In Serbia, mothers and their children with disabilities find hope in ‘granny's jam’

By making ‘granny's jam’, a woman-run organization, Evo Ruka, is earning money to improve the inclusion of children with disabilities, while also building a whole community of support and encouragement.

Date: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ana Knezevic
Ana Knezevic, a single mother of child with disability, has organised making of the so called "granny's jam" together with other mothers and volunteers. The money earned from the sale of the jam goes directly for inclusion of children with disabilities. Photo: UN Women/Bojana Barlovac

With the first days of strawberry season, a woman-run social enterprise, Evo Ruka, which grows fruits and vegetables, is turning into a hub for strawberry jam production, using a recipe based on a traditional Serbian ‘granny's’ one.

This year, the UN Women team in Serbia joined in, buying the necessary equipment, and helping out with jam making on June 9. They were joined by the EU Delegation to Serbia as well as mothers and their children with disabilities, producing 150 jars of jams from 100 kilograms of strawberries. Evo Ruka will put the money raised from local community jam sales towards their core activities, which are aimed at supporting and promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities.

UN Women Team in Serbia

UN Women team in Serbia and representatives of EU Delegation to Serbia joined their forces to make most of this year's strawberries and in that way support children in need and their mothers. Photo: Evo Ruka

Not only is Evo Ruka a social enterprise focused on growing fruit, vegetables as well as making jams and juices, it is also a centre for children with disabilities and their parents, mostly mothers.

In 2011, Ana Knezevic, a single mother with a 14-year old son with a disability, founded this one-of-a-kind centre in Zemun Polje, near Belgrade, Serbia. Being on her own, with no support, she decided to start an organization aimed at changing attitudes in society and ensuring a good quality of life for her child and others living with disability. Since then, she has experienced many obstacles.

"I have come across a lot of barriers, and they were often coming from those who were in the same or similar position as me. They did not believe in change, especially if they had an older child with disability, but at the end of the day all these parents who opposed it and did not believe in change came here and loved it," said Knezevic.

She says that voluntary actions like the strawberry jam making are giving her and other mothers added strength to keep on going. "The voluntary actions not only pay our rent and bills, they also serve as a sign of recognition that we are doing something important and meaningful," Knezevic stresses. At the same time, with these actions you can see the results of your work, which is not the case with the process of supporting children with disabilities and their parents from day one until they are independent, she explains. “So these little successes are our driving force,” Knezevic adds.

Sem Fabrizi

Sem Fabrizi, Head of EU Delegation to Serbia, struggling to make thicker jam of strawberries. Photo: Evo Ruka

The EU Delegation to Serbia has supported this action for three years running. Ana Milenic, from the EU Delegation, said their main goal is to support more inclusive and engaged local communities, not only with their expertise and financial support, but also with their hands and hearts. “We were very happy to make our hands sweet and sticky, to work together with our children and children from Evo Ruka, to learn how to prepare delicious strawberry jam, while also doing something good for our community,” Ana Milenic said.

As a result of this kind of ongoing support, Evo Ruka is growing bigger every year with more and more women joining in to help. Today, Evo Ruka gathers women from all walks of life – even those whose lives are untouched by disability but who enjoy making jam and spending time with the children. As the name suggests, the doors of Evo Ruka (Helping Hand in English) are open to everyone. Ana set out to make a community that is open to everyone, not only children with disabilities and their mothers, but also fathers, other children, and many more. “We all make a community where we can rely on one another,” Knezevic says.

Ana Knezevic's is also making bigger plans for the future. She strives to make the organization self-sustaining, overcoming the ongoing burden of rental payments on the building. 

UN Women is excited to see how the Evo Ruka community is growing. “It is important to support every woman fighter in her respective field and Ana Knezevic is doing it two-fold. We believe that women’s economic empowerment is a pivotal step for other battles to follow. Ana Knezevic has found a model for how to achieve it while also making a change in society for children with disabilities and their parents,” said Jelena Sekulic, UN Women in Serbia Project Officer, who was also one of the volunteer jam makers.  She hopes that Knezevic will inspire women in other municipalities in Serbia to follow in her footsteps.

Since March 2018, UN Women in Serbia has been implementing an EU programme worth two million euros aimed at strengthening gender equality in Serbia. The main goal of the programme, entitled: ‘Support to Priority Actions for Gender Equality in Serbia’ is the economic empowerment of women’s organizations alongside support to the Government of Serbia to comply with national and international gender equality commitments and EU Gender Equality Acquis.