Hermann Gmeiner Award winners 2016

Daliborka Matanovic from Croatia

Daliborka is grateful for role of the past in her achievements

There was a time when Daliborka Matanovic believed that only bad things would happen to her. Amazingly, the 27 year-old junior investment manager from Croatia is now grateful for what she went through.‚Äč

aliborka was very little when her family arrived in Croatia as refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Soon after, her father passed away and by the time she was 12 she was looking after her sick mother and younger brother and sister. They lived in a small house without heating or running water. Despite the enormous effort, she never stopped going to school. “After school I went home to cook. Every two days I needed to fetch and carry drinking water from a neighbour who lived one kilometre away,” Daliborka says. It is therefore understandable that when Daliborka and her siblings went to live in the SOS Children’s Village Lekenik after their mother passed away, it felt strange to not “worry about a thing”.

From the moment she arrived in Lekenik, Daliborka stood out and is remembered as an “exceptionally conscientious, responsible and hard-working person”. Her hard work and ambition paid off when she received a scholarship to study economics and management and was named one of Croatia’s top 30 students in 2010.

While studying, Daliborka advocated for the rights of young people living in out-of-home care on various international platforms. Her efforts were acknowledged when the SOS Children’s Village Lekenik asked her to join their governing council. After graduating she worked on a financial sector project for USAID, before accepting a job as junior investment manager with an investment fund. But to Daliborka her top achievement was when, at the age of 18, she became legal guardian to her brother and sister – the youngest person ever to be given this responsibility in Croatia. “Although it might seem strange, I am grateful for those bad moments in life. They taught me to tell good from bad, they taught me to stay realistic and down to earth and appreciate all the good values in life. I’m grateful because all of that made me strong and independent. Now, I can handle anything.”

William Silva dos Santos from Brazil

Making the world a better place is William's Motto

William Silva dos Santos doesn’t remember much about his life before he found a new family in SOS Children’s Village Rio Bonito in Brazil. He was later told that he was locked up for days without food with his siblings. Now he lives by the words of the Michael Jackson song that says “heal the world, make it a better place for you and for me”.

After becoming part of a loving, caring family in SOS Children’s Village Rio Bonito at the age of 8, things became even better for William when a German family took him under their wing. His godmother Susanne Garavy encouraged him to study hard, and the family paid for him to attend a private school. Soon William was helping his SOS Children’s Village brothers and sisters with their homework. He even became a temporary computer teacher at the organisation’s national office in Brazil when he was 12 years old.

Long after he left his SOS Children’s Village home William is still helping his brothers and sisters. He contributes financially, but “what I like most is to motivate them to keep on fighting, studying and working”. Although he won several scholarships and attended exchange programmes as a teenager, William also had to face the disappointment of not being able to study medicine in the United States because of visa problems. However, it did not stop him from becoming a highly qualified nurse in the intensive care unit of the Sao Camilo Hospital in Sao Paulo.

The list of William’s voluntary charity work is long. Among others, he has organised various projects to raise funds, provide healthcare or collect food, clothes and other products for charitable organisations as founder and chairperson of the local Rotary International club. This included the donation of 1,500 books to hospital libraries. Ask him which achievements he is proudest of, and the answer is becoming a successful nurse, starting his own language school, starting and running a home for the elderly, and opening a factory making women’s clothing.