PHOTO CREDIT: Pawel Jakubowski
How to combine a love for handball and a profession in the field of speech therapy? Maida Arslanagic, a former professional handball player and member of the Croatian national team, and today a successful woman behind the HandbALL IN project - a sports inclusive program for children and youth with developmental disabilities has the answer to the question. The basis of the program is handball, and recently also beach handball. What is the link, how HandbALL IN story began, and what are the plans for the future, Maida told us in a pleasant conversation ahead of the 15th edition of the Jarun Cup, when you will be able to see the HandbALL IN program in action.
This year's collaboration with the Jarun Cup is not the first collaboration of the HandbALL IN with the beach handball project. Last year, you were in Novalja as part of the "Novalja4kids" program, where free beach handball training sessions were held. What is the plan for this year and the Jarun Cup?
I am glad that we are continuing our successful cooperation this year, not only at the Jarun Cup but also through the "Novalja4kids" workshops that will be held this summer.
Where did the idea come from and how did the collaboration with the organizers of the beach handball tournament begin?
The cooperation developed from acquaintance with the organizers, and through the story, we came up with the idea of organizing a workshop and demonstration training, which would enable children with developmental difficulties to get involved in beach handball. For them, this has a much greater or double meaning than the sport itself - because the sand is a medium that affects their sensory system. As for the "Novalja4kids" project, it was created as a form of beach handball promotion in the tourist environment. We all know how popular beach volleyball is in all tourist centers, so we wanted to present beach handball as an attractive sport in places where a lot of young people come. Children who are on the island or nearby will be able to try beach handball, get to know the rules and enjoy all the attractions of the sport.
For the third year in a row, HandbALL IN and Jarun Cup continue their cooperation. The first experience with beach handball for children from your association was three years ago. Can you describe what the first meeting was like?
Although we were worried before the very beginning, because certain children, in addition to their primary difficulties, also have difficulties in the functioning of the sensory system, which would mean that they are very sensitive to sand, sometimes to the extent that they cannot even stand on the sand without shoes. But we managed to overcome it, because some children were already walking and running on the sand after an hour, and they were able to do training as well. It was not easy at first, but the children got used to it and we were extremely glad that they were able to accept sand as one of the possibilities and versions of handball that we can train and play.
The goal of the HandbALL IN project is the general inclusion of children and youth with developmental disabilities in sports, how does handball on the sand help with this? How do children manage in this relatively young sport?
That's right, the goal of the project is the inclusion of children with developmental disabilities through sports, in fact, to provide equal activities to all children with developmental disabilities, that is, to give them equal opportunities to participate in sports activities in the community where they live. Children with developmental disabilities, apart from therapy and school, do not have many opportunities for activities in which they can join in order to be with their peers, and HandbALL IN program is just such a program. In addition to indoor handball, which is primary for us, handball on the sand is a new type of activity for us, and as I already mentioned, the sport on the sand also has a therapeutic effect on children. Children do well because beach handball is much simpler than indoor handball in terms of rules, the field is much smaller, and the lines are more clearly marked, which makes it easier for children with developmental disabilities.
Is there an idea for including handball on the sand as part of the daily activities of the association HandbALL IN, not only during the Croatian Championship?
We would certainly like to include beach handball as part of our daily activities, however, the weather determines our training conditions a lot. Our program follows the school year, and beach handball in Croatia is played in the summer. We start training in September and end in June, and the weather conditions in September, when it already gets colder, do not suit children with developmental difficulties who are more sensitive to these conditions than other children. However, we certainly like to respond to these kinds of actions and we like to do training on the sand, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to do it a little more often.
Let's go back to the idea of your project itself. How did the HandbALL IN story begin? Who or what was the main inspiration for starting that project and founding the association?
The HandbALL IN story began four years ago. As a former national team handball player, after a 20-year career, I decided to combine my two loves. My primary profession is speech therapy, which I completed at the Faculty of Educational Rehabilitation during my career. I found a way to combine handball and work with children with developmental disabilities through sports and convey to them the love for sports. That was my main idea and desire from which I started the program. At that time, I volunteered at the Sunce Education and Counseling Center in their program of a universal sports school for children with developmental disabilities - "My right to play and sport", and from this, the idea of starting a handball school under the name "My right to handball" developed." After only a few months of work, I saw the great potential and interest of the community in this kind of program, so I founded my own association “Maars”, and gave the program a new name HandbALL IN. The program is officially recognized and verified by the Agency for Education in Croatia.
What are the further goals and plans of the association in general, but also in the context of beach handball?
Our goal is to continue implementing this program not only in Croatia but also internationally. The number of children is growing day by day, and thus the program of the association is expanding, and we hope that it will remain so. The plan is to ensure much greater support from the local community so that we can focus on maintenance and development, especially in Zagreb, and somewhat less in other cities where the situation is much more favorable. As for beach handball, our goal is to be as active as possible in that sport, to do several training sessions on the sand by the summer, and maybe next year to form a team that would move from the hall to the sand in the spring.