Loza Foundation is working together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP)

Partnership. Sabina Grubbeson at the United Nations office in Skopje, here pictured with Vesna Kostic-Ivanovic, project manager for the UNDP team at Special Institution Demir Kapija and Marija Trifunovska, coordinator for people with functional disabilities, UNDP Macedonia.

Safety and learning, a meaningful life, clothes and personal belongings. Loza Foundation and UNDP have partnered up in a unique project to improve the living conditions for people with functional disabilities at Special Institution Demir Kapija in Macedonia.  

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has offices in more than 170 countries. Since June 2018 they have a team of 15 people stationed at Demir Kapija, specifically tasked with improving the living conditions at the institution. They are for instance looking at dividing the residents into smaller groups, where each group will be taught how to eat, sleep, learn how to take care of their own personal hygiene and understand how each individual should fit into a family and in society.

“These people have been institutionalised for so long and been neglected for so many years that they have lost their human dignity, their identity or knowledge of human behaviour. Or, in some cases, never been given the chance to have these in the first place. Many of them do not have a language, have not been taught how to dress themselves or understand what rights they have”, says Sabina Grubbeson, founder of Loza Foundation.

“The work at Special Institution Demir Kapija is a long-term project and it will take years to improve the situation there. This is the first phase of a transformation process. We have sought project partners to help improve the situation and then we were invited to partner up with UNDP. They supply the staff and we provide the equipment.

Together these two organisations, Loza Foundation and UNDP, will strive towards improving the situation for the residents at the institution. A partnership that will improve the possibilities for a safer situation with well-functioning, effective routines and daily activities.

“Loza Foundation will contribute with things like washing machines, furniture and clothes so that the residents can practice functioning in a normal home. How to cook, clean and look after oneself will be practised in smaller groups of residents with the help of UN staff members.”

By contributing to long-term improvement and normalization of the residents’ living conditions, the goal is that the individuals will eventually integrate into society. Be able to live in a home like everyone else, be properly dressed and have a warm bed to sleep in.

“With this UNDP partnership, we are ever-present at the institution and can cooperate together for the future of these people. For their rights and their path back into society”, says Sabina.

Before the winter and colder temperatures arrive in Macedonia, she hopes to have enough sweaters, trousers, underwear and slippers available for the residents. Most goods will be purchased from local producers in Macedonia to help develop sustainable economic progress there, but the foundation is also looking for help from Swedish producers in order to source winter coats for all the residents, 220 in total.

“This is one part of our ongoing health project and I will be there on site with a range of volunteers, for instance, medical podologists from Sweden to name just one group. UNDP is responsible for organising the equipment, putting names on each item of clothing and storing everything in the correct personal locker. They will educate the residents on how to take care of and wash one’s clothes.”

At the moment, Loza Foundation is searching for a psychotherapist to participate in this development project at Demir Kapija.

“Many of the residents have been given the wrong diagnosis or no diagnosis at all, which means they also have the wrong medication prescribed to them. Establishing the correct treatment plan for each individual can mean everything to their rehabilitation process”, says Sabina.

”A place where people with disabilities can live under conditions of personal security and dignity.”

From institution to inspiration. In a mountain valley, just outside Tuzla in Bosnia, ten people with varying disabilities live and work together on a farm. Loza Foundation has now stepped in to help USU Garden so that more people can be transferred from large institutions to the lush, self-sufficient little farmstead in the rural countryside.

Right now, ten people are regarding USU Garden in Trakilovici as their home, which is located approx. fifteen minutes outside Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The farmstead was founded by Fata Ibralic, chairwoman at Sumero, an organisation that aims to move institutionalized individuals out of clinical establishments and pave the way for them to be included in the society.  She runs the residential farm with her son Mirsad, who also works at the farm as a teacher and support nurse.

“I contacted Fata earlier in the spring after having read about her research into mentally disabled and their vulnerable situation in Bosnia. With their concept at USU Garden, Fata and Mirsad have developed a successful model for how people can live in freedom, in harmony, in a healing environment and have the same human rights as everyone else”, says Sabina Grubbeson, founder of Loza Foundation.

At USU Garden, people with disabilities are taught how to be more independent and how to function in today’s society. The house consists of small self-contained rooms or flats, fitted with kitchen and bathroom, where people live together two and two. The residential home is self-sufficient and they grow vegetables at the farm, which are later sold at the market in the village centre.

“When we visited for the first time in the spring, I was impressed by the sustainable organisation. How everything was meticulously planned out, interdependent and had been built to work long-term. To see people with disabilities, who have been rejected by society,  find a sanctuary with love, freedom and work is simply amazing”, says Sabina Grubbeson.

In August 2018, she travelled back to the verdant, flourishing farmstead in Trakilovici and stayed there for a week to get to know the residents better; their history, work and everyday life.

“We can learn so much from these individuals and their stripped-back honesty. Individuals, who that have been betrayed and let down by parents and family, people surrounding them and society in general.  Their grief and yearning to belong, but also gratitude and joy in what they have and their dreams for the future. They have hope and faith; hope to learn new things, to contribute and be a part of something larger, and a dream of being someone that counts”, says Sabina.

Now these individuals, who have lived most of their life in various institutions, can support themselves in a balanced, calm environment where they also have the opportunity to both learn and heal. Everything in symbiosis.

“I find it incredibly inspiring that Fata and Mirsad, against all the odds and in one of the poorest countries in Europe, have found a way to create this self-sufficient residential home and a brighter future for disabled people. They have proven that nothing is impossible, which in turn makes it possible for other countries to follow.

Loza Foundation is stepping in to give USU Garden room for more. By renovating the first floor and completing the heating system, they will be able to accept six new residents and two more employees. Loza Foundation is also buying a minibus to make transportation to and from the market easier, whenever the residents have to sell their vegetables, visit the doctor or make excursions. Sabina hopes that the work with USU Garden will inspire to further development of residential homes in Bosnia.

“I just hope our joint work will help fight the stigma and fears rife in countries where disabled people are not included in the society. To show them that we can exist in society together and how every single individual should have the basic human right to a home, a safe & secure environment and love. A dignified life, a life worth living.”

“I met Anto for the first time 20 years ago. He had lived at institutions since he was just five years old. When he took my hand and said “Can you take me to Tuzla?” my dream began and my journey to get to where we are now”, says Fata Ibralic, who founded USU Garden. Photo: Joakim Roos
“Now I get to work in the kitchen and cook. Have a bath and shave. I previously lived in an institution for 31 years and I never want to go back there”, says the 66-year old Anto. Photo: Joakim Roos
usu garden
“At the institution, I felt afraid. The nurses gave me shots so that I would fall asleep. Here at the farm we work and drink coffee. I like when everything is tidy and kind people”, says Alma (to the right) as she is working in the greenhouse with Melina.” Photo: Joakim Roos




“I am happy here, and I’m not afraid any more”, says Zeljan (centre). Anto, one of the residents is also featured in this photo and Mirsad Iabralic (right), who runs USU Garden with his mother Fata. Photo: Joakim Roos

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