"I'm Ivan Stepanov, I work as an assistant
waiter at the Martin Horvat Special Hospital
Dad and mom took me to kindergarten every day
I went to school for education in Pula
secondary school for gardeners
2 days of practice and 3 days of school
I drove a van and a car to school in
I like to swim, dive in the sea and every day over
summer to play with friends on the beach and the same
I hang out with friends over the winter
I ride a bike, I like to walk every day and ski
in winter, if we go skiing
I play chess and play computer games
I worked in the Batana Ecomuseum association at 9
twice a summer, I work at the Martin Horvat Rovinj hospital"
I was greeted with this text on my mobile phone this morning by Ivan, an always cheerful and smiling young man who took the agreement about our today's interview seriously and responsibly, just as he takes his job as an assistant waiter at the Special Hospital for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation "Martin Horvat" Rovinj - Rovigno where he is employed since June last year. Upon entering the kitchen, you can feel the excitement and pride of his colleagues in the air as Ivan proudly poses in the shirt he specially chose for today. Everyone hugs and cheers him. A beautiful sunny day seems to be a reflection of the emotions that fill us. We start our conversation with a walk by the sea, in which Ivan tells me about his childhood and family, his school years.
"I have a brother, he is 2 years older. We were little, then we played with friends and so on... I went to kindergarten in Pula, it was great! I went to school in Pula, it was a long time ago, I don't remember anymore, I finished school at the age of 18, now I'm 31."
"Since I finished school, I have worked at the Batana Ecomuseum, only twice, nothing else. I am going to the DOI-ADA association. There we draw something, paint and so on... I also helped in the greenhouse in the hospital grounds."
From the first day when Ivan got a job at our institution, going out for brunch became more cheerful. Ivan is always ready for a joke, he likes to talk to all the employees. He loves his job and works relaxed.
"This morning I went to the office to get glasses. Rade and Šturman are there, I greet him and so on, there was Danijela and Milić and so on."
"It's great! I work as an assistant waiter and then I bring food and so on, serve guests and so on. It's great for me! The guests are satisfied."
At the recent opening of the swimming pool complex, I observed him doing his job seriously and with dedication. He laughs and tells me that he was on his feet for ten hours, but he had a good time, he served a lot of people. He has only words of praise about his colleagues.
"They are good, I am very satisfied, a great team." Laughingly, he continues that some of them will retire soon and that he will miss them.
He continues to describe his working day.
"I put some bread on the tables, put water and that's it. Then there's brunch, it's nice when the Austrians come, then we offer some coffee, tea and so on."
While we're talking like that, I'm thinking how much we can learn from Ivan about the simplicity of living in the present moment, unencumbered by unimportant things. I wonder if Ivan thinks about what it's like to be a person with Dow syndrome and muster up the courage to ask him. His look and long, questioning "No" say it all to me. While we often tend to look at people with disabilities always through the prism of disability, it is completely unimportant to him. He does not see himself as a person with a disability or Down's syndrome. He's just Ivan. Ivan who, in addition to the work he does and loves, has his hobbies, desires and dreams, like all of us.
"Yes, I like diving, swimming and skiing with my parents and so on, sometimes Austria, Italy and so on, everywhere. When I'm not working, I go out with my brother and so on, we always go out for drinks and coffee and so on... I like to drink gemišt. I love music, English, French, Spanish songs, Croatian and so on, I love everything.
In one sentence, Ivan reveals to me all the wisdom of a happy life.
"I feel very good, positive and so, that's the most important thing."
I'm thinking what else I could ask him, did I miss something?
"Well, yes, it's important, I have to find a girl, a girl, that's the most important thing!"
"Yes, when I went to school I had a girlfriend, now I don't, I don't even have a crush. And I like some blondes, any kind," he says with a laugh.
In ten minutes of conversation, Ivan reminded me of the joy of life, all that we take for granted, often unconsciously going through the day burdened by a bunch of little things that will turn out to be completely unimportant in the end.
At the end of our conversation, I ask him if he wants to continue working in the hospital? "Yes, forever!" he replied with a smile on his face that would melt even the hardest hearts.
World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated every year on March 21 to raise awareness of this syndrome and advocate for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome. The date March 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the tripling of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome. Inclusive education, employment, health care, social support, advocacy and respect and acceptance are important factors that contribute to a better participation of people with Down syndrome in society, enabling them to develop their skills, build relationships and contribute to the community in which they live.
There are many famous people with Down syndrome who have achieved great things in various fields including acting, sports, modeling and advocacy such as Chris Burke, Karen Gaffney, Madeline Stuart, John Franklin Stephens, Cristina Sanz, Lauren Potter and Pablo Pineda. These individuals, just like Ivan Stepanov, have shown that with the right support and opportunities, they can achieve their goals and make a valuable contribution to the community in which they live and society as a whole.
The interview was conducted by Dina Dežmar, educational rehabilitator