Croatian school destroyed during war wins Zayed Sustainability Prize money

Vladimir Nazor School was set on fire during Croatia’s War of Independence in 1991

Pupils from Vladimir Nazor School in Croatia are learning in a school which has been rebuilt using money from the Zayed Sustainability Prize and the EU. Photo: Zayed Sustainability Prize

A principal who witnessed the destruction of his school as a child during Croatia’s War of Independence has spoken of his joy at seeing it rebuilt using money from the Zayed Sustainability Prize.

Marin Pavicic attended Vladimir Nazor School until it was destroyed by fire during a massacre in 1991, after which some of his classmates were imprisoned.

He managed to escape at the time, returning to the school in 1997 after it was rebuilt, although it remained basic and very cold during the winter.

Mr Pavicic went on to teach language and literature, and eventually became principal of the school, which was badly in need of renovation.

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Some of my classmates were imprisoned that night while I ran away with my family
Marin Pavicic

The school applied for and subsequently won the Zayed Sustainability Prize’s Global High Schools category in 2018. The prize brings youth-led sustainability projects to life, from the Asia Pacific region to the Americas.

It used the $100,000 grant to install solar panels on a new roof to power a thermal heating system that provides electricity and hot water, taking advantage of the area’s sunny climate.

It also received an EU grant to improve the rest of the building.

“When you look at the photos of the school after the war, and now, you just can't describe with words what it means for new generations to grow in a such a beautiful environment,” said Mr Pavicic.

The school was destroyed in 1991. Photo: Zayed Sustainability Prize

“Of course, the projects make teaching easier at school, primarily because we are sitting in the new building.

“We are not burdened by weather and worrying whether the children will be cold, whether there will be a break in electricity and pouring rain through the windows et cetera.”

He said growing up during the war, which lasted from 1991 to 1995 and is referred to as the “Homeland War”, was a harrowing experience.

He and his family lived in a basement with 50 others, and Mr Pavicic and the other children slept, played and studied by candlelight.

“Sometimes someone was bothered by the light, so I couldn't even study — they were bothered by children's screams and laughter, so we weren't allowed to play,” he said.

Yugoslavian sisters and their children flee Donji Miholjac in Croatia in 1991 during the war for independence. Laurent Rebours / AP Photo

“Today's school building was built in 1974, and in 1991 it was completely destroyed and set on fire, after the fall of Skabrnja on November 18, 1991.

“The school was a place of massacre. Some of my classmates were imprisoned that night while I ran away with my family through the only secure passage to Zadar.

“After the Homeland War, the school was rebuilt in 1997, when it started operating after a seven-year break. I attended the same school until I was 14 years old.”

He said children were excited to return to school although it remained very basic.

“While I attended school in the winter it was not heated by central heating but each classroom had its own wood stove. The students on duty made sure that the fire was not extinguished.

“The windows were large, wooden, through which the wind blew, and it was not always warm and comfortable to sit in spacious classrooms.”

It could not be more different today, he said.

Thanks to the Zayed Sustainability Prize and the EU grant, the school is now well heated and equipped.

“I am very proud to have witnessed and contributed to the big transformation of my school and the village, since winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize," said Leonarda Skara,18, a 12th grade pupil who studied at Vladimir Nazor School when it won the project.

"Before the project, the school was not a safe learning environment for students, with exposed asbestos on the walls and the haunting image of the past compromising our student experience. But since we started working on the project and after the installation of the solar roof and the LiFi technology was completed, the school has felt like home to the students and the wider community."

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Updated: November 28, 2021, 6:55 AM