Ivana Zekić

Psycho-pedagogical team leader SOS Children's Village in Croatia
photo: Alexandre Pires Moreira Rocha

Celebration of life – organising a Christmas celebration in my village

How team work and children’s participation give the greatest meaning to work

I will tell you a simple story about a very special day in my working life. In my story there are no heroes, no special drama, no turning points... maybe just a small twist at the end.

My story started a few years ago when I was invited to a Christmas party at the SOS Children's Village Lekenik as a guest. The show was presented with children performing and, sitting there, I felt an energy that made me wonder what it would be like to work in a special place like that. A year later I was working in SOS Children’s Villages. For years, participating in the preparation of Christmas parties has always made me the most excited, happy and proud. Let me tell you why.

In my village, we start our preparations many days before Christmas and each child and grown-up has their own role. Our director gathers us all together and gives us all the notes, plans and schedules, just like a real theatre director. The children are the stars and we, the co-workers, are the production team of the show. The children rehearse hard and their teachers put all their effort into making their performances perfect. Our SOS mothers help their children, they comfort and encourage them. And together with their little performers, they learn their lines by heart. Our co-workers support the children and help them to shake off their worries to make more space for creativity and play. A few days before, the village handymen set the stage and ladies from the accounting department prepare some sandwiches for the guests. The village director is serious about the work but proud making sure everything goes to plan. The whole village is busy preparing.

And when the day comes...
our social centre is warm and welcoming, decorated with Christmas lights and glittering ornaments. We all dress up nicely and put on our biggest smiles.

The guests start arriving and the whole village gathers in the social centre. You can feel the excitement and expectation that something special is about to happen. We, all the co-workers, take turns at the entrance, smiling and taking over groups of guests with the warmest greetings and leading them to their seats. The crowd in the hall starts to grow, so we slide around each other and other people. Children enter the glittering auditorium with open eyes and mouths. On this day, their mothers and aunties are particularly beautiful and the children also show off their dresses and festive clothes. SOS mothers and aunties make room for them at their sides and try to calm them down a little bit.

The small actors and performers are ready in their places. They are hopping impatiently, waving to their mothers and aunties to be sure they will see them as they appear on stage or shout the names of people they haven't seen for a long time. Teachers are standing calmly next to them and pretending to be extra cool and relaxed and that everything is fine, like any other day. They give the children the final instructions about what to do and how to look their best.

And when the noise of greetings, kisses, and cheerfulness becomes almost deafening, the lights slowly start to go out, announcing the beginning of a special moment.

Special moment
The audience is now crowded but silent. The children still gaze around and try to guess what will happen next. The director calmly sits on his chair next to the most important guests. His orchestra begins to perform.
We, the co-workers, move slowly in silence through the hall, helping the children to come out onto the stage. We exchange views, nod and wink to each other. Everything goes smoothly.

I watch all our little performers and feel proud and happy. I am delighted to see four-year-olds singing and older children dancing. Guided by the safe hand of their teachers, they bravely walk onto the stage. Under the stage lights some forget the words. So what? The show continues with cheers and applause. This year, our drama group again took the audience’s breath away. In the next moment, the wonderfully awkward playing of the violin brings more smiles to the faces of the adults and loud disapproval from the youngest members of the audience.

At the end the audience is moved by the whole show and applauds for a long time. Among all the lights and glitter, a careful observer can even spot a few tears in their eyes. SOS mothers hug and kiss their children joyfully. In this infinite point of time, we celebrate life and all we have achieved. I wish this moment could last forever.

Later on we congratulate each other and laugh, sit and talk for a long time after the guests have gone. Smiles on the faces of our audience and a few happy tears mean that we made it – we touched their hearts. What our audience does not know is how much hard work we put into the preparations, how big are the life obstacles and limitations, fears and insecurities that we have overcome and how great is our success.
Again, this was the best Christmas celebration ever. We did it together.

Ivana Zekić

is a psychologist and works as Psycho-pedagogical team leader at SOS Children's Village in Croatia since 2010.

Her job is an important part of her life and she sees it as an opportunity to make an impact and make a change in the lives of children. Ivana sees family as a safe place to grow and learn. In the family you learn the meaning of long-lasting and loving relationships in life. Two years ago she and her husband became adoptive parents to a fifteen-year-old. If you listen well, teenagers can teach you a lot about life. In her leisure time she likes to rest. She enjoys reading and going for coffee with friends. She enjoys camping at the seaside, walking barefoot and relaxing under the trees.

Ivana lives in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Zagreb is a nine-hundred-year old city with a million inhabitants. The Republic of Croatia is a country on the north western edge of the Balkan Peninsula in southern Europe. The country's population is 4.28 million. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 as its 28th member state.