One of the 81 Young Change-Makers (YCM) at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018, Marija Lozančić is now delivering sporting opportunities and increased social inclusion for children in Croatia as part of the IOC’s YCM programme.
What exactly is your YCM project?
“It is called ‘SOS Olympics’ and it is based in the town of Ladimirevci in the west of Croatia. Here, there is a place called the SOS Children’s Village, which is home to vulnerable young people, who are not with their parents, and also families at risk. My dream was to give these children the chance to enjoy sport, and help improve social development, and I realised that they could not do this without proper equipment. I decided an outdoor gym could be the answer and, after a lot of hard work and with the support of the YCM programme, in May we finally opened our sports park.”
What was the inspiration for ‘SOS Olympics’?
“Growing up in Croatia, playing tennis, badminton and capoeira, as well as fencing, I remember that – although I had great support from my family and friends – in amateur sport there was always a problem with equipment as well as money. There were no professional coaches. Ladimirevci is 15km from my hometown, which is why I chose the SOS Children’s Village and try to help the children there. I thought I cannot give them the same family and friends that I was lucky to have as a child, but perhaps I can help with equipment and coaching so that they can learn to love sport and feel part of the community.”
How long did it take to make the project a reality?
“I am a fast learner and hard worker, but it still took a whole year. It was complicated because, after I was awarded CHF 5,000 by the IOC to finance the project, I had to move to Zagreb to study for my master’s degree in communications, which meant I had to keep travelling back to Ladimirevci for meetings. It was also a long and hard winter in Croatia and work was postponed until the end of April. It was very frustrating at certain moments, but we were successful in the end.”
How did you mark the opening of the gym?
“We had an amazing launch day on 25 May, which is the birthday of the SOS Children’s Village. It was incredible; I had tears in my eyes. There were more than 150 children and their SOS parents, and we also invited kids from the second Children’s Village in Croatia from a place called Lekenik. We had an opening ceremony and there were fencing and American football coaching sessions, but there were also workshops in artistic gymnastics and break dance, and we created an Olympic flag from handprints. There were also poetry readings, theatre and singing. Sport students from the University of Osijek came to teach the children how to use the gym equipment in the right way. There were so many smiling faces and I have to say a big thank you to Ana Popovčić from the Croatian Olympic Committee and Zoran Relić and Višnja Matić from the SOS Children’s Village for their incredible support.”
What is the long-term future for ‘SOS Olympics’?
“The plan is to have regular workshops about the Olympic values, as well as fencing sessions, and hopefully at the start of every academic year the students will return to teach new children how to enjoy the gym. The goal is then that if the children develop a love of sport, SOS will get them involved with local clubs and take care of any costs that this might involve. I am also looking into a way to develop a mentorship scheme with the Croatian Olympic Academy and University of Osijek.”
For the second year running, the IOC is delighted to welcome the support of TOP Partner Panasonic, which has made it possible to expand the YCM+ programme with its generosity.