Anes Kujović is the first national UN Community Volunteer with Down syndrome, hosted by UNDP in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Anes Kujović is the first national UN Community Volunteer with Down syndrome, hosted by UNDP in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Meet Anes Kujović from Sarajevo, the first UN Volunteer with Down syndrome in the world

Anes Kujović from Sarajevo is the first person with Down syndrome in the world to become a United Nations Volunteer. He joined as part of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2), thus gaining the opportunity to attain work experience. In the premises of the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo, where hundreds of employees are busy completing their daily duties, hides the inspiring life story of Anes.

The life path of 21-year-old Anes was not the same as that of his peers. From early childhood he walked through a world that often did not understand his unique abilities. He was born with Down syndrome, which greatly influenced his upbringing and life circumstances, from schooling and adolescence to acceptance in society. But every obstacle was a new step towards success for him.

With a determined spirit and with the great support of his family and friends, he managed to fight for his place in the community. Today, Anes sits in the Department for Education, Culture and Sports in the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo, where he performs administrative tasks as a UN Volunteer – the first in the world with Down syndrome.

Every new working day for Anes is a new victory and a reminder that he managed to break barriers, doubts and misconceptions of people.

"I help the Municipality as a UN Volunteer," Anes says proudly, and continues to describe his day: "I work from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and sometimes I stay longer. Sometimes I go to work alone, and sometimes my father drives me, mostly when it's raining or stormy. I have my card, which I scan at the entrance, sign and take the elevator up to the third floor, because our offices are on that floor."

Anes Kujović is the first national UN Community Volunteer with Down syndrome, hosted by UNDP in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Anes Kujović, national UN Community Volunteer with Down syndrome, goes about his daily tasks at the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. ©UNDP, 2023 

Anes' contagious smile and cheerful spirit bring joy every day in the premises of the Municipality, where he is surrounded by a team that believes in his abilities.

"I have great work colleagues. We work, but we also know how to joke and laugh sometimes. My tasks are to enter data into tables, distribute documents to the departments for signatures and attend meetings with the Mayor. We welcome guests together, and sometimes I also attend sessions of the Municipal Council," Anes explains.

He adds with satisfaction that he learned a lot while working in the Municipality of Centar Sarajevo, but like other employees, he is faced with tasks that he completes more slowly: "It is a little more difficult for me to write reports, but I hope that I will learn that well soon."

Although he faced numerous difficulties during his upbringing and education, Anes did not allow anything to sway him. With the great support of his family and friends, he strove to remain positive in everything, as evidenced by his mother Sevdija.

"It was not easy, but Anes was the initiator of our joint struggle. We followed his needs and tried as a family to satisfy them. Society was full of prejudices and mistrust towards the possibilities of children with disabilities," shares Sevdija Kujović.

Kindergartens and regular schools were not open to children with Down syndrome when Anes was growing up, but his desire to succeed was stronger. He managed to finish regular elementary school, and then became the first high school student in Sarajevo with Down syndrome.

"It was very difficult to 'break through the walls' in people's heads and that tired us the most. In his own way, Anes managed to break the prejudices in the environment and be a favorite student at school. When we see him today happy, satisfied and full of self-confidence, we forget what we went through. --Sevdija Kujović, the mother of UN Volunteer Anes Kujović

Anes got the opportunity for his first internship through the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2). This is funded by the European Union and implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

In order to promote diversity and inclusiveness in all spheres of society, ReLOaD2 has provided the opportunity for internships to all young people from the area of ​​this municipality and 12 other partner local governments, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

To the delight of the Kujović family, Anes became the first UN Volunteer with Down syndrome in the world. In addition to the internship, by participating in the ReLOaD2 project, Anes got the opportunity to further develop his skills through various education opportunities. He is also benefiting from the mentoring support of Faris Bečić, a young man who is also engaged within ReLOaD2. Faris provides guidance and support to Anes and monitors his progress and wellbeing at work.

National UN Community Volunteer Anes Kujović with his mentor, Faris Bečić.
National UN Community Volunteer Anes Kujović with his mentor, Faris Bečić. ©UNDP, 2023

The specific tasks in which Anes is involved together with Faris are administrative tasks such as opening cases, scanning and printing documentation, archiving documentation, holding meetings with parties and civil society organizations, recording incoming projects through public calls and the like.

Faris explains that mentoring support within the ReLOaD2 programme is crucial during the transition to work for people with disabilities. The process of mentoring, as he says, enables the monitoring of a person in the process of work, development and growth of skills, as well as the attitude towards work and the way of solving simple and complex tasks. In the course of working with Anes, he says that he is building an incredible relationship full of sensibility.

I have not met a person who more prefers to work. Anes is always ready to work with a huge amount of respect for me as a mentor, but also for all colleagues. The results of his work are really visible after a few months. --Faris Bečić, the mentor of Anes within ReLOaD2

Anes regularly receives compensation for volunteering, from which he plans, as he says, to pass the driving test and buy a car.

"The internship brought enormous changes to Anes. His self-confidence has increased, he has developed critical thinking and is much more responsible towards work than he was towards schoolwork. He is happy because he is really building a friendly relationship with his work colleagues, who are the centre of his daily stories," says Anes' mother Sevdija.

Anes is one of the extremely rare people with Down syndrome in Bosnia and Herzegovina who has achieved the right to work, one of the fundamental human rights. Although many people like him can make a great contribution to the development of the community, and be useful both for themselves and for society, systematic support for the employment of people with Down syndrome has not yet been developed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"This responsibility belongs primarily to the institutions, which should encourage others to accept differences by their example. In this regard, it is necessary to develop policies and services for inclusive employment, because the goal is not only to hire them, but to maintain long-term employment," said Anes' mother, Sevdija Kujović.

The Municipality of Centar Sarajevo hopes that other institutions will follow their example and work on programmes to empower young people with disabilities. So far, ReLOaD2 has provided internships in cities and municipalities for 22 young people throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, including four people with disabilities.

This article was first published by the UN Development Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has been edited slightly.