There's no shame in being different, the shame is in not respecting difference

It doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about differences, even when you're talking with people who are different, if you don't also include people who acceptthat difference and support it absolutely. Fortunately, even in societies like ours, the circle of those who accept and embrace difference is expanding every day.

Image of Jasna Rebac, story is part of the campaign PonosniNaSebeMrs. Jasna Rebac has found her path to humane engagementin the Rose garden/Ružičnjak organisation in Mostar, something, she says, is really a continuation of what she has been doing all her working life.

"I retired after a full 40 years working exclusively with children and young people. There was a lot of difference amongst them: gender, age, disability, where they lived, and so forth. These were all valuable experiences for me, because working with people with disabilities is very educational and there is always so much new to learn, but I feel quite justified in saying that I have been working with people with disabilities continuously all my life,” says Jasna.

Through her years of experience, she has witnessed all of the micro changes in society and in how society views the other and the different. So, it’s no wonder she is so deeply aware that change has not gone anywhere as far as it needs to.

"We are all born equal as human beings and that fact alone means that human rights belong to all of us equally and that the rights of people with disabilities are no different from those of the rest. Okay, it’s definitely the case that people with disabilities’ rights are not respected in practice and tend to be violated rather more frequently. In fact, the changes in how we look at disability and how it is defined are the best indicator of how long this group’s rights have been being sidelined. My motivation was to insist, together with people with disabilities, on showing that their rights are no greater, but also no less, no more specific than everybody else’s, and even people with disabilities are not always sufficiently informed about this, but that is just additional motivation for working and for working for change,” she explains.

She goes on to say that in Bosnia and Herzegovinathe rights of persons with disabilities are all too often relegated to a level of the unrealised and abstract.

"In BiH and its entities, and so in the local community, the status of individuals with disabilities is not good. For all the talk about forbidding discrimination based on disability, real life and experience tell a different story. There is no area of life, from education and healthcare through accommodation and unemployment to sport and culture, in which persons with disabilities are on an equal footing with their fellow citizens. They don’t enjoy equal opportunities, which again leads to them being unable to make use of opportunities for social participation or social integration. An awful lot still has to be done to bring their status in Bosnia into line with what the UN convention on their rights requires of every country, including Bosnia and Herzegovina. The responsible authorities at both state and lower levels are passing documents on the rights and status of individuals with disabilities, but it’s all still at the level of declaration, with nothing actually being implemented,” she stresses.

Regardless of all the problems and difficulties she has encountered in working with one of the most vulnerable categories in our society, it is her work, particularly in the years since she started in the non-governmental sector, that has brought her the most joy.

"My work has enriched me with so many friendships and acquaintances. There is practically nowhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina were I wouldn’t have somebody to call on for help if I needed to. There is someone in every town or city I have had some form of wonderful cooperation with. It also gives me a lot of pleasure that so many young people are involved in this work. I’m so proud to have had a chance to pass on my own experiences! Twice now I have been pronounced woman of the year, precisely for work in the non-governmental sector, and I have received the medal for civil services from the kingdom of Spain, along with many other awards and recognition. But when I look on it personally, I consider it my greatest success that children and young people with disabilities rush to hug me. They recognise me in the street and wave and greet me. Where else would I get that type of reward?” she says with a smile.

And then, at the end, she turns to the reason why she is so proud to be a part of the story of people with disabilities, a reason which should also be a source of pride for every individual with a disability.

"Replacing the charitable, medical model of defining disability with a social model based on a principle of respect for human rights has increasingly been paying off. People with disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are getting stronger, they are building up their own capacities and capabilities, educating themselves, and demanding ever increasing respect for their own rights, and they should be proud of that. There is no shame or fault in being different, the shame belongs to anyone who doesn’t recognise it as an advantage and doesn’t try to act accordingly. The successes of particular individuals with disabilities around the world send the best messages to people with disabilities here in Bosnia and Herzegovina that they need to recognise their own qualities, hold their heads up high, and be openly and unashamedly proud of themselves – #PonosniNaSebe”, Jasna concludes.

Tomorrow and every following day and for as long as she has the strength, Jasna will continue to work with people with disabilities. She will continue to do so in Rose garden/Ružičnjak, as a member and as the lead organisation in the Herzegovina Neretva Canton coalition of persons with disabilities. That will remain her choice, just as she has chosen to respect and love the differences that enrich us.

Jasna Rebac’s story was told as part of the #PonosniNaSebe campaign, conducted between April and December 2016 by the MyRight organisation, in cooperation with five coalitions of organisations of persons with disabilities from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ana Kotur for MyRight



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