The most beautiful gift you can get are the sincere smiles of unspoiled children, eager for knowledge and love

A lot of people like to spend their free time volunteering for a good charity. But deciding to volunteer at the age of 17 and going to a completely unknown and undeveloped country by yourself is a special way of sacrificing for the better future of those who just don’t have the opportunity like most. Zdravko Tokic is a second-year economics and management student at ZSEM, and has spent two summers volunteering in a small village in Tanzania, where he learned a lot about humility, love, gratitude and fellowship in addition to a new language.

I: Hi Zdravko! Thank you for taking the time to share your inspirational story with us. But let’s start from the beginning. How come you decided to study at the Zagreb School of Economics and Management?

Z: Hi! I decided to study at ZSEM because I have always been interested in management, and I heard and later convinced myself that ZSEM provides the highest quality higher education experience in this field. I was also very attracted to the many exchange options.

I: Although you are only a second year old you have already attended the International Summer School in China and signed up for the exchange in January next year. How did you like the international summer school experience?

Z: It was really cool! I was surrounded by numerous students my age who came from almost all parts of the world. I have acquired numerous skills such as working in a multinational team, which is very important for what I want to deal with in the future, and nowhere else can I gain such a quality experience. At first it was a little difficult for me to adjust to different foods and times, but I quickly got used to it.

I: In what assignments during your Summer School did you perfect your teamwork skills?

Z: For the last task, we had to create a joint presentation. There were students from all over the world in my group and we all had different work habits and communication techniques, but none of this was a barrier. Diversity has brought us together, we have learned a great deal from each other and have been able to be a highly effective team.

I: Zdravko, you have proven your persistence, dedication and teamwork in a different way through volunteering. How come you decide to go to the other end of the world all by yourself just to bring smiles, love and education to those who need it most?

Z: When I was in the second grade of high school, I was drawn to humanitarian organizations, but I wanted to do something different, effective and independent. You know, it’s completely different to look at television and other media than what it looks like in reality. With the help of the priest, Tomislav Mesic, I decided to volunteer at a kindergarten in a small village below Mount Kilimanjaro.  

I: How did your environment respond to that decision?

Z: Not everyone was overly enthusiastic about my decision, but I was completely sure of it. Many people told me that I was too young and that I should concentrate on other things, but I knew this was my path and I did not give up. In the end, though, everyone was glad I decided to go this route.

I: What did your average volunteer day at that kindergarten look like?

Z: It was a bit tiring at first, but I quickly got used to it. He would wake up every day around 5am, and would go to sleep as early as 7pm or 8pm in the evening. I was on the move all day, I could always find a job. He would spend the morning in kindergarten teaching children to read and write and play with them. After that I had free time that I also spent hanging out with them or with other people from that village. I enjoyed helping them physically with various jobs, but also mentally, putting smiles on their faces with friendly gestures.

I: What was the hardest part about volunteering?

Z:The hardest part was to see situations that you can’t influence, in which you can’t help anyone no matter how hard you try. On one occasion, a little girl came to the kindergarten who had fallen ill the day before and could not participate in classes. I decided to accompany her home, but I was surprised to see that the distance from kindergarten to her home, about 2 hours, she had traveled alone to have the opportunity to participate in classes. After she got home she was immediately given the tasks she had to do during the day. No one cared about her being ill and unable to work normally at that moment.

I: But there were certainly more situations where you could see the results of your work, which is what keeps you happy, fulfilling and happy.

I: What are the educational conditions in the kindergartens and schools in the village where you were?

Z: The first time I came to kindergarten there were twenty-four children and the second time there were about sixty. But these are not classic kindergarten children. The age range is two to eight or even nine, because they can only start elementary school when they have elementary penultimate. For them, this includes things like the multiplication table, which is only taught in primary school in our country. There are private and public schools, but in public schools there are about 200 students in one group who, because of these conditions, simply do not receive quality education.

I: Surely it was very difficult for you to go back to Croatia and leave all these children that you certainly connected with?

Z: The first time was very difficult for me because I didn’t know when I would have the opportunity to come back again. It was hard for me to leave the kids I connected with, the kids who hug and smile more than anything else, the kids who share everything no matter how little they have. I will never forget the feeling that followed me as I walked through the countryside, and the little children I worked with were jolly running towards me because they remembered every moment of our fellowship and learning, and could see in their eyes how much it really meant to them.

I: But you stayed with them through your humanitarian foundation, didn’t you?

Z: So after returning to Zagreb, with my cousin, I started a foundation that raises funds that allow these children at least one warm meal a day, meals with meat (which are very rare there), clean water and other necessities . Thanks to our generous donors, we have the opportunity to spread love and happiness to those who need it most.

Autor: Magdalena Bušić