human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Serbia shared expertise

First Institutional Advocacy study visit

Two decades ago, Caritas Serbia identified that the psychiatric health system was hardly ever sending healthy patients back into society. Psychiatric institutions had to change their approach to patients, mainly in the general context of de-institutionalisation of patients and a decreasing number of available beds. Caritas Serbia then started a series of advocacy actions, with great financial support and expertise from Caritas Italiana and the valuable experience of Mr. Paolo Serra.

Today, after 20 years of proactive engagement in the field of mental health, Caritas Serbia can say it has assisted in the creation and sustainability of the Zracak association in Valjevo. Also, with additional support from various donors and partners, mental health activities are in the strategic and action plans of Caritas Serbia, supporting public campaigns, lobbying and advocacy actions, networking as well as strengthening relationships with national and local governments. In brief, Caritas Serbia is an important stakeholder in the mental health sector, being a best practice for Institutional Advocacy (IA) in the Caritas network, and it shared this expertise with 10 other members in July by hosting the first IA study visit organised by Caritas Europa.

Caritas Serbia director, Rev. Ivica Damjanovic, and our National Coordinator, Darko Tot, presented our approaches on mental health and home care as two examples of IA to representatives of Caritas organisations from Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovakia and Ukraine. Together with Antonio Fantasia, Caritas Europa’s advocacy officer, the group visited Belgrade and Valjevo. The study visit was held from 8-10 July 2019 as planned in the working agenda of Caritas Europa Institutional Advocacy Action Group, fulfilling the Strategic objective of networking and sharing the practice of one member organization that can be a beneficial tool to another organisation.

Over three days, the participants were introduced to the history and background of the mental health system and several meetings were held with the Caritas Serbia staff and President, as well as with officers from the Ministry of Health and from the EU Delegation. The participants also learned from Caritas Valjevo’s staff, a local government official and directly from our beneficiary association Zracak.

Caritas Serbia’s President, Msgr. Hocevar, is a great supporter of Caritas actions and his leading role in our mental health projects has had a great impact. His lobbying and promotion with the key stakeholder opened a door to the negotiation and activity implementation. Msgr. Hocevar generously shared with us, the participants, his views about Caritas’ role in helping people in need. He explained that synergy in meeting people is built and gives successful results only if people understand their role in creating a path in dialogue and understanding. Caritas has a role in showing that it is possible to solve any problem despite its complexity. Caritas must open tunnels where there is no path, and a love of our God will give us strength to persist and succeed. With God’s blessing, we can do impossible things.

At the Serbian Ministry of Health, participants had the opportunity to discuss about lessons learned with Ministry advisor for EU integration, Ms. Urosevic, and with the director of Gornja Toponica Psychiatric hospital, Mr. Stanojkovic. Caritas Serbia and the Ministry of Health have been successfully collaborating for the last 20 years and this will be the focus of both institutions in the future.

Caritas Valjevo delivering at the local level

Caritas Valjevo, a branch of Arch Diocesan Caritas Belgrade, has been presenting extraordinary results in collaboration with its local government, as was confirmed by Valjevo city’s officer, Ms. Bojicic. She reported that the local government is investing 6% of its budget in the social sector, and that in 2019 they are dedicating €82.000 to Caritas Valjevo programs. Together, Caritas Valjevo and the local government are applying to EU tenders with projects and it is visible that their collaboration is open and has clear partnership goals.

Beneficiary association Zracak in Valjevo was the first beneficiary association registered in Serbia for mental health, with important support of Caritas expertise and finances. The association is gathering people with mental health problems who have been de-institutionalised, and supports them with training, psychological counseling, strengthening them for everyday life. The beneficiaries are meeting, learning and enjoying normal life and socialisation, and most importantly are no longer in the institution. They learned how to cook and serve food, as was presented in mountain house Crna reka where their praxis is in place twice a week. Ms. Vesna, who has a great understanding of people in need, donates the house for use in the village. Zracak activities are promoted in Valjevo and they are hoping to act as a sustainable NGO in the future. The food beneficiaries cooked and served with assistance of trainers and psychologist was delicious.

Also at the EU level

The study meeting with the Serbian EU delegation in Belgrade proved that Caritas Serbia, on both national and diocesan levels, has an active partnership with it. The open discussion with Ms. Pajer and Ms. Milenic about the activities of the EU delegation, collaboration with Caritas and their interest in how Caritas in other countries is collaborating with EU institutions, gave a special light towards this stakeholder pillar for IA. It showed that every Caritas organisation could and should closely collaborate with EU institutions in its country using different tools such as reports, consultations, meetings, and tenders.

The study visit concluded with a workshop at the Caritas Serbia offices, where all participants discussed lessons learned, evaluated the visit and discussed possible IA actions in the future. All recommendations will be listed in the handbook that Caritas Europa Action Group on Institutional Advocacy is preparing for next year.

This study visit was very productive. One big “Bravo!” was given by all participants to Caritas Serbia’s success, strategic and partnership orientation as well as dedication to IA.

Alternative Text


Sanja Horvat

Program Manager
Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina
Member of CE's Institutional Advocacy Action Group

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