June 21, 2024
Podgorica Success Stories

From Pljevlja with awe: Empowering female leaders of tomorrow

22 August 2022/

Spearheaded by the lead-applicant, Udruženje Otvorene škole fudbala based in Sarajevo and in close cooperation with ZFK Breznica and Sportsko udženje Otvorene škole fudbala (as partners), the project united 30 young women from 18 to 35 years old.

Lying over immense wealth, Pljevlja is one of the economic engines of Montenegro. Home to coal, zinc, and lead mines, this industrial town has a unique vibe. It is known for the Pljevalski cheese, a growing sought-after delicacy in the region. And is one of the first inhabited places in the Western Balkans, with traces of human life dating to 50.000 BC.

Unfortunately, there is another side of the coin. Because of environmental pollution and lack of opportunities, many young people chose to relocate to Podgorica or the coastal side of Montenegro, where tourism provides more job opportunities.

However, an innovative idea started almost by chance in 2014 and has become a proper lifeline for Pljevlja. Thanks to a former football player, the third largest city in Montenegro has become a regional hub of Women’s Football. The club, named after the river, Breznica, is the multiple and undisputed champion of Montenegro.

“People were laughing with me at first “, confesses 43-years old Zoran Vukovic, the team’s founder. “At the time, women’s football was at the beginning and very few believed in the potential of this sport “. Luckily, he did and now, his vision has become a wonderful reality.

Zoran Vukovic, founder of ZFK Breznica

Breznica Football Club unites 250 boys and girls from the whole country. For them, playing at this club is a favourite pastime and a springboard toward professional football abroad. It is also a tool to gain leadership skills and shape communities.

This is why, the partners supported by the Western Balkans Fund chose exactly Pljevlja as the best location for the “Female Leadership Camp “, a project supported by the 4th Call for Proposals, a Call co-funded by the European Union.

Spearheaded by the lead-applicant, Udruženje Otvorene škole fudbala based in Sarajevo and in close cooperation with ZFK Breznica and Sportsko udženje Otvorene škole fudbala (as partners), the Female Leadership Camp united 30 young women from 18 to 35 years old.

Female Leadership Camp

From different ethnic backgrounds and three different Contracting Parties, the young girls met, interacted and engaged in open dialogue and cooperation while learning new leadership skills and how to increase their civic engagement and voluntary actions.

To assess the project’s end result, we met with four of the final beneficiaries of the project. First, we encountered to of the rising stars of ZFK Breznica. Nađa Đurđevac, a 20-years old attacking midfielder that already plays with the Montenegrin Women National Football Team and Majda Drešević, a versatile and quick left-full back of the same age. Both speak loudly about how football helped them grow into confident and independent young women.

Nada started playing in her hometown, Niksic, before joining Breznica at 16. Through football, she has become one of the leaders of her team and despite her young age, she is already a role model for the younger girls that share the same dressing rooms and same dreams.

Sarah and Nada 

Majda comes from the town of Tuzi. She also started to play football locally before recently joining Breznica. Both hope to follow in the tracks of other football players, who from the city of Pljevjla have broken through the crème de la crème of European Football. The most recent of them being Jelena Karličić, the 19-year-old star of the Montenegrin national team, who transferred recently to the French Championship with Bordeaux.

However, before being football players, they both are proud young women, who have found a purpose and tool to change their lives and the lives of their communities through sports. It was hard at the beginning, they say. Especially hard for girls raised among brothers who usually mocked them for playing football… but they don’t laugh anymore.

Next, we met two other teenagers from the town of Gračanica in Bosnia and Hercegovina and Pirot in Serbia. They don’t play sports for living, but both of them applied and joined the Pljevlja Female Leadership Camp because they believe they can change the communities they live in.

“My name is Sarah Fazlić, I am 16 years old and I have been playing sports since I was 6 years old. I come from a sports family actually, with both parents active and a younger brother who is also a handball player. When it comes to sports, my greatest love is basketball. That is simply something I love, something that makes me whole, even though I only recently found it after trying out in many different sports. Basketball is now where I decided to stop. I plan to make something of myself in this sport”

“My name is Nada Jovanović, I am 22 years old. I am from Pirot, a small town in the southeast of Serbia near the Bulgarian border. Currently I’m studying computer science at Faculty of Electronic Engineering in Nis and playing football for WFC “Radnički 2014” Pirot. I am third child, I have two older brothers. Both of them play football and basketball recreationally. My mom is professor at Dairy School “Dr. Obren Pejić” in Pirot, and my dad is stay at home dad. I have been playing football since I was 10 years old, besides playing football I also like to photograph football matches. This shows my passion for football, I like to be involved both on and off the field”.

How does playing sport make you look towards male players and have you ever experienced judgment playing as a girls.

Sarah: When it comes to basketball it is all about the height. Everyone is always asking me why do you do basketball when you are so short. No one belives me. But men in particular judge me, because they claim they have more physical predisposition to play. They take pride in being stronger and taller and when we play basket sometimes, the act so proud because they are aware of this strength, not providing equitable space. I try to fit in as much as I can, I try to play with whomever.

Nada: Through football, you can see the difference between men and women. Male players have much better conditions and they are paid significantly more for the same effort. It has happened many times before that people judge me because I play football and say that football is not for girls. It’s a bit different now because women’s football is a more popular than it was before.

How does sport make you more independent and empowered?

Sarah: I think that every sports person is different from those who don’t play sports. This is something you are recognizable after and it is something you do out of your own will and love. This is not to say that I feel special at all, but I do feel that I have this thing that makes me a bit different from others. I do feel I have more strength as a woman based on the fact that I play sports.

Nada: In general, sport is good for child development, creating team spirit, healthy habits independence from parents… For me personally, sport has brought me a lot of friendship throughout the whole country and really helped me in my personal development. All those trips to games and tournaments made me independent very early on.

What do you expect to find in the Camp and what you have learned (asked on the final day)?

Sarah: When I applied for camp and when we prepared for the trip I felt very excited because I knew there will be many other girls from other countries. I love making new friendships and meeting new people, and also going to a new place. I was very excited for the trip and to socialize. On the other hand, I was also a little bit afraid of physical activities during Camp, because I was not sure what will be expected of us, because it was about football. But I saw already during the first day that it was about fun football and I felt no pressure and I totally blended in with everyone.

Endline: I have become aware of many things. I am a big feminist and I love when we can talk about women and the paths of how can we be independent, talk about our strengths and the fact that we can endure same and even more than men. I like to discuss how we can make people more aware of this – that women are not less worthy and they can do the same things men can.

I am a big feminist and I love when we can talk about women and the paths of how can we be independent, talk about our strengths and the fact that we can endure same and even more than men. I like to discuss how we can make people more aware of this – that women are not less worthy and they can do the same things men can.

Nada: I expected to improve my skills and knowledge, to hear some new ideas, lecturers, information… As well as to meet girls from other countries, to hear their stories and problems they encountered. All these expectations are fulfilled. I met amazing girls, enjoyed in their great stories and experiences. Also, speaking in front of a large group of people helped me overcome my fears and improve my public speaking. I really liked that almost all the activities were practical and not theoretical. I learned how to plan an event from start to finish and I can’t wait to use that knowledge to plan events in my town.

How do you think you can combine sport affection with desire to become leader.

Sarah: I think that camps like this help a lot. I am able to enrich my vocabulary and the way I speak. Then I can see others speak to and I think about how to sharpen myself further, and my stories. I was so happy how groups I was in during workshops elected me to get out and present. I was so happy they recognized I can do that. I am the youngest and they elected me and it felt so powerful.

Nada: It’s easy to combine these two things. In every team sport there must be a leader, a captain who will lead the whole team, encourage players and be the first when it’s time to give your best. Therefore, I think that the best leaders are actually people who know what team spirit is.

Do you plan to play sport for living?

Sarah: Given the fact I live in the country where I live, it is hard. I don’t think I am a one-of-a-kind talent, but I know I have potential and I work hard. I think I can make it, but I also don’t want to limit myself only to sport. I want to go to school also, and have other options. I am aware how fragile it is for sports people. You can have all the potential and one minor injury sets you back or even prevents you from ever playing again. So, I don’t base myself on thinking only sport, sport, sport but I also have a goal to finish school.

Nada: No, although women’s football is much more developed compared to before, it’s still not enough for a woman to make a living from it. I play football because I love it and after I finish my playing career, I plan to stay in sport as a photographer.

How do you see your life in comparison to your mothers, now and in future.

Sarah: My mother was a teenager during the war, and had none of the conditions I have now. She was also talented player, but she was prevented to flourish. She told me she was not supported and lacked a lot. Now it is different, at least in materials terms – I can have new equipment now when I need it. Clubs also support more now.

But regardless to sport, I know it is easier for us now. We are spared more often now. Older generations had to do more which we don’t know. I know I do less than my mother did in terms of house work, for example. But future must be even better.

Nada: Comparing my mother’s life when she was my age and mine, there is a significant difference when looking at women’s rights. I think we have much greater rights now, not yet as it should be, but in the future, I hope they will be even better. Some indicators show that’s not the case and that we are actually going backwards, but there is always hope for better tomorrow. Again, sport is a great pointer, when men and women are paid equally in sports, then we will truly know that men’s and women’s rights are finally equal.

One month after the visit, it is pleasing to see how much the Female Leadership Camp inspired the participants. The Western Balkans Fund team has been in contact with many of the girls and will be happy to share their next achievements and exploits.
On the pitch, 18 August brought a heartbreak for ZFK Breznica. Exactly one month after the first day of the Camp, a young and unexperienced ZFK squandered two goals lead losing in the final 5 minutes against the Slovakian side of Spartak Myjava (2-3). However, the “David against Goliath” dream of ZFK Breznica is more alive than ever. And while no club from the Western Balkans does have currently not even remotely the financial backing and organisation to challenge for a Champions League title, the ZFK has already won the hearts and minds of the hundreds of young girls that are being trained to become future starts, perfect citizens and inspiring leaders of tomorrow. 

Special appreciation
Vildana Delalic Elezovic 
Regional Coordinator Western Balkans at Cross Cultures Open Fun Schools for facilitating our visit and helping our team in every possible way

Zoran Vukovic

Founder of FK Breznica, a kind and very welcoming partner, who spared no effort to host a perfect Leadership Camp and support WBF visit on the ground

Breznica coaching and PR staff, for their friendship and logistical help.