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The handball project changing lives of children in Croatia

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Handball is helping make a difference to the lives of children and young people with disabilities in Croatia thanks to a project started by former national team player Maida Arslanagić.

Together with the helping hands of a team of dedicated volunteers, Arslanagić has created the HandbALL IN project, the first of its kind in Croatia.

With its objective to create equal opportunities for children with disabilities through handball and sport in general, HandbALL IN aims to enhance life-skills, creativity, socialisation and inclusion for children and youth with disabilities through the medium of handball.

The programme has two big-name ambassadors in the shape of Croatian national team stars Domagoj Duvnjak and Jelena Grubišić, and is it also supported by the likes of Luka Stepančić, Ivanka Momčilović Vlado Šola, Jakov Gojun, Igor Vori, Vesna Milanović Litre, Andrea Lekić and Sladjana Pop-Lazić as well as Handball Club Lokomotiva Zagreb and Handball Club PPD Zagreb.

"My big passion besides handball is working with children with disabilities, as I am a Speech-Language Pathologist who works on a daily basis with such children,” says Arslanagić. “When my playing days finished I also got my degree in sports management and as handball coach, I found a way to combine my two passions: helping children and handball, so I created this programme.”

The project’s idea came four years ago but it is now entering its third year and today has a full class of 30 children taking part in Zagreb.

“We had five children taking part at the start – now we have a waiting list for those who want to join,” continues Arslanagić, who played over 100 times for the Croatian national team.

“The children who come to the training sessions are very happy, they love to play handball and make friends. That’s what we put emphasis on: not handball but the social aspects: making friendships and having fun. We are giving the opportunity to children with disabilities a chance that they might not otherwise get.”

Everyone's a winner

And it is not just the children who attend the project that are left smiling.

“The parents are really grateful,” says Arslanagić. “There is a money-can’t-buy feeling that they have knowing that their children are enjoying themselves.

“For us, the most rewarding thing is to see the children happy but also to see the difference you are making in a person’s life. Of course, working with children things takes time, but when you begin to see how much a child’s confidence has changed, for example, it reinforces the work that we are doing.”

The next step is to grow the project and Arslanagić has plans to extend the programme and focus in other areas than handball.

“We want to be able to offer children other paths to explore, including active, creative and educational programmes. We want to be able to grow year after and year,” she says.

“Obviously we do not get funding, we are volunteering and using our own connections to expand the project further but at the end of the day we do it for the love of helping children.

“We are overwhelmed with how successful we have been so far and get so much energy off the children that everything we do it worth it to help them socialise, be active and be happy through handball.”

For more information on the HandbALL IN project, click here to visit their website.

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