"Oaza is my family, without them I have nothing"

Irfan is 31 years old and has an intellectual disability. He is active in the organization Oaza, which works for people with intellectual disabilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. With Oaza's support, he has exchanged a life on the street for an independent life without crime and now copes with his everyday life on his own. Here he has finally found a community where he has an obvious place. 

The competitors' shoes squeak to the floor when the basketball thumps in the basket and the second after, the audience cheers and applauds another goal. Irfan turns the scoreboard right after a quick exchange of eyes with the referee. He takes his assignment as a scorer very seriously and is proud of how far he has come.

A few years ago, Irfan switched between living on the streets and in institutions. As a young person with an intellectual disability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are not always many options.

Growing up

Irfan's voice is calm as he unsentimentally talks about growing up in Sarajevo. His father died in the Bosnian war which ended in 1995 and a few years later his mother also died. Without parents and siblings, he was placed with a foster family in his younger teens. It was a loveless upbringing and Irfan felt very lonely.

- They did not receive me out of love or care, but because they got money to have me, Irfan says.

The foster parents ran a car wash that Irfan worked in. He remembers how his fingers froze from the cold when he was forced to wash cars outdoors in the middle of winter.

- I felt like their slave. They forced me and other young people with disabilities to work in their car wash.

Irfan had a hard time both at school and at home with the foster family. It is common for people with intellectual disabilities in Bosnia to live and live on the streets and end up in the hands of criminal gangs engaged in drugs and theft. So it was with Irfan, and eventually he was placed in a youth institution.

- It was horrible. We were 20 guys sleeping in the same room. I'm glad I escaped, says Irfan and looks down.

People with intellectual disabilities are among the most vulnerable in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are excluded from the public sphere, from education and healthcare. It is very common for children to be placed in closed institutions. Many young people and adults live alone or in groups on the street.

- This group is extremely invisible and the rulers do nothing for the group. Many children, young people and adults live in isolation with their parents or in an institution, says Binasa Goralija, MyRight's regional coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Irfan turns leaves on the scoreboard.

The turning point

After a while, Irfan came in contact with the organization Oaza, and then everything turned around. At Oaza, he had the opportunity to practice his independence and received support to be able to take care of himself. And not least, he got a context and a community. Somewhere to belong.

Today, Irfan lives in his own apartment, which he got with the help of Oaza. He manages most things in his everyday life himself. He still needs help with how he does to pay rent and take care of "important papers", He has no job right now but has jobs through the organization Oaza where he now helps with many different things.

The importance of sports spirit

Oaza has many businesses. In addition to courses in cooking and other courses to increase participants' independence, they run sports clubs in athletics, basketball, swimming, football, bowling and table tennis. For one week each fall, Oaza gathers contestants from across the region. During the competitions, Irfan is a key person. He assists the judges in various disciplines and not least he is the one who knows everyone, greets and hugs and shows competitors from other parts of the country to court. It is noticeable that Irfan thrives. Everyone knows who he is and here he fills many important tasks.

Irfan has for several years competed in swimming, football and, what he likes best, table tennis. The sport itself has played a big role for him, as well as for many of his friends within Oaza.

The trainings and competitions are social events that give the participants a context and a community. But the sport itself also often contributes to increased self-confidence. Noticing how motor skills and coordination are improved strengthens many participants and the activities often have a positive effect on the mood.

Irfan and other happy participants in Oaza's competitions.

Take it further

Irfan hugs his opponent in the ping pong competition and congratulates him on his victory. Competition between the participants is not noticeable, but a friendship characterizes the competitions. There are many laughs and hugs and dear reunions.

Irfan likes to pep and support others and his dream is to become a ping pong coach.

"I want all parents of young people with disabilities to push them to come to different activities so that they can make friends and do things that are fun, such as painting, playing sports and making friends," says Irfan. One day the parents die and they have to make sure that the children have others who can support them then.

In addition to becoming a ping pong coach, Irfan wants to open his own fast food restaurant.

- I like to cook and I plan to give food for free to the elderly. They are having a very hard time, says Irfan.

Text and image: Mia Munkhammar

Oaza means Oasis in Bosnian. The organization Oaza works for the rights of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. They run various activities that aim to break the isolation many live in and strengthen the members in independent living. Oaza also works to inform parents, relatives, the general public and not least those in power about the situation of people with intellectual disabilities and demand that their rights be upheld.

MyRight's support for Oaza goes to all their businesses. 

Intellectual disability or developmental disorder, means that you have a harder time understanding and making yourself understood. It often takes longer to learn things and understand contexts and it is common to have motor and language challenges. It can be difficult to plan or solve problems because the ability to think abstractly is impaired. To be able to live an independent life, support in communication and social interaction is needed. The support is often needed at home, at school, at work and in the community.

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