Dajana (29) started helping her father with chimney sweeping at the early age of six. She vividly recalls chimney brooms as one of her favourite items and grime one of her favourite materials.
“Since my first climb onto the roof, I knew I loved it. A feeling of freedom. Spectacular sunsets. You can see how beautiful the world is from up there.”
Energetic, cheerful and focused, Dajana graduated from The Agricultural and Medical High School of the Brčko District with a focus on ecology. She also graduated from a technical school in Belgrade, with a focus on chimney sweeping. In 2009, she decided to combine chimney sweeping with ecology and chose to study Ecology at the University of Business Administration. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology in 2012, she enrolled at the same University to pursue a master in Ecology in 2015.
“There is no shame in sweeping a chimney as a profession,” says Dajana. “I am very much welcomed by all of my clients. I try to do my job well and I am as dedicated and committed as anyone is in any other job. Hard work of any kind pays off and I hope I set an example for others.”
Dajana is also an associate for Roma issues at the Pedagogical Institution of Brčko District. Passionate about her role in Roma education, she is indeed a role model to many. Dajana is one of the only few women in the profession. But not only does she challenges gender stereotypes, she also challenges norms and prejudices set upon Roma, especially Roma women and girls in her community.
“I am involved in the implementation of the Roma Education Action Plan in Brčko,” says Dajana.
“It is crucial to have somebody permanently available, devoted, and interested in anti-discrimination, equal access to education, and gender equality within the Roma population”, says Vajka Ciric, National Programme Officer at the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Our Mission is investing significant efforts in the capacity building of young Roma, particularly young Roma women like Dajana. These young women are role models for their communities and thanks to them, negative narratives, prejudices and discrimination against Roma in general are deconstructing.” Vajka says that through the OSCE human rights programme, the Office in Brčko works on combating discrimination, child begging and targeting socio-economic needs of Roma. “It is an ongoing effort, but with people like Dajana societies are changing and will continue to change for the better. The Mission’s role is to support that change,” says Vajka.
Dajana recalls a situation she says she will never forget. On her way to register to attend high school, walking down the street, an unknown man stopped her, and asked if she knew she was a gypsy child. “I was shocked and in total disbelief. Frozen,” she says.
“I wondered what just happened and why. I decided to go to the Social Welfare Center with my parents and declare myself as a Roma minority member. I did not want my origin to be erased or kept secret in any way,” says Dajana.
“I was proud to do so,” she says with grace.
“It took me a while to persuade my colleagues at the faculty that I am Roma because of both my looks and education. There were some odd comments and situations when one student was upset and distressed with the fact that I was in the same class as her. She asked: “Aren’t you sweeping the streets and collecting trash to survive?” I said: “Yes, I am. What’s wrong with sweeping the streets?”
She went further and asked why do I study when most Roma remain illiterate. It took some time for her to understand and accept who I am and eventually even admitting how wrong she was.
“My message to young people,” says Dajana, “is work hard, be well prepared , and commit to work, order and discipline – my father’s favorite quote from Leon Trotsky, ‘There are no female or male jobs. Anything is possible’.”
In 2018 Dajana was awarded the “Večernjakov pečat” for endeavor of the year. The award is given by the newspaper Večernji List since 2001, and recognizes distinguished work in BiH. Awards were given out for achievement in the areas of sports, culture, politics, business and media. The public recognized a transformation and hard work Dajana was committed to. From a chimney sweeper to a student and then a Brčko District Government employee. An impressive evolving path of a young BiH citizen.
“The award has given me additional strength to be more committed. To continue studying. To learn, but also to share my knowledge to empower others. Sometimes it takes just a little push to make someone move. Imagine if there was a systemic work and solutions behind. I dream of that very system. We have to make it work,” concludes Dajana.