Photo credit: Mirjeta Shatri
It’s hard to convey all the things that go on at The Ideas Partnership’s centre in Fushe Kosove so it was suggested that I should keep a diary one day that I’m at the centre, just noting each of the people who I meet or the conversations I have to try to give a flavor of the work we do. This is my account of the morning of Saturday 5 May…
9am I leave home in Pejton to meet up with other volunteers and the bright green kombi van that will take us from Prishtina to Fushe Kosove. I’m carrying a big bag of donations of sheets and towels from a Kosovan neighbor. I’ll give them to Bajramsha, our community health assistant, to share out to the mothers of newborn babies whom we support. On the way to the meeting point I see another friend in the street. She asks what’s in the bag and when she hears about the baby project she offers some of her own children’s clothes for us. The day is off to a great start.
At the meeting point I discover I’m one of 13 volunteers who’ll be attending activities today. I’m the only foreigner and am more than twice the age of most – the others are all young Kosovar women, mainly high school or university students. The van arrives and we pile in.
On the way, one of the volunteers, Gresa, tells me about the robotics group she’s been running for children attending our centre. They’ve learned programming (in English) and this week will be taking part in the first round of a national robotics competition.
As we enter Neighbourhood 29 we start to see people in the streets whom I recognize – there’s Jashar walking from his house to the centre, attending as a volunteer today in addition to his Monday-Friday job managing our kindergarten. People start waving at the kombi as we pass – the grandmother of one of the children who is sponsored through The Ideas Partnership, a young boy being brought up by his grandma and her own mother; the two elderly women going out with their wheelbarrows to collect scrap metal in order to keep the family going after the boy’s father went to prison, and his mother left. A couple who live outside Kosovo give money to the family every month through TIP and it goes straight to the family in the form of whatever food or other needs they identify as priorities.
Others who wave as the minivan goes by are children, on their way to the centre for today’s academic support activities, but we also pass in the street and wave to a man who last month received a second-hand stove donated by Alisa and Burim to The Ideas Partnership, and a lad who I recognize as one of the beneficiaries of our bursary scheme a few years ago – we paid his transport to get to vocational training courses.
Once we’re at the centre we head upstairs, amid a stream of children and two of our ‘Little Teacher’ teenage volunteers from the community who are being supported to become teachers or other community leaders in the future. Vlora and Qendresa are bouncing down the stairs on their way to prepare the class for the first grade children they teach every Saturday.
We reach the office and the volunteers are distributed between the classes to teach the approximately 50 children who’ll attend this shift. One of the volunteers stays behind, and soon a 16 year-old girl from the neighbourhood arrives. She wears a headscarf so can’t attend school but will be taking her Test Kombetar national test this summer and is being given 1:1 support by our volunteer to help her with the test.
Another volunteer Lirije sits down to discuss with staff the possibility of a psychologist colleague coming to offer 1:1 support to children with particular needs as I unpack the donations I brought in that big bag, and as well as the baby stuff I give out some notebooks we’ve been donated to our Learning Co-ordinator Valentina. She’s busy distributing other learning resources between the classes (I recognize the materials in the box she’s taking round, donated by Julie one of our UK-based volunteers).
I get a phone call from a widow who’s supported by a group in the UK. I visit her at least twice a month to pass on money from the British supporters which they give on condition that her children go to school. She wants to know what time I’ll come to the house today. But first I want to go round the 6 classes and give a bit of support to the Little Teachers who are teaching a phonics class.
Another treat on my Saturdays in Fushe Kosove is to visit the ‘This Week I Helped’ board where the kindergarten team of teachers and assistants note particular cases each week where they know they’ve made a difference. One assistant has helped a guy in the community accessing the procedure for his German test as he is waiting to get married in Germany, one teacher mentions settling in a child who’s newly returned to classes.
Back in the office we discuss the need for storage for the new Montessori resources that we’ve been donated for our kindergarten classes. Valentina is writing out the names for a treat for children attending our intensive classes (additional support for the municipal intensive classes which are the only way into school for children who drop out or who didn’t register in time). We’ve had a bundle of small toys and plastic gadgets donated by a family in the UK, with enough for one for each child attending the intensive classes, and have decided that the children’s names will be pulled out at random for them to choose the toy they want. But there’s nothing more for me to do here so I set out on a home visit.
Before I can get to the family I’m stopped in the street by a man asking for help. His wife has cancer and I have to tell him that this isn’t the kind of medical need we can support since our funds are very limited and are prioritized for pregnant women and children.
As I turn into the road where the family I’m off to visit live, I pass their dad on his motokultivator going off rubbish-picking. We have a quick chat before I go on to see the rest of the family who were returned from Germany last month. They have 6 children and I visited shortly after they came back. They were forcibly returned, meaning the German police came in the middle of the night and handcuffed the family and deported them. These procedures give no time for families to get documentation from German schools to prove the (in this case 4 years of) education the children have had there so I want to see whether they’ve had any success in getting their documentation through and registering the children in the Kosovan system. There’s no change. I remind them about registering their youngest (aged 6) in the normal way for the school as registration for this September is now open. I remind their 16 year-old twins about our Girls Club for teenagers, which is a strategy to give girls the knowledge and aspiration to prevent early marriage, which seems quite a risk for girls like these right now, and suggest that their 12 year-old daughter attends our Saturday activities this afternoon. I leave and they all call ‘tschüss!’ after me. I don’t think they’ve really returned to Kosovo yet.
Off to visit the widow’s family I’m stopped by another woman in the street. We found her some temporary work as a cleaner after she, too, was returned from Germany. She says she’s doing OK now.
It would be a twenty-five minute walk to the widow’s house even without stops, but on the way there are always people to greet, updates to be given, help to be asked, thanks to be passed on. The streets here are always full of life – adults chatting, children playing, an old guy smashing up old computer hardware to get at the metal inside, a young man fixing a motorbike. There’s the man whose name I can’t remember but whom I visited last year when his baby was born, taking a bundle of baby clothes and blankets for his newborn; there’s the husband of one of the women who used to be in our soap-making project, a boy whom I know we registered for intensive classes and who assures me he’s attending, though I want to check that with our co-ordinator Hysni when I’m back from my visit. A boy probably aged 6 has an acrylic sack on his back, out to collect scrap metal. He waves at me and holds out his hand to shake mine. He’s gritty to the touch. A little girl rushes up and gives me a hug though I have no idea who she is. There’s another woman to whom we gave baby clothes. Her husband is the middleman for scrap metal collection and her yard always looks like a carcrash, aggressive with twisted aluminium, jutting rust at you as soon as you push open the flattened oil-drum door. It’s here that the children like that 6 year-old come to bring their wheelbarrows of loot, as the registered scrap metal businesses out of the mahalla won’t deal with children. Now she’s asking whether we have any baby clothes for her 1 year-old and I promise to have a look.
Then there are the more inspiring stories – I bump into Emine who is one of our bursary recipients, studying at university and paying back her bursary with a session each week at our kindergarten. She’s recently been taken on as an administrative assistant at one of Kosovo’s ministries and proudly tells me about the new job.
Finally I make it to the widow’s house and check that all her children have been in school this week, especially pleasing after last week when two of the boys skipped school by leaving unobserved during the breaktime. Their mum has also sewn some patchwork as part of a project being run by a supporter in the UK and I’m able to pay her for her sewing.
I start walking back and am stopped by their neighbour, another young lad whom we registered for intensive classes. I ask whether he’s attending and he says he isn’t because the other children beat him up. I don’t believe him.
On the way back to our centre I stop to chat to the mum of one of the severely disabled boys who attends physiotherapy at our centre and whom we were able to help with a wheelchair.
Further on another woman stops me – she’s the mother of a new baby to whom we took baby clothes a month or so ago. I took a photograph of her and her baby and she wanted to be sure that we’ll be passing it on to her. I know it’s on my list for next week and promise her she’ll be receiving it.
And then a conversation with a man whose daughter received sponsorship from a family in the UK. Their money covers the cost of food as well as prescribed medicine that helps to manage his mental state so that he can look after the children after their mother left.
A little girl runs up to me to tell me what she won in the draw that Valentina had been organizing when I left the centre. She reminds me that we did the same thing two years ago and tells me exactly what she won that time too – it seems extraordinary that she can remember and makes me realize just how valued those little donations from England are.
And I have a quick exchange with Burhan, who used to attend activities at our centre as a child but now has his own NGO – an inspiring example of how change can really happen for this community. And our driver, Elvir, is stopped at the centre to take back home some of the children who have physiotherapy sessions each week. One of the girls who has physiotherapy following a stroke which affected the use of her arm on one side of her body is walking home. She’s just restarted mainstream school after a failed attempt to include her in the special school, so I stop for a chat with her and her sister too.
When I get back to the centre I’m just in time to see our British volunteers Mabel and Jack who are off to visit a family where the mother has recently died, to give the son a football strip as a donation from their football club in the UK. They’re with Hysni, who’s supposed to be on sick leave but has turned up anyway today.
I manage to have a quick conversation with our physiotherapist, Erlehta, who gives me the good news that a child who had stopped coming to the weekly sessions has now resumed.
And then I’m told that a TV crew is here to interview Jashar and me about The Ideas Partnership’s work tackling early marriage. We step outside to do the interview against a street scene.
A motorbike roars past and I recognize the guy who was working on it earlier. I look at my watch; it’s 1pm. A lot of change can happen in four hours.