Melissa: Unbelievable Strength
A Lions Youth Exchange Fairy Tale
Can you imagine being twenty-two years old and blind? To live with your mother in Croatia and have no employment, no school and no idea what the future might behold? To live with a rare physical condition that disables you to walk because of a rare orphan disease. You spend most of your time with a special computer (or a phone) especially designed for blind people. This is how you find out about Lions Youth Exchange.
„To create and foster a spirit of understanding among the people of the world,“ sounds quite perfect for your situation.
What to do now? You decide to contact the youth exchange chairperson in Croatia and convince her to find a spot in Austria. You fill out the form; English skills “good”, other languages: German “good”.
Then the first answer arrives from Austria. There seems to be a special camp for blind people in Italy - but you refuse. You only want to go to Austria because you have known Austria for a long time as you had many surgeries there.
For years in your life, you had to go every week to Austria, together with your mum. On Wednesday you left your home in Croatia, went to Vienna, slept in the car and Thursday morning you went to the hospital to receive a special treatment. Then back to Croatia: 550 km – one way, year after year. You trust Austria.
You’ve had horrible experiences in your life. At the age of eleven, during one of your countless surgeries, something went wrong with the anesthesia. You woke up blind. You and your mum had to be very strong. You had to learn to live a new life from scratch. The life of a blind person. Nothing will ever be the same.
At the age of 22, you decide to go to Austria again. You try to find a new path in life and reject all of your mother’s concerns.
The Austrians accept you. You book a ticket for the bus, take the ride from Umag to Graz. Alone. You already know that your host-mother will be waiting for you, although only knowing her from a few message exchanges.
And there she waits, welcoming you whilst trying to communicate with you, first in German, then in English - but you answer in Croatian.
Now you know, that your host-mother has realized that there is no common language between you two, and to communicate with hands and feet will not be an option as you cannot see her. Your host-mother looks for your suitcases in front of the bus. She tries asking you but you can’t understand her.
The big, big trial for „to create and foster the spirit of understanding among the people of the world“ has just started…
What followed during the hosting week?
· Incredibly supportive host-sisters (Caterina from Italy and Ida from Norway).
· Communication beyond vision and language.
· Experience in riding a tandem bike.
· Swimming with your host-sisters, cooking, laughing, smiling.
· Singing, dancing and wearing traditional Austrian clothes.
· Learning every day new words in English and German.
· Visiting Salzburg with the other host-families and their youth and listening to „Mozart with all senses“.
· Being part of the group.
· Learning to stop saying „sorry“ every single moment.
· Meeting an amazing young boy from Croatia who helps all the time when you really need translations.
· You feel so happy to be part of the youth exchange.
After the hosting week your host-mother tells you that you will not be able to continue participation in the camp, it seems impossible as there will not be enough support during the program. The host-family week has brought you endless joy but now you feel sad not to be able to carry on. You book a return bus to Croatia. Only sad.
· The youth exchange chairperson suggests that you could come back with your mum for the evening of nations.
· You could stay with the group for the second week.
· Immediately, you feel joy. And now you can also allow yourself to show how exhausted you are whilst enjoying a week of regeneration.
· You come back to the camp in one week time.
· All of the participants take you in as a part of the group. They hug you, they kiss you. They lead you, they take your hand and guide you.
· You teach them how to treat a blind person well. They teach you singing, dancing, laughing...
During the following week with the other campers you attend dance lessons, choir rehearsals, guided tours for blind people, all kinds of workshops and have multiple special moments. You meet incredibly sensitive staff members and get to enjoy an evening of a final concert where you sing proudly. Before leaving there are lots and lots of tears to be shed.
· The Lions from Croatia and Austria took great efforts to find a way to fulfill your biggest wish: to get an education for blind people in Austria
· A couple of days before Christmas the Austrian and Croatian Lions come and bring you the biggest gift you ever could imagine: you can come to Austria!!!
Now, you have the opportunity to come back with your mum to Austria, but this time around you are not headed to the hospital. You are going to the school you have been dreaming about for a very long time. You will receive an education in Austria and learn everything you need to live an independent life. Your mum, the bravest woman you can imagine, can start calming down.
And who is writing this story?
Your host-mum is writing this story.
Your host-mum you’ve brought beyond her limits.
Your host-mum who is totally in love with your incredible personality, with your incredible power, with your incredible hunger for life.
Your host-mum who admires your mum for her love for you. For her braveness.
Your host-mum who has a big wish: that you continue your way.
Gaby, your host-mother from Austria
Melissa, you are such a great person, so brave and fearless. We learned so much from you. Thank you for the experiences we could share with you! Your host-father Fritz – MD-114 and D-114M chairperson Austria
From the very first contact with Melissa, I did my best to support my family hosting her and make her participation possible with the amazing help of our camp staff. I'm just proud of everyone involved making this fairytale become true - especially of Melissa! David, host brother, MD-114 chairperson Austria
Melissa is simpy amazing…Eli, host-sister, Austria
Some of the campers had blue bracelets provided by a Lionsclub. Melissa could feel that by touch when somebody held her hand and therefore knew about it. She wanted to have one but they were no longer available. I had a bracelet as well. It was made from the same material although it was white and not from Lions. The bracelet was from the “Grazathlon” – the famous dirt-run in Graz, where our Camp took part. “I beat the city”, was written on it and I decided to give Melissa this bracelet as a gift. I explained to her what it stood for and the meening was translated into Croatian. When it was put on to her arms she started to cry very emotionally. Melissa taught me that giving is more valuable than taking. Felix, host-brother and camp-staff, Austria
I first met Melissa at the Traditional afternoon - she was dancing, singing and smiling, together with all other participants. Sharing moments during the host family period with Melissa, she was an amazing example of bravery and courage. Susanna, 2nd VDG, D-107B Finland
Melissa is been like a sister for me. She’s a wonderful girl. With her strength, her courage and her happiness to stay all together and create something good, she taught all of us that no one needs to have a perfect pair of eyes, but that the point is looking the world and knowing other cultures with heart’s eyes. Caterina, Italy, host-sister and camper
Melissa was and are a lovely girl with a lot of courage and happiness. She has a really interesting way to look at the world and saw the goodness in everybody. She made such an impression on me and I am still in contact with my sister. My favourite moment with Melissa was the bike ride. Ida, Norway, host-sister and camper
During the last workshop, Melissa's mother said: when we arrived, we drove into the unknown - as if it was through a dark tunnel. Now after this week's time, we will drive back through a brightly shining wolrd. I believe Melissa has brought a lot of light and warmth to the camp and the camper have come to life merely through her presence. Bruno, Campstaff, Austria
Melissa has a strong will and a tender heart. She gave me a lesson on courage, trust and true friendship. Meeting her was one of my greatest privileges. Thank you Melissa. Erla, Iceland, campstaff
Getting to know Melissa showed me once again that anything is possible. I experienced, that music and true warmth are the languages we all understand and can speak. Melissa was a support and source of strength and joy wherever she was. I am truly grateful that I got to know her. Sara-Estelle, Germany, campstaff
Melissa is such a great person. Her kindness and joy are still in my heart and i think i'll never forget this. When we walked in the garden she was so happy to have us all with her and I was so thankful of having funny conversations with her. I'm really happy to have met her and i hope to meet Melissa in the near future! Carmen, Italy, camper
I had such a wonderful time in Sound of music camp, I enjoyed every single day and time flew so fast. After the first week of camp, I got to know new camper...I looked up to Melissa, our participant who had a lack in language skills and were blind, even these challenges couldn't stop her, she were so brave and totally part of the group like others. I really miss the spirit of our lovely and supportive group. Ella, Finland, camper
Melissa is a kind, considerate, caring, strong and brave girl. To join this camp and to participate in the choir together, she really showed us how strong and brave she is. She's also very kind, considerate and caring. I remember this one time when I injured my ankle. Melissa was sitting in the lobby, and then I came to sit too because it's pretty tiring to walk (or hop to be exact) on just one feet so I need to take a rest for a while. When I greeted Melissa, and she realized I was near her. She helped me to sit down by holding the chair and even brought a chair from her nearby for my foot rest. I was amazed by how kind and caring she is. Despite her conditions, she still tried her best to help the others. Nisa, Indonesia, camper
Melissa is the kindest and sweetest person you’ll ever meet. Most of us at camp couldn’t speak her language, but even so she could always light up the room. Just being in her presence you can tell she’s funny and smart, even if you don’t know extacty what she’s saying. Emelene, Canada, camper
I was impressed by Melissa’s courage to follow her dreams. Her curiosity about the world was so admirable. I believe she showed all of us that to live the life the fullest you have to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Heta, Finland, camper
What striked me the most with Melisa was her inteligence.The way you could talk to her and how i personally felt when i was talking with her was so always so heartwarming and sincere that our talks would always make my day. She is an outstanding person and am glad that people are talking note of that. Matej, Croatia, camper and our wonderful translater, always available and patient
From the moment you introduced us to Melissa it was as I finally saw the whole music experience from a different view. Her constant happiness, willingness and courage to participate in all the fun activities with us just proved that everything is possible! Melissa is such a kind and gentle human being that I can’t possibly imagine the camp without her there! She showed me that if you truly want to do something then it’s possible no matter what, disabilities, physical or mental, don’t really matter if you’re doing something that brings you happiness. The ability to connect to another person is not necessarily always through language or sight but rather through what you can do for one another and how you experience things with that person. This is what I learned from Melissa and keep in mind that not much was spoken between us but this feeling and this connection is so surreal yet so natural. Cause only the simple touch of another person can do so much and she did so much more! Amelia, Iceland, camper
I didnot get to interact with Melissa as much as others but any interaction I had with her was apleasant one. She always seemed tob e smiling and making jokes. She had a very warm soul. I was very impressed with her bravery in travelling to an unknown country and really threowing herself in head first into a group of people she’d never really met before. I did gett5ing experience an amazing moment with Melissa when she danced with us the last night at camp that I willo never forget. Claire, Canada, camper
I was very surprised to see how Melissa is coping with new situations in her 100% positive mindset. I was dancing with her on very uneven soil which was demanding even for me but not for her; see the attached picture. Michael, host-father, Lionsclub Liezen, Austria
I will not forget her sensitive back-massages. Sigrid, host mother, Lionsclub Liezen Anasia, Austria
Melissa shows us how simple the communication between humans could be: no words needed; you need feeling, the sound of your voice and soft touches! That‘s it!!!! Stella, host mother, Lionsclub Graz Schlossberg, Austria
For the paticipants and visitors of the Lions Youth Camp in Graz 2018 the time with Melissa was very inspiring. Her joyful courage to manage obstacles, find friends and experience the unknown was a role model for all of us! Sepp, Lionsclub Graz Schlossberg, Austria
Do fairy tales exist nowadays - those real life fairy tales?Those that are actually the most beautiful, those which turn dreams into reality and which people create with their will and strength? I have had an opportunity to have a hand in one such fairy tale in which I contributed a little but gained very much. Gaby (she call’s herself modestly "support for Youth Camp Exchange") - is definitely the fairy godmother. Without her "magic", her will and strength this fairy tale would have ended up being just one of the many youth exchanges that last for two weeks and after which everyone goes back to their own homes and everyday lives. Gaby has, however - with the touch of her soul, her great heart and incredible energy - completely changed the world of a young girl and her dedicated mother. Melissa Končar - our fellow citizen who woke up blind after one of her surgeries and who the Lions Club Novigrad has been supporting for many years - went to Austria for exchange and managed to enchant all the participants of the camp with her personality and energy to the extent that they all joined in the desire to help her. But what Gaby and the members of Lions Clubs from Austria later did, is a wonderful story about incredible goodness which makes me proud of being a member of the Lions. Melissa loves life like very few people do and reacts to everything with such happiness and wonderful sincerity. We want this project of her involvement in the education program for blind people in Austria to be successful and that Melissa finds her way and becomes everything that she dreams of becoming. Željko, Zone person and GST coordinator and one of the Lions with the biggest hearts of Croatia
Nisa from Indonesia mad a picture of Melissa