In 2010 primary school teacher and small farm owner Željana Radojicic Lukic founded Kreativa as a network for local teachers and policy makers concerned with the development of education in the Mionica region. Kreativa soon entered into partnership with Mionica High School, a vocationally-oriented high school with strong links to the hospitality and tourist trades. The initial motivation was to participate in a bid for UNICEF project funding, but the long-term plan was to trial a new type of educational tourism which involves adapting the existing infrastructure within the school system to create ‘educational tourism’ destinations for visiting children and families.
Radojicic Lukic set up a proof-of-concept project on her own farmland called the Magical Village, an outdoor play-and-learning centre with an experiential curriculum of agricultural and environmental themes. From the beginning Kreativa had the backing of the Education Forum, an influential policy networking group, and sought to attract the active participation of national and municipal government.
“Our goal is that, by cooperating with local authorities and the Ministry of Education, we can change the law so that local partnerships are permitted to implement formal education for young rural women who haven’t finished high school,” says Željana Radojicic Lukic. “When we started this project we weren’t recognised by the local authorities as an important factor for tourism or education, but from our activities they realized that we are really innovative and that we are increasing tourism in the area.”
The municipality supports Kreativa with modest donations and provides logistical capability and other help wherever possible. Kreativa’s impact is very much in line with the economic goals of the municipality, particularly in attracting tourists to the Magical Village, as Dragan Gavrilovic, president of the municipal government notes. “When tourists come to the Magical Village they visit the whole municipality, they stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, and in that way contribute to the local economy.”
In the Magical Village the educational content is based on the seasonal nature of agricultural activity, and each season is represented by a character known as a ‘Magic Fairy’, who leads the children through related games and study activities. This presented an opportunity to offer training to local women to run the workshops. It was not hard to find young women locally who knew how village agricultural processes are typically performed, but they needed to be professionally trained to transmit that knowledge to children. Kreativa founded an informal training programme which enabled the women to work in the Magical Village.
“The Magical Village and similar initiatives create the possibility of employment at the local level for those people who haven’t finished formal education, such as housewives and young people with no degrees, who find it hard to obtain regular jobs,” says Serbian Education Minister Srdjan Verbic. “The biggest challenge facing young people in Serbia is the lack of awareness that they need to do something for themselves. People still go around asking where they should work instead of what they should do, which is a crucial change in their way of thinking.”