When Mirzana Coralic asked the primary school in her Sarajevo neighborhood whether they would enroll her deaf son, teacher Sanela Ljumanovic volunteered. Then September came and 6-year-old Zejd was there, silently sitting on a bench, his eyes wide. No one at the school, not even Zejd, knew sign language. "We have to come up with something here," Ljumanovic remembers thinking. She tried to develop her own tricks to communicate with Zejd but a parent proposed that the whole class learn sign language with him. Three months later, the first-graders of class 1-2 at Osman Nakas primary school have mastered the basics of sign language to communicate with their classmate. "Zejd," said Uma Nadarevic, 6, crossing her arms to sign his name. "Please," she put her palms together. "Can ... you ...show ...me ...our ...homework ...in ... math?" Zejd grabbed his notebook and showed her the work he drew at home. Uma signed "Thank you" and Zejd bowed a "you are welcome."
In 2003, Bosnia adopted laws that allow children with disabilities to be fully integrated into society. But in practice, impoverished Bosnia largely leaves children with disabilities to the care and imagination of their parents and school staff. Zejd was lucky. "He looks forward to going to school," said his mother. "Now he is happy and motivated." Zejd's classmates are embracing the challenge. "I like to learn Zejd's language so I can talk to him and to other deaf people," said Tarik Sijaric, one of Zejd's best friends. "I like this language and I also think it will be useful when I grow up," added student Anesa Susic. Sign language is spreading beyond the classroom, as children teach their parents. The class' sign language teacher, Anisa Setkic-Sendic, is being paid by contributions from parents. Only Ljumanovic knows who can't pay, who does and how much. "The children are growing, we can't wait for better times to come," said Setkic-Sendic. (Read more Bosnia stories.)