different obstacle trainings. In order to maximize the progress, every member of Čigrin Let has a personal coach who guides them through the session. We work on improving speed, agility, coordination, and most importantly: fine motor abilities – something that has proved to be the greatest challenge for our participants and a barrier to reaching their full potential in the program.
Pearson: How did you decide that your project would be a perfect fit for the GoMakeADifference Grant?
Ivana: I heard from Marjia about the UWC GoMakeADifference Grant. If it wasn’t for her and her incredible support with reviewing, editing and structuring the proposal, I would probably not have applied, and especially not have been successful. Huge thanks to Marija!
Pearson: What will this funding allow you to do?
Ivana: Currently, Čigrin Let is one of the only programs in the West Balkans focused on the problem of lack of sport support for individuals with special needs. Our participants have shown incredible results and we have been effectively fighting marginalization of these individuals.
Lack of resources and equipment has been the biggest problem of Čigrin Let; we need a bigger gym and new equipment. Some parents have even stepped up and helped by making equipment from plastic water pipes. Winning these grants has given the project a legitimacy and have shown its immense potential, forcing governing structures to focus on the issues of marginalization of individuals with special needs.
Now, we can buy the necessary equipment that will help our participants improve their fine motor skills. We are so excited and grateful that the GoMakeADifference initiative sees as much potential in Čigrin Let as we do and decided to help us continue making positive changes for our members.
Pearson: How has the global pandemic affected Čigrin Let?
Ivana: In order to assure everyone’s safety, we will re-open our program and start using the equipment we purchased following the guidelines from the local authorities, specifically when Croatian schools are also in session again.
Pearson: What is the best thing for you personally about Čigrin Let?
Ivana: Our participants have already shown great results with their personal progress and even succeeding at tournaments. However, the most heartwarming moments of it all are neither medals nor the trophies. For me, it was the day when little Noah with Down Syndrome told me he loved me, or all the songs Dinko taught us during the breaks between sessions. It is knowing some of those children said their first word during one of our trainings and seeing parents’ tears of joy because someone finally understands them and wants to help. There is still a long way to go, but at least we are one step closer to fighting marginalization and making the world a bit better than it is right now.
Pearson: Thank you Ivana for the insights into your incredible project. You, Danijel and the entire Čigrin Let team certainly help your participants spread their wings.