Meet Maja Grujić - Osijek's Light in the Dark

By 20 February 2018

Not many positive stories come out of Osijek these days, but among the rocks lie rare gems. Meet Maja.

Among the 24 winners of the prestigious Croatian Women of Influence Award and Future Leader awards, which will be awarded on March the 8th this year in Zagreb, eighteen-year-old Maja Grujić will be the only person from Slavonia and Baranja.

She has been awarded her Future Leader award, which is awarded to young women under 20 years of age who have proven to be extraordinary at an early age.

For the graduate student of the Upper Secondary Grammar School in Beli Manastir, life somehow began to alter following a one-month stay at a summer camp at Wake Forest, North Carolina.

After returning to Croatia, Maja realised her project, taught and talked with young people in Berlin, received the Special Prize of the City of Beli Manastir, and recently organised a youth conference in Osijek. Alongside all of that, she also plays in the theater and gets excellent grades at school.

And while Maja has been receiving words of praise and congratulations from all possible sides, we managed to get the chance to talk to her in order to learn more, first hand.

Can you tell us howmuch the award Future Leader awardmeans to you, and how do you feel to be in the company of the other awarded women?

I can't even describe how I'm feeling at the moment. Ever since I received that email in which they told me that Iwon an award, my life has completely changed. My goal was never to become famous or recognised for my work, I only wanted to change the society in which I live,and make it better for future generations. I still don't feel like I belong to that group of amazing and inspiring women, and it will be such an honour to meet and spend my time with them.

In some way, your successstarted two years ago when you participated at the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute?

The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship is a summer institute for European and American youth. It'sreally hard to get in because only one person from each European countrygets to represent their nation. The application process wasn't that hard, I had to write two essays (a motivational letter and an essay on a given topic) and get recommendation letters. I never even dreamed that US Embassy in Zagreb would choose me. I had an interview (which wasn't stressful at all; in fact, it was really fun) and then I found out I was going to the States. That was a turning point for my future for sure. BFTF is such a great project since all of your expenses (as well as your pocket-money) is covered. My professors help me a lot, specially Olgica Urosevic and Klara Bosnjakovic. I couldn't be more grateful for their support.

Can you describe theproject which you embarked on as a result of your stay in the USA to us?

I always had this idea to create some kind of a conference for youth, but it's hard to do that without any kind of financial support. Abey Philip (my project partner) and I had come up with a plan in 2016; so, we created the Croatian Youth Movement. CYM is a conference that was held in Osijek from the 8th to the 12th of January, 2018. It gathered youth from all over Croatia for a week of intense training and workshops. We talked, discussed and debated global problemsand what can we do to solve them. We taught our participants how to create their follow-up projects, which they did, and I'm really proud of that. We had a lot of fun, and we also covered their expenses. We invited different NGOs and inspirational speakers such as Kaja Pavlinic, who has already done so much for our community. Everyone from CYM stayed in contact, and it's amazing to see all the fun stuff they're doing at the moment.

What was the main reason for organising theconference for youth in Osijek?

Slavonia and Baranja are often parts of Croatia that are forgotten. Since I was born and raised in Beli Manastir (in Baranja), I wanted to organise an event in Osijek which would invite people to see that we have a lot of potential. I want to continue working here (at least for some time) and I want to motivate other people to do the same. My experiences in the States and Berlin this past summer helped me to realise that I want to work on these kind of projects for a long time.

How do your friends view your success?

My friends are really happy and excited about everything that I'vebeen doing. They're a part of my projects and everything that I've been through, and I couldn't be more grateful for all the support they've given me.

Are you planning some new projects?

I'm trying to focus on school at the moment, but I'm also working on something new that I can't share at the moment. What I can say is that I plan to start my own NGO in Baranja, and continue working.

At what university do you plan to study?

I plan to study economics, especially marketing, since that would help me with my future plans. I want to stay in Osijek, so I'll probably go to college there.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope I'llcreate comfortable life conditions for myself in Croatia, if not, I may leave, but that isn'tmy goal nor my plan as of this moment. I#d like to stay with my family and friends, but we'll see where life takes me.

Would you like to add anything else that we may have forgotten to ask you?

I want to say something to everyone who has some kind of a idea but doeson't know where to start – don't give up, keep digging and you'll find a way. Also, I#d like to thank my friends, especially my best friend Borna Rob, my sisters Ria and Lena, my whole family, my boyfriend Franko and everyone that has supported me along the way. People like you are the reason why I do what I do. And to everyone else who I don't know, good luck! I hope our paths will cross someday.