Life in the Village: Jovana joins her teacher Fikreta on the way to school with six pupils

Family Mračajac, Dušan: Education of children is a priority for us, everything we do we do for their education

The girl Jovana had already been waiting by the road while her teacher Fikreta Fadzan was approaching along the dusty macadam road through the Ravanjsko polje (Ravno field) in the VW Golf that her husband Dzemo drives her to work in every day from Tomislavgrad to a small branch school in the village of Ravno.

When the weather is bad, the teacher Fikreta picks up Jovana, a third grade pupil, on her way to the school. She is seen off by her brother Momir who is four and cannot hardly wait to enrol in school so the teacher Fikreta can pick him up too. There are six pupils in the Ravno branch school of the primary school "Fra Miroslav Dzaja"  from Kupres – Jovana attends the third grade, Nenad and Anel the second, Anela the third, Mahir is in the fifth grade while Idriz is in the first grade.

“There used to be over 300 pupils in two shifts, there were more branch schools, but now there are six. We make a small school, full of love, joy, happiness, playing and drawing. Pupils who leave after completing the fifth grade show excellent results wherever they go; we learn both Cyrillic and Latin script;  when I teach curriculum for fourth and fifth grade the younger ones follow it along with their own lessons so they already know a lot" says the teacher Fikreta while we attend the class meeting. She adds that this is also an inclusive class since there are two pupils with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

The weather is bad so, before the classes begin, the children surrounded a small stove on firewood to warm up for a while. The macadam road going through the village has been under repair after the winter, so Anel and Anela could not come to school that day since the part of the road they should go through was closed.

 Branch school in Ravno has six pupils

The class is about to begin. When we asked about their favourite subject in school almost all the children replied – Math! Idriz adds that he also likes drawing, Jovana says she likes all the subjects so her school report card is filled with straight A's. Mahir is completing his fifth grade and says he is sad he will not go to school to his teacher Fikreta next year.

“There are few children in the village, and 10 kilometres distance from one end to another, so they are quite far from each other and the school is the opportunity for them to play together. Hence, when the weather is nice, they ride their bikes or come on foot earlier and play in front of the school before the class, the teacher Fikreta is telling us.

While Jovana is at school, her brother Momir is happiest when their father Dusan Mracajac let the sheep out so that he can run and chase them. Her older sisters Renata, who is attending the third grade of secondary school, and Slađana, who is in the seventh grade of primary school, are accommodated with their grandmother in Sipovo during the week  and come home for the weekend. The Mracajac family has returned to the village of Ravno in 2002 from Lisnja near Prnjavor where they were refugees.

“We decided to return and do the same what we were doing before the war – livestock breeding. We had 120 sheep and planned to extend our flock when the war broke out. Living as refugees is hard, I could not do my job, and, in December 2002, we were offered an opportunity to get the transport that we did not want to miss, and so we set off," Dusan remembers of their return to Ravno where only around 80 people live today. Before the war, he claims, there were around 200 households. He has several cows and around 40 sheep.“

When we returned, there was a big snow and I walked through the village, where this many people had not returned yet, and saw some dogs several times. Later I told the neighbour that I had met some dogs and he said – they are not dogs, those are the wolves. That is how it looked like when we returned, but we do not regret it, we work, we can live from our work, we educate our children and that is our priority at the moment", mother Mira tells, adding that they themselves produce most of the food they eat. Jovana has already returned from school while, in the meantime, Momir fell asleep on the couch beside her, so Jovana can quietly do her homework at the table where, as she says, she prefers to work. After finishing her homework, she likes watching cartoons best, of which "Masha and the Bear" are her favourite.

Mira and Dusan say they are satisfied, despite all the difficulties that life in the village brings, all their children have health insurance and are regularly vaccinated, but they are already worried about what would happen in two years when Renata is supposed to go to college, Slađana completes primary and starts secondary school, Jovana completes the fifth grade and would also have to go to school to Sipovo, while little Momir would start his first grade.

“We will do everything we can to enrol Renata in a college, of course if she would want it. We are thinking of options for Mostar or Banja Luka, Sarajevo is too far and expensive", Mira and Dusan say.

 Dušan says that the baling machines allows him to expand the herd

Through the Project "Applying the Human Security Concept to Stabilize Communities in Canton 10", funded through the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security and implemented by the UN agencies in BiH – UNDP, UNICEF, IOM and UNHCR, Dusan got a machine for baling hay (hay-baler), which will be very helpful, he says.

“We are not nomadic herders and we do not take our sheep to pastures for grazing, but we rather collect and bale hay during the summer to feed our sheep in winter.  For my sheep I needed three to four thousand bales and I had to pay 60 -70 fenings per bale. Now I will be able to bale hay myself and I believe this will save me enough money not to be forced to sell this year's lambs and hence to almost double my flock by the next year, which will additionally stabilise us and I believe we will be able to afford further college education for our Renata, and subsequently other children as well", Dusan explains.

We have also visited the Mrcajac family during the weekend when Renata and Slađana are there and, after finishing their school tasks, they like helping their mother with the livestock and household chores. They say that being separated from their parents and siblings is difficult, particularly for Slađana, while Renata is used to it, as she claims. Still, Sunday, when they have to go to Sipovo again, is the sadest day for them.

“I go to the forestry secondary school in Sipovo and, if we would be able to afford it, I would like to enrol in a college too, to continue my education. I still have the third and fourth grade to complete so I still do not think too much on what would I concretely study, but forestry seems to be most likely at the time," Renata tells us. In Sipovo, she says, she usually learns after school, she has a computer connected to the Internet that she mostly uses to learn English and, in her free time, Facebook.  She follows the women's volleyball, she is a fan of the "Zvezda" women volleyball players and she says she would like to try training it.

Her sister Slađana says she would like to enrol in secondary school.

“My greatest wish is to be a Chef in a restaurant or a hotel," Slađana says, who, apart from separation from her parents, had a hard time when she completed her fifth grade because she was particularly attached to her teacher Fikreta who took her to school every day. When she used to go to that school, there were 10 pupils.

“It was hard for her to separate from us, but also from her teacher Fikreta. She wanted to go to school with Fikreta all the time, even when the weather was nice", her father Dusan tells us.